Immune System Defenders

Philippine Society of Allergy Asthma and Immunology

For close to 50 years now, the Philippine Society of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology has been steadfast in raising awareness on how to keep the body’s immune defenses strong, which may be a major health strategy to develop a healthier nation, as all immune system invaders are kept at bay

By Gelyka Ruth R. Dumaraos

The immune system plays a vital role in shielding the body from harms that may affect a person’s health. Adverse consequences may include severe allergic reactions and life-threatening episodes of bronchial asthma.

Disorders related to allergy and immunology cover the common and the rare—spanning across all ages and encompassing various organ systems.

Allergy and Immunology forum at Diamond Hotel last July
Allergy and Immunology forum at Diamond Hotel last July
National Allergy Day
National Allergy Day

Globally, a quarter of the population suffer from asthma and allergy. In the Philippines alone, the National Nutrition and Health Survey (NNHeS 2003) reports that about 8.7-9.2 percent of adults and children, respectively, have asthma.

Allergic rhinitis, which is considered part of the ‘allergic march’ in the airways, is quite prevalent in incidence, at 15.3 percent and 20 percent for adolescents and adults, respectively, according to the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC). Moreover, Atopic dermatitis is likewise prevalent, at 19.9 percent for children.

TMC Allergy NAD Lay Forum
TMC Allergy NAD Lay Forum

It is therefore important that people know how to protect and preserve their immune system—and consequently, the whole body. This is the main mission of the Philippine Society of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (PSAAI), the leading association for raising awareness on this important medical discipline.

Pioneering group

Motivated by the desire to strengthen the practice of allergy and immunology in the Philippines as well as to promote the discipline as a distinct subspecialty, PSAAI was established in 1972 by 11 distinguished allergists, as inspired by pioneer allergist Dr. Arturo Rotor. Dr. Felicidad G. Cua-Lim was elected the first and founding PSAAI president and was the one who took the responsibility to lead the then small group, while Dr. Rotor was the first PSAAI honorary president.

Through the years, the Society has been led by other exemplary physicians namely: Doctors Benigno F. Agbayani, Miguel L. Noche, Augusto L. Lingao, Manuel F. Ferreria, Alendry P. Caviles, Remedios C. Ong, Manuel M. Po, Madeleine W. Sumpaico, Hiyasmin M. Lim, Florecita R. Padua, Ruby N. Foronda, Linda Lim-Varona, Jovilia Abong and currently, Maria Carmela Agustin-Kasala.

Nationla Allergy Day at Fishermall
Nationla Allergy Day at Fishermall

And now, five years before it reaches its golden year, with over 126 members nationwide, PSAAI is leading the way to defend the health of the Filipinos through the subspecialty.

“Our members are Board certified allergists and immunologists who have also undergone pediatrics or internal medicine training and board certification,” Dr. Kasala, current president of PSAAI says. “So you see, all our members are double board- certified.”

PSAAI also upholds its name as a group with high-caliber and reliable members who continue education and trainings here and abroad.

Dr. Kasala reiterates that PSAAI aims to make pediatricians and internists aware of the subspecialty, and achieving this by strengthening local fellowship training programs. Adding to this is their goal to encourage other institutions to establish their own programs, duly accredited by the PSAAI.

Since its inception, the PSAAI’s primary objective has been to raise awareness of allergic and immunologic conditions.

The current president notes that it is important that every Filipino knows how to protect themselves from these disorders.

“Allergies affect close to a quarter of the population,” she says. “Allergies are more than just rashes or a sniffle. Left unchecked, allergic conditions may become worse, life threatening even. Hence, allergies must not go untreated. While allergies may not be 100 percent cured, it certainly can be controlled.

The officers and board of trustees (2017-2018)
The officers and board of trustees (2017-2018)

With this, PSAAI holds lectures in different parts of the country. She says, “Our once biennial conventions which started in 1988, have now been leveled up on the annual mode and even pocket focus symposia have recently been established.”

In 1998, PSAAI had the honor to host the 3rd Asia Pacific Congress of Allergy. “It is our hope to be able to host it once again for our Golden Anniversary in 2022,” Dr. Kasala adds.

Under the presidency of Dr. Hiyasmin Lim, the National Allergy Day (NAD) was established as a national event every July 8 by a Presidential Promulgation signed by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Since then, the NAD has always been a big annual lay forum event nationwide.

PSAAI also celebrates the World Allergy Day and World Primary Immunodeficiency Day in April and World Asthma Day in May. In 2005, the Allergy Club was established. Corollary to this, the Allergy Watch newsletter was also started by Dr. Linda Varona.

PSAAI officers launches Pinoy Kids for Smoke Free Ph Campaign
PSAAI officers launches Pinoy Kids for Smoke Free Ph Campaign

Today, as she leads PSAAI, Dr. Kasala highlights that the association wanted to keep up with the trends of technology through establishing tri-media connections. During her first term, PSAAI included the social media as a way of networking with colleagues in the healthcare profession and the public.

“Together with our current PRO, Dr. Kay Tayag, we continue to do so as we believe communication is a big key factor in networking and information dissemination,” Dr. Kasala explains, recalling how this stemmed under the presidency of Dr Jovilia Abong when she was the PRO handling TV and radio guestings.

National Allergy Day 2

Protecting the earth

Aside from keeping the public more informed through its website, tri media (TV, radio, print), and social media interactions, as well as nationwide public lay fora, PSAAI also wants to highlight the need to protect the environment through their programs.

“The PSAAI is also a committed steward of the earth,” Dr. Kasala says, adding that the environment plays a key role in affecting the health of the allergic patient.

Pro-environment events such as Annual Tree Planting, International Coastal Waters Clean Up Campaign and Pinoy Kids for Smoke Free Philippines are being held regularly.

Dr. Maria Carmela Agustin-Kasala, an exemplary physician
Dr. Maria Carmela Agustin-Kasala, an exemplary physician

PSAAI also takes pride in having a notable list of allergists and immunologists in their database coming from all over the country, which gives easy access to Filipinos who would like to consult allergy specialists near their respective areas.

“Come 2022, PSAAI will be turning Golden. Definitely, we’ve come a long way but we will grow even more! By then, the society ought to have grown in number, with the young leadership team taking over the reins, recognized as a leader in knowledge of A and I not only locally but regionally in Asia Pacific, as well,” she says in closing.

Indeed, by raising awareness to keep the body’s immune defenses strong, we can expect a healthier nation, as all immune system invaders are kept at bay.

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“Allergies are more than just rashes or a sniffle; and left unchecked, allergic conditions may become worse, life threatening even”