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Asthma Malaysia aims to improve asthma outcomes one ‘Share’ at a time

Pank Jit Sin
04 Aug 2017

The internet can be a powerful tool in improving awareness on asthma among Malaysians, reveals a respirologist.   

Speaking at the recent Malaysian Thoracic Society (MTS) Annual Scientific Congress held in Kuala Lumpur recently, Dr. Helmy Haja Mydin, consultant respirologist and cofounder of Asthma Malaysia, said that internet usage features prominently among Malaysians.

A total of 20.62 out of 30.54 million Malaysians are active internet users. Of this number, 18 million are active social media users. Additionally, there are 43.43 million mobile devices in the country with 16 million of them being active mobile social users. [Available at http://sme.org.my/2016/04/20/how-many-instagram-users-in-malaysia/ Accessed on 3 August] The large number of internet and social media users in Malaysia meant that social media platforms were an effective tool in engaging persons with asthma.

In 2016, at least 86.6 percent households use the internet at least once a day and of this number, 84.6 percent are using it to participate in social networks eg, Whatsapp©, Facebook© and Instagram©. Malaysia ranks as sixth in terms of time spent on social media each day at 3 hours. Armed with this information, Asthma Malaysia started a Facebook page to boost asthma awareness in the country. 

The Asthma Malaysia page started with a ‘Friend or Foe’ campaign to teach the public different triggers of asthma and share various resources such as infographics, educational videos and articles on asthma. To date, the page has achieved a total reach of 901,000 and 116,000 total user engagement. Helmy noted that 70 percent of the users fall in the 18 to 34 age category and more than half were women. This information is pertinent as women are usually the caregivers, who would then provide adequate asthma care for their loved ones and more likely to share the information among their family and friends.

Current landscape of asthma in Malaysia
Locally, asthma figures and statistics are somewhat dismal. In the REALISE* Asia study, which included participants from Malaysia, some 49.7 percent of persons with asthma had uncontrolled asthma. [J Asthma Allergy 2015;8:93–103]

It is evident that patients did not like to be labeled as being sick (85 percent) and did not like to think about their asthma (70 percent). While 52.8 percent of respondents were aware of the necessity to use controller inhaler regularly to keep their asthma in check, only 19.9 percent were able to identify their inhalers whilst the rest identified their inhalers incorrectly or did not know.

Perhaps most worrying is the hesitation of patients to utilize inhalers, where 50 percent of respondents consider using their inhalers as being a nuisance and only 18 percent took their medication as prescribed. A total of 41 percent of respondents didn’t see the need to take inhalers regularly and as many as 25 percent ignored instructions on how to use inhalers properly. 

In light of these data, Helmy brought attention to a statement made by Professor Martyn Partridge as far back as 1994, where Partridge said “The acquisition of knowledge alone is not enough to reduce morbidity and the challenge is to empower, motivate and direct our patients (and their loved ones), in a way that leads them to altering their behaviour in a beneficial manner as a result of the knowledge that they have acquired. To make this likely to happen involves us thinking about three key but interlinked issues: communication, patient education and organization of care.”

 

*REALISE: REcognise Asthma and LInk to Symptoms and Experience

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