Health Ministry clarifies on new asthma inhalers

KIGALI - Rwanda will gradually phase out a particular brand of asthma inhalers that has been deemed dangerous to the environment,a Ministry of Health official has revealed.An agency in the US Department of Health has alerted patients that a type of inhaler sold over the counter would be phased out at year's end as it uses carbon gas that depletes the earth's atmosphere.
Environmentally harmful asthmatic inhalers will be phased out of the country this year. Net Photo
Environmentally harmful asthmatic inhalers will be phased out of the country this year. Net Photo

KIGALI - Rwanda will gradually phase out a particular brand of asthma inhalers that has been deemed dangerous to the environment, a Ministry of Health official has revealed.

An agency in the US Department of Health has alerted patients that a type of inhaler sold over the counter would be phased out at year's end as it uses carbon gas that depletes the earth's atmosphere.

The Epinephrine CFC inhalers, marketed as Primatene Mist, are being phased out because they use chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) as a propellant (spray) to spew the medicine out of the inhaler so patients can inhale it into their lungs.

Even though reportedly more expensive, manufacturers are changing their inhalers to replace CFCs with an environmentally-friendly propellant called hydrofluoroalkane (HFA).

John Patrick Mwesigye, the Pharmacy Task Force Coordinator at the Ministry of Health, told The New Times that when buying medicines, the side effects of the medicines to patients, or the environment, are on no account ignored.

“Switching to asthma inhalers which contain hydrofruoroalkane as a propellant or vehicle or medium, will not be costly to patients but rather life saving,” he said.

Mwesigye noted that it would save both asthma patients and non-patients from being infected with skin cancers, or cataracts, while protecting the Earth’s ozone layer from degradation, which in itself would prove more expensive to manage than asthma.

“Some countries like the US, and some European countries, come December 2011, will switch to the new formulation and, definitely, Rwanda will not be left behind”.

There are, however, many other safe and effective inhalers to treat asthmatic symptoms that require a prescription, which must be obtained from a licensed healthcare professional.

A visit to several pharmacies in the Kimironko area of Kigali established that they had stocked several types of asthma inhalers including: Ventoline Salbutamol, Beclo-Asma, Buto-Asma and Beclometasome, on the shelves.

Dr. Stephenson Musiime, a consultant Paediatrician at King Faisal Hospital, Kigali, said: “In Rwanda, like elsewhere, asthma is on the increase and the cost to the country will continue to rise especially with the use of new user friendly brands.

“The inhalers we have are mainly salbutamol without epinephrine, together with combivent all of which are still on the market and affordable. So, we still have time to save money for the future.”

Dr. Rose Mukankomeje, the head of Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA), said CFCs were banned through “the Montreal Protocol” which Rwanda ratified in 2003.

“In 2009, when we started the big campaign to phase out CFCs, we cross-checked with the National Drug Store – CAMERWA, to find out if they import any inhalers containing CFCs and we were told that the asthma patients in Rwanda are commonly prescribed on "salbutamol" which does not use CFCs as a propellant,” she said.

“Due to the general move to phase out the manufacturing of CFCs, the inhalers with CFCs should be rare”.

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