Health experts on Wednesday called for improving public awareness of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — one of the most common and deadly chronic respiratory illnesses in China — and boosting the screening and treatment capability of grassroots medical workers.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), usually associated with smoking or long-time exposure to air pollution, causes symptoms such as difficulty in breathing, chronic cough - sometimes with phlegm, and exhaustion. However, it is preventable and curable.
The disease is the third leading cause of deaths worldwide and affects around 13.7 percent of people aged 40 and above in China, according to Wang Chen, a prominent respiratory disease and critical care expert and director of the National Center for Respiratory Medicine.
"A typical symptom of patients at the medium and late stage of the condition is shortness of breathing, which is so unbearable that one may feel like dying. As a result, we have also observed a high prevalence in anxiety and depression among patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease," he said during an academic conference held by the China-Japan Friendship Hospital in Beijing on the 22nd World COPD Day that falls on Wednesday.
However, Wang said that awareness of the disease pales markedly when compared with that of other common chronic illnesses, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke.
A survey led by the center shows that over 60 percent of participants "have no idea of COPD". Among medical workers in community or rural health clinics, only half of them have a basic understanding of the disease.
Yang Ting, deputy director of the center, said that an epidemiological investigation has shown that less than 10 percent of people in China have taken a pulmonary function test — which is essential for diagnosing the disease.
"Moreover, the primary therapy for treating the disease on the grassroots level should be inhaled drugs, but our survey shows that grassroots medical workers most often prescribe antibiotics, cough medicines used to help clear phlegm and even oral corticosteroid medications," she said.
Yang said that, since 2017, the center has rolled out a series of screening and diagnosis programs targeting the disease, covering more than 300 million in population.
"The top priority regarding controlling the disease should be on the grassroots level, and more efforts are needed to step up training for local medical workers on standardized treatment and improving access to proper drugs," she said.
Wang also suggested people aged 40 and above to undergo screening of the disease, and include the pulmonary function test into the regular health checkups.