60 Million in Middle East May Be at Risk of Pulmonary Fibrosis, Other Lung Diseases


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Boehringer Ingelheim recently held a second regional respiratory conference concerning the latest medical and scientific insights on the treatment and management of respiratory diseases — namely, pulmonary fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma. These conditions represent a major public health problem in developing countries, due to their high incidence, and their social and economic impacts.

The event was held in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, under the theme “Innovative Solutions to Help Millions” and included medical professionals from Europe, Middle East and Africa engaging in interactive sessions and workshops. The importance of diagnosis and misdiagnosis in clinical practice, as well as challenges in controlling the rising numbers of respiratory diseases across the region, were emphasized.

Data presented at the conference revealed that around 40 million people have various respiratory diseases in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, and the numbers are rapidly increasing.

Dr. Bassam Mahboub, MD FRCPC, Consultant Pulmonologist and Head of Pulmonary Medicine at Rashid Hospital said, “More than 60%-70% of patients diagnosed with a respiratory illness are under the age of 40, where smokers make up 30% of the patients. As such, 60 million people across this region alone are strong candidates for developing respiratory diseases.”

COPD, in particular, is expected to be the third leading cause of death in the world by 2030. Smoking is the leading cause of COPD. “Smokers, usually, they visit the doctor to see whether they have heart problems or not, or they have cancer or not. They are totally, absolutely clueless about COPD,” said Mahboub.

Smoking is prevalent across the MENA region and obesity is rising, contributing to cases of lung disease. The region is also known for extreme weather conditions, a possible aggravating factor.

Pulmonary fibrosis (PF) is the most common type of interstitial lung disease, one characterized by thick and stiff tissue that turns into scar tissue over time. The majority of PF cases are classified as idiopathic, meaning their cause is not fully understood. Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) can be challenging to diagnose, and doctors at the conference stressed the importance of early detection of symptoms and proper adherence to treatment protocols.

Increasing number of new cases of IPF has been detected over the last 20 years. The condition is often fatal, either as a consequence of respiratory failure due to IPF itself, or following complications such as pneumonia (lung infection) or heart failure, according to Dr. Toby Maher, consultant physician at Royal Brompton Hospital, London, and senior lecturer at the National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College, London.

“The key challenge that we must address is finding new avenues to create comprehensive awareness programs across the region to educate both patients, as well as healthcare professionals about the dangers of IPF,” he said.

Current PF therapies are focused on easing disease symptoms, and several medications can help improve the patients’ quality of life, but there is no cure.

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