India Bears Huge Burden of Respiratory Diseases

Asthma and COPD can be treated or prevented, but lead to death if patients are not diagnosed, misdiagnosed or under-treated.


Almost one-fourth of deaths that happened worldwide due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease COPD and asthma — the two most common respiratory diseases — took place in India, a latest study showed. As many as 3.20 million people died of COPD while 0.40 million deaths occurred due to asthma in 2015, of which 800,000 and 100,000, respectively, were reported in India, according to the Global Burden of Disease study published in the Lancet Respiratory Medicine journal.

COPD is a group of lung conditions causing breathing problems, caused mainly by smoking and air pollution. Asthma is the most common chronic respiratory disease in the world, with the number of cases being twice the number of those with COPD in 2015, according to the study. However, deaths from COPD were eight times more common than those from asthma.

Burden of COPD, Asthma

Disease burden due to COPD in 2015 was highest in Papua New Guinea, India, Lesotho, and Nepal, and burden for asthma was highest in Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Fiji, Kiribati, Lesotho, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland.

India recorded 2774.64 prevalent cases of COPD per 100,000 people and 4021.72 prevalent cases of asthma per 100,000 in 2015, the study, which estimated the number of cases and deaths caused by the two diseases between 1990 and 2015, showed.

“COPD and asthma contribute substantially to the burden of non-communicable disease,” lead author Professor Theo Vos of the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, University of Washington, said in a statement. “Although much of the burden is either preventable or treatable with affordable interventions, these diseases have received less attention than other prominent non-communicable diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer, or diabetes.”

Risk Factors

The main risk factors for COPD are smoking and air pollution. Occupational risks, such as asbestos, diesel fumes, arsenic and benzene; ozone and second-hand smoke, are the other major causes. Asthma is mostly caused by smoking and asthma-causing allergens in the workplace.

Asthma and COPD can be treated or prevented in many cases, but deaths occur when people are left undiagnosed, misdiagnosed or undertreated, according to the study.

The Study

The GBD study analysed data for more than 300 diseases for 188 countries from 1990 to 2015. “The GBD report in 2012 had shown that COPD had become the third leading cause of death in the world,” Dr Sundeep Salvi, chair of Chronic Respiratory Diseases section of the GBD-India Chapter, and head the Chest Research Foundation in Pune, said, the Indian Express reported. “Globally there were 2.8 million deaths due to COPD and India and China contributed 65 per cent. India had 69 million deaths due to COPD then.”

Respiratory Diseases in India

Indians are also prone to other respiratory diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis, earlier studies have shown. Deaths due to lung diseases were reported to be on the rise in the country, accounting for 11 per cent of the total deaths, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) report of 2015. A total of 37,485,713 cases of acute respiratory infection were recorded, and 2,893 people died of the cause, in India in 2015, according to India’s National Health Profile 2015.  The provisional data for 2016 put the figures at 40,303,141 and 3,043, respectively.

India was also reported to have the highest rate of death from respiratory disease in the world, according to the WHO, with the figures of 159 deaths per 100,000 in 2012. The rate was 10 times that of Italy, five times that of the UK and twice that of China, and the sharp rise in the incidence was blamed by Indian doctors on air pollution, according to a Guardian report.

The three most deadly non-communicable diseases in India in 2013 were cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases, and cancer respectively, according to a Global Disease Burden report.

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