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Better Breathing

Suffer from COPD or Asthma? Save Your Breath

Young boy with an inhaler
Young boy with an inhaler

George Habib

President & CEO, The Lung Association

We rarely think about the 22,000 breaths we take every day — until we have trouble taking them. Many Canadians living with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and asthma don’t fully manage their symptoms, which results in a lower quality of life. However, with continued innovation in Canada, these conditions do not have to be life-limiting.

Mediaplanet asked President and CEO of The Lung Association, George Habib, about his outlook on respiratory innovation.

Mediaplanet: What are the greatest respiratory challenges in Canada right now?

George Habib: Simply put, too many Canadians are struggling to breathe. Even more alarming is that many of them remain undiagnosed, or unaware of the steps they could take to improve their breathing through better disease management.

Our research estimates that 2 million Canadians live with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) – yet a further one million more people may have COPD and not even know it. Since early diagnosis is critical to slowing the progression of the disease, these “missing million” are missing out on increased quality of life — and perhaps even missing out on extending their life expectancies altogether.

In another study examining the diagnosis and treatment of asthma, The Lung Association found that an alarming number of Canadians are living with asthma that’s poorly managed. 36% of people with asthma regularly experience shortness of breath, chest tightness, coughing and wheezing, yet 92% believe that they have their asthma “under control”.  In reality, a near-symptomless life is within reach for the majority of people with asthma with the right treatment and trigger avoidance. That’s a significant knowledge gap.

The shift away from one-size-fits-all approaches to treating lung disease will be crucial to improving patient outcomes.

What is the current landscape of COPD and asthma, with reference to commonality and patient care?

COPD and asthma patients face similar challenges. Spirometry tests are underused, though they’re the gold standard for accurately diagnosing both conditions. Action plans are frequently underused by both healthcare providers and their patients, limiting self-management and increasing the likelihood of flare-ups that require hospitalization. Inhaler techniques can be confusing for newly diagnosed COPD and asthma patients — whose numbers continue to grow, especially among women

What have been the biggest innovations in this sector over the past 50 years, and in the past 10 years?

Over the past 50 years, dropping smoking rates have been a massive boon to breathing!

More recently, the shift away from one-size-fits-all approaches to treating lung disease will be crucial to improving patient outcomes. A big focus for The Lung Association is educating Canadians about innovation in lung disease treatment, like the use of biologic medications for severe asthma or precision medicines for lung cancer. Our goal is the right medication, for the right patient, at the right time.

What are the gaps we still need to fill in this sector? Why is continuous innovation important?

In addition to the knowledge gaps that need to be filled, access to diagnosis and treatment is still a key issue facing patients. For example, the lengthy public and private drug plan review of respiratory biologics for formulary listings is currently delaying access to much-needed treatments. And without public or private coverage, it can be difficult for patients to cover the cost of these medications out-of-pocket. For patients whose lung disease symptoms can’t be controlled by more commonplace medications, treatment innovation is critical.

What is the most important thing for Canadians to know about COPD and Asthma?

That Canadians with lung disease can — and absolutely should — feel empowered take an active role in their care. This can include using tools that help them understand their diagnosis, following their treatment plans diligently, and taking their medications as prescribed.

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