New Program to Fight Respiratory Diseases

New Program to Fight Respiratory Diseases

Published: November 23, 2011 (Issue # 1684)

A new Belgian-Russian project aimed at training Russian doctors to treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and obtain reliable statistics on the spread of the illness in Russia was launched in St. Petersburg on Friday.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 64 million people around the world suffer from this disease. In Russia, however, reported statistics on the subject have varied wildly. While the country’s Health Ministry reported that 2.4 million people are affected by the illness, some independent surveys suggest the real figures are more than four times that.

Smoking is considered to be the leading factor in causing the illness. Russia, which boasts one of the world’s highest smoking rates, with more than 60 percent of Russian men and 21 percent of women being regular smokers, has millions of people at risk of developing the disease.

Respiratory diseases are one of Russia’s biggest problems. The mortality rate from these illnesses has increased by 105 percent since 2010.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is an issue that has to be taken seriously, doctors warn: The illness is the fourth-highest cause of death across the world, according to the WHO.

During the course of the joint project, titled Respect, local family doctors in 10 city state-run clinics will test a total of 5,000 patients aged 35 and older. Younger people won’t be included in the test as the disease typically affects those over 35.

“Most Russians who get diagnosed with chronic obstructive lung disease come to doctors far too late, when they already require hospital treatment,” said Olga Kuznetsova, professor and head of the family medicine department at the Meshnikov Northwest State Medical University.

“The screening, which will be carried out through spirometry, will allow us not only to get a fair idea about the spread of the illness, but also to detect it in its early stages, when a much milder treatment would suffice.”

Having a chronic cough and often being out of breath are two signs to watch out for.

“Unfortunately, chronic coughing is not seen by many people in Russia as a strong enough warning signal,” Kuznetsova said. “People tend to avoid contacting a doctor until they begin to literally fall to pieces. We hope that family doctors involved in this project will be able to convince some of their patients to participate in this testing.”

The tests and treatment will be offered free of charge. The patients will be chosen randomly, through the medical insurance database. Private clinics will not take part in the project.

The partner schools in the project are the Northern State Medical University in Arkhangelsk and the Belgian universities UCL and KUL in Leven, as well as the AstraZeneca pharmaceutical holding. 

According to Jan Degryse, a professor with UCL and KUL universities, a similar research project carried out in Belgium several years ago was instrumental in making progress with the illness.

Russian doctors admit that chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is also often misdiagnosed here. Part of the problem is outdated medical equipment, but lack of relevant experience in doctors is also an issue.

“As part of our project we have developed a special online course for those unable to attend courses in person. The course will provide modern and adequate training for doctors who will be diagnosing the disease,” Kuznetsova said.

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