1.6m died of respiratory disease last year: expert

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 March, 2006, 12:00am

The mainland had 39 million asthma patients last year, while 32.8 million people suffered from life-threatening chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which also affects the lungs, according to a top health expert.

Speaking at the launch of the Global Alliance Against Chronic Respiratory Diseases yesterday in Beijing, Guangzhou Institute of Respiratory Diseases director Zhong Nanshan estimated that 1.6 million people died as a result of such ailments last year.

About 4 million people died of chronic respiratory diseases worldwide last year, and Dr Zhong said he would not be surprised if more than a third of the deaths occurred in China due to its vast population.

He said that after conducting surveys and studying the distribution of asthma cases, the estimate of asthma patients in China was far higher than the original figure of 15 million - and the trend was increasing.

Dr Zhong warned that smoking and the burning of biomass fuel such as wood were the two main factors behind the rise in chronic respiratory diseases, which caused 17 per cent of all deaths in China.

A study in Shaoguan, Guangdong, showed that most women suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease were from poor rural families who burned biomass fuel, he said.

At the same event, the WHO's representative in China, Henk Bekedam, said the high prevalence of chronic respiratory disease was linked to poor air quality and high rates of cigarette smoking. 'With 320 million smokers, China has about 30 per cent of world smokers,' he said.

Although China had ratified the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, it remained an uphill task to change the habit.

'Smoking behaviour and patterns, however, will not change overnight. More than 50 per cent of all non-smokers are exposed to second-hand smoke, including infants and children whose parents smoke around them,' he said.