While inaugurating the International Symposium on Recent Research Advances in Asthma Pathogenesis yesterday, Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer brought home the importance of asthma research to the local level.

Quoting a recent study by the Department of Para Clinical Sciences, University of the West Indies, and published in the West Indian Medical Journal he said that the prevalence of asthma in the Caribbean is high and seems to be increasing. Specifically, in Antigua & Barbuda the PM said that while the total population affected by asthma is relatively low, predominant in the infant to 10-year-old age group, there are  signs of increase.

The PM said that in the Caribbean region, studies show that the rate of asthma increases as communities adopt a more western lifestyle and become urbanised.

Reasons for continued research in the field of asthma lay in the fact that treatment of acute attacks diverts millions of medical resources annually, funds that could go to other areas of medical care.

“The economic costs of treating asthma in Antigua & Barbuda are considerable, both in terms of direct medical costs, such as hospital admissions and the cost of pharmaceuticals and indirect medical costs such as time lost from work and premature death,” PM Spencer stated.

Research, however, is growing and it points away from environmental risk factors and towards genetic facts. The PM said that from his understanding it will be difficult and complex to develop gene therapy.

He encouraged the approximately 80 gathered scientists to greater efforts, saying that from their work will come knowledge that can be transferred from the laboratory bench to the patients’ bedside.

He also sought their expertise in assisting the Ministry of Health in meeting three of its immediate goals in the treatment of asthma. They are: the establishment of a comprehensive Asthma Bay in the emergency room at Holberton Hospital and at Mount St. John when it becomes operational, the training of three nurses as certified asthma educators who would in turn train other nurses, and to conduct a comprehensive study on asthma prevalence in Antigua & Barbuda to ultimately decrease the rate of acute asthma attacks.

He suggested that the study be done in collaboration with hospital-based and private doctors.

“It is my hope,” said the PM, “that the discussions at this international symposium with the galaxy of global scientists will help in the understanding of cellular and molecular mechanisms of asthma. I am fully confident that such interactions between the scientists will lead to the development of newer and safer drugs for introducing new and advanced treatments for better and improved clinical management of patients suffering from asthma.”

The symposium is the first major scientific conference to be held in Antigua. It was organised by the staff of the two-year-old AUA College of Medicine and its world-renowned educational partner University of Manitoba. It is being sponsored by Manitoba Blue Cross, AUA, Merck frost Canada Inc., University of North Dakota, V-P Research, University of Manitoba Physiology Department and Department of Respiratory Diseases.

The four-day conference, currently underway at the Grand Royal Antiguan Beach Resort ends tomorrow.