My old friends at Radio Four have let me down. I can no longer look to them as my principal source of information on upcoming medical issues. The thing is they have completely missed the fact that today is World COPD Day.
To be fair to them, they are not alone. It hasn't been fanfared much anywhere else either. Which is a shame.
For those not in the know COPD stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. It is a mixed bag of rspiratory ailments that used to be called things like Chronic Bronchitis or Emphysema. Mostly, in the developed world, it has a strong association with smoking. It also represents the end point of a number of industrial chest dieseases and some rarer inherited disorders. Whatever the cause it leaves patients increasingly short of breath, and , if untreated, likely to progress to an early death from respiratory failure.
The real problem with it is that it's not a very sexy ailment. Many physicians view it as self inflicted because of its association with smoking. Further, hospital doctors look on COPD patients as frustrating becuase the ones they see are always pretty ill, hard to treat, and by deffinition impossible to get properly better. Those admitted to hospital tend to be pretty dependent even when "well" and during exacerbations caused by infections or severe weather, their coping mechanisms fall apart completely. This tends to mean they end up needing urgent hospital admission and then require several days (or sometimes weeks) of rehab before they can be got home. And for all the time they occupy a hospital bed they are a living reminder to the physician in charge of their care that he is not the omnipotent god-like healer he otherwise believes himself to be. And worse, they are keeping other "more deserving" patients out of that bed....
Well, here are some headline figures you all should have heard this morning.
COPD is ranked the fourth highest killer disease worldwide. Well above some of the scarier cancers and even HIV.
Current estimates put UK incidence at around 900,000.
Stopping Smoking would go a long way to reducing this incidence. (Sadly not so for the Third World where the main cause implicated is smoke from biomass fuels -- though they are the latest target market for Big Tobacco too as it happens).
Any patient with this beastly disease can be helped to feel better with simple interventions in the form of inhalers, exercise and occasionally home oxygen. Many can be improved dramatically.
I suspect the real problem with World COPD Day is that it doesn't have a ribbon, or a trendy wrist band. Perhaps it's time it did.
Anyway, enough polemic for one day. I'm off to Homebase now.
(Where our Community COPD Nurse has been freezing in the name of the cause, before you ask.)