Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Asthma cases on the rise among children

The Jakarta Post, Tuesday, July 31, 2007 Page A1

Worsening air pollution in Jakarta has made children more prone to suffering from asthma, a health expert has said.

Budi Haryanto of the University of Indonesia's Public Health School blamed Jakarta's traffic chaos for the continued pollution of the city's air.

Budi said a car moving slower than 30 kilometers per hour produced more carbon monoxide gas, which in turn triggered asthma, than a faster moving car.

"It's dangerous if people, especially children, breathe the gas because it can disturb blood circulation," Budi told The Jakarta Post last week.

"The higher the level of air pollution, the bigger the chance of children suffering from asthma attacks," he said.

Around 6.5 million vehicles drive through Jakarta streets each day. Besides carbon monoxide, vehicles also produce nitrogen oxide that can cause dizziness, headaches and loss of coordination.

Asthma is caused by a genetic predisposition combined with environmental factors or an unhealthy lifestyle.

According to data from the Ministry of Health, in 1995 as many as 2.1 percent of children in Indonesia suffered from asthma, the figure increasing to 5.2 percent in 2003.

The Jakarta Health Agency said there was no data on the prevalence of asthma in the city.

A pediatrician specializing in asthma, Noenoeng Rahajoe, said asthma could be controlled but could never be cured completely.

"(This is) because a genetic factor is playing a role here, which is then triggered by other factors," he said.

The other factors, he said, were not only vehicle pollution but also smoke from kerosene stoves and dust allergies.

Children with asthma often had trouble sleeping, meaning many could not study well at school, Noenoeng said.

The high prevalence of childhood asthma spurred Noenoeng and other physicians to form Pusat Asthma Anak Suddhaprana (The Suddhaprana Child Asthma Center) at Cipto Mangunkusumo General Hospital in Central Jakarta. Suddhaprana was a Sanskrit word that could be translated as "pure soul", "unpolluted environment" or "clean air", Noenoeng said.

Bambang Supriyanto from the hospital's Respiratory Division said 80 percent of children suffering from asthma were able to recover, although unhealthy surroundings or stress could cause them to relapse when they were older.

"The other 20 percent can live with the disease until they die," he added.

Budi and Noenoeng said more green areas could help prevent the spread of asthma by reducing pollution.

"The administration should provide more green areas (and) not only give permits for those wanting to build malls," Noenoeng said.

Minah, the mother of four-year-old Arya, brought her son to the hospital after he coughed continually for more than a week.

"At first I thought it was just a common cough, but after a few days without it stopping I brought him to a general practitioner near the house. But my son didn't get any better so I brought him to the hospital," she said.

"The doctors at the center found that my son was allergic to dust blown by a fan," Minah said, adding that she learned how to look after Arya if he relapsed.

The World Health Organization released an estimate this year that 100 to 150 million people around the world had asthma, a number predicted to increase by around 180,000 each year.

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