Rapid urbanisation and drastically changing lifestyles have exposed people to severe allergy-related disorders in developing countries like India but lack of research and speciality in the discipline means they remain ill-prepared to deal with the problem.

In December this year, India will for the first time play host to over 90 top specialists from 30 countries at an international conference in Hyderabad that will see them deliver lectures, hold public forums and awareness camps and discussions on how to bring about more focus on the issue.

Dr Ruby Pawankar, President of the World Allergy Organisation (WAO), the first woman and the first Indian to hold this position, says allergies are part of chronic non-communicable diseases and is a huge issue, even in developing countries.

In India to lay the ground for the international conference to be held from December 6 to 9, the Tokyo-based Pawankar says it is high time allergy as a disorder develops into a super speciality discipline.

“As many as 250,000 people die of asthma every year. And asthma is only one form of allergy of the respiratory tract.

Skin allergies are rampant, and there are 200 million cases of food allergies. Besides developing it into a separate medial discipline, a number of policy initiatives are also required,” she told PTI in an interview here.

Allergies can simply be defined as abnormal reactions to normally harmless substances. They can range from minor irritants such as sneezing and itching, to major problems such as asthma and even fatal reactions in some cases.

Even as the incidence of such problems increases in countries such as India, there is little research or data evidence collection to gauge its real burden and magnitude.

The World Allergy Organisation (WAO), which started six decades back, was a less pro-active organisation in the first few decades of its existence. However, over the past 15 to 20 years, it has consciously become more active in the fields of advocacy, training, research and awareness creation.

Pawankar says urbanisation and lifestyle changes contribute significantly to people’s propensity towards allergies and developing countries, including India, are undergoing transformation and witnessing a rise in cases.

(This article was published on August 31, 2012)
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