10 May 2019

Pacific people urged to learn more about Lupus

2:24 pm on 10 May 2019

Today is World Lupus Day and Pasifika people are urged to make good health decisions to reduce the risk factors of the disease in the islands.

New Zealand rheumatologist Dr Andrew Harrison.

New Zealand rheumatologist Dr Andrew Harrison. Photo: Supplied

Listen to an interview with Dr Andrew Harrison on Dateline Pacific

New Zealand rheumatologist Andrew Harrison said lupus is four to five times more prevalent in Pacific islanders than in other ethnic populations.

Dr Harrison, who is also the clinical advisor to Arthritis NZ, says lupus is an autoimmune disease that affects a range of tissues - commonly the skin.

"It is no doubt a major problem for Pacific people. So it's all a moral problem in the Pacific. It is important that the traditional risk factors like blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking are addressed - the risks of cardiovascular disease which is the biggest killer in lupus are minimised."

He said the classic lupus rash is the 'Butterfly Rash' which extends across the cheeks, below the eyes in a pattern that looks a bit like the wings of a butterfly.

Dr Harrison said lupus patients in the Pacific can be treated.

"The most commonly prescribed treatment for patients with severe disease or patients who are having a flare-up of symptoms would be steroids. But there are other drugs like Prednisone, Hydroxychloroquine, Methotrexate and Azathioprine which should be available in the Pacific."

But Lupus Foundation of Fiji executive Una Tuitubou said last week the disease was threatening many people's lives in the country.

She said there was nothing available in the country or the Pacific region to deal with and create awareness of this serious disease.

"There is a warning that more needs to be done in the Pacific to raise awareness and combat the auto-immune disease lupus."

Dr Harrison agreed the level of understanding the disease must be improved.

He urged the Pacific to work closely with more developed countries like Australia and New Zealand to combat the disease in the islands.

"It's important you have specialists who are trained and have skills in diagnosing and managing those patients. But you also need a good primary care workforce that has the ability to recognise the cases and refer them on.

"The medications that are slowly becoming available to us in Australia and New Zealand also made available to the Pacific countries.

"It's also important that lupus is diagnosed early and the health professionals are kept up todate with new advances in treatment," he said.

Ms Tuitubou said while there were no official or known statistics for Fiji and the Pacific, many people were misdiagnosed as lupus could mimic the symptoms of other diseases.

"Lupus attacks tissue and organs. Inflammation caused by lupus can affect many different body systems - including joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart and lungs, and if misdiagnosed can be fatal," she said.

Dr Harrison said it was important to manage the cardiovascular risks of the disease.

"A lot of it comes from suppressing the inflammatory process and the autoimmune process.

"When it comes to making bad health decisions, smoking is a very, very bad health decision.

"It's just the worst thing you can do if you suffer from lupus - so certainly not smoking, keeping your blood pressure under control, keeping fit, keeping your weight down, keeping out of the sun, living a healthy, balanced life, style, getting plenty of sleep.

"The are all important aspects of managing one's lupus," said Dr Harrison.