Concern over rise in asthma cases


More and more Swiss are suffering from asthma, reflecting a global trend among industrialised nations.

This content was published on May 6, 2003 - 12:53

On World Asthma Day, the Swiss Respiratory Society (SRS) says it wants to raise awareness of the impact the condition has on the lives of sufferers.

The World Health Organization estimates that asthma affects 155 million people worldwide.

In Switzerland, around seven per cent of the population suffer from or have suffered from the condition, which is responsible for around 300 deaths a year.

"Around half a million people in Switzerland have been diagnosed at one time or another with asthma," Thierry Rochat, president of the SRS, told swissinfo.

"We have seen between ten and 20 per cent more cases over the last 20 years," added Rochat.

"We don't know if this increase will continue, and we don't really know the reasons behind the higher number of cases diagnosed."


Lung specialists believe that it may have something to do with modern lifestyles.

Rochat says the decrease in early childhood infections, increased pollution and the type of food we consume may all be factors that help to trigger asthma.

The SRS says that it wants heighten awareness about the disorder, in an attempt to improve the lives of asthma sufferers.

According to the association, around 95 per cent of them could enjoy a better lifestyle simply through better information and a better understanding of the implications of the ailment.

Specialists say simple therapeutic and preventive measures are enough to bring asthma under control.


Rochat reckons that most of 300 deaths a year in Switzerland should not happen, since appropriate medication is available.

"Patients are not always aware of the severity of their asthma," he said.

"There are also delays in getting to the emergency room or even just to the doctor's when you have a worsening asthma."

The disease also has an economic cost: the SRS reckons that the economy loses around SFr1.2 billion ($900 million) each year to asthma, either due to treatment costs or lost work hours.

A pilot project in canton Valais has shown that costs can be reduced through proper information and improved patient awareness.

The study has found that hospital bills and lost work hours can be cut each year by SFr5,000 per patient under the programme, which involves doctors, the SRS and other health specialists.

Rochat says he would like this type of partnership to be extended to the rest of the country.

"We are convinced that part of the problem we face with treatment is sub-optimal management," he said. "This is why we need to get everybody involved in a common asthma project."

swissinfo, Scott Capper and Isobel Johnson


Around 155 million people suffer from asthma globally, according to the WHO.
In Switzerland, seven per cent of the population has been diagnosed with the condition.
Around 300 people die each year from asthma in Switzerland.
Asthma-related illnesses cost the Swiss economy around SFr1.2 billion per year.

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In brief

On World Asthma Day, the Swiss Respiratory Society wants to raise awareness about the ailment to help improve the lives of sufferers.

Switzerland has seen asthma rates increase over the past 20 years, reflecting global trends, but no explanation has been put forward.

A lack of information means that many people are not aware of their condition, or how severe it may be.

Through better patient information and management of the condition, specialists believe the death toll could be reduced and the economic costs of asthma reduced.

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