Burden of allergy disorders rising in developing nations

New Delhi: Rapid urbanisation and drastically changing lifestyles have exposed people to severe allergy-related disorders in developing countries like India but lack of research and speciality in the discipline means they remain ill-prepared to deal with the problem.

In December this year, India will for the first time play host to over 90 top specialists from as many as 30 countries at an international conference in Hyderabad that will see them deliver lectures, hold public forums and awareness camps and discussions on how to bring about more focus on the issue.

Dr Ruby Pawankar, President of the World Allergy Organisation (WAO), the first woman and the first Indian to hold this position, says allergies are part of chronic non- communicable diseases and is a huge issue, even in developing countries.

In India to lay the ground for the international conference to be held from December 6 to 9, Tokyo-based Pawankar says it is high time allergy as a disorder develops into a super speciality discipline.

"As many as 250,000 people die of asthma every year. And asthma is only one form of allergy of the respiratory tract. Skin allergies are rampant, and there are 200 million cases of food allergies. Besides developing it into a separate medial discipline, a number of policy initiatives are also required," she told PTI in an interview here.

Allergies can simply be defined as abnormal reactions to normally harmless substances. They can range from minor irritants like sneezing and itching, to major problems like asthma and even fatal reactions in some cases.

Even as the incidence of such problems increases in countries like India, there is little research or data evidence collection to gauge its real burden and magnitude.

The World Allergy Organisation (WAO), which started six decades back, was a less pro-active organisation in the first few decades of its existence. However, over the past 15 to 20 years, it has consciously become more active in fields of advocacy, training, research and creating awareness.

Pawankar says urbanisation and lifestyle changes contribute significantly to people`s propensity towards allergies and developing countries, including India, are undergoing transformation and witnessing a rise in cases. "While allergy-related disorders were noticed pertinently

in the developed world only after they had become a major problem, in the developing countries we are witnessing a rise as it happens," Pawankar said.

Urbanisation, increasing levels of pollution, and climate climate are ripe conditions for allergens to become active.

"There is reduced exposure to biodiversity and hence people do not come in contact with beneficial micro-organisms that offer immunity against allergens. Besides, lack of early exposure to infections, and the urban way of living -- of wall to wall carpeting and air conditioning -- also leaves greater scope for allergens to work," she says.

According to estimates of WAO, roughly 30 to 40 per cent of world`s population suffers from allergic diseases.

About 20 to 30 per cent of people in India, especially children, suffer from allergic diseases, and it is predicted that about 50 per cent of all children in India will have some sort of allergy by 2050.

"We need to raise awareness among parents, as well as teachers through camps in school. Besides, policy interventions are also needed to ensure correct food labelling for contents to help people with food allergies," she said.

She said the WAO is holding a number of exercises in developing countries as part of efforts to raise awareness, including bringing a White Paper and suggesting syllabus.
"Generally allergies are trivialised because data of its burden and seriousness is lacking. Devices like EpiPen are not available in the Indian market.

"Besides, while general physicians and experts in different fields are equipped to provide consultation and treatment to patients of allergy, it would be of paramount importance to establish speciality in the field," she said.


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