Washington, DC -- Stephen Teach, MD, MPH, Chair, Department of Pediatrics at Children’s National, and Director of IMPACT DC Asthma Program and Ruth Richardson, PhD RN, School Nurse at Children’s National, told the Kojo Nnamdi Show how the health system is working to overcome a “perfect storm” that has led to increased asthma rates in the Washington DC region.
“It’s a big problem and a growing problem,” said Dr. Teach. “And it’s a problem which really disproportionately affects those kids who can afford to have it the least. These tend to be urban children, under resourced, principally minorities, and we’re seeing growing rates of the disease in that population throughout the nation, and particularly here in DC.”
DC’s residents confront “a constellation of circumstances, which we call the perfect storm,” Dr. Teach said.
Asthma related issues and environmental concerns impact how children are performing in school, said Dr. Richardson. “If you can’t breathe, you can forget about learning,” she said. “We realize a student’s ability to learn in school is directly related to their health status.”
In the District of Columbia, low-income families have difficulty managing childhood asthma, with ripple effects felt in schools, workplaces and emergency departments. Homes in impoverished communities typically have high levels of asthma triggers, such as dust and mold, or cockroaches and mice. Some reports show that up to 1/3 of children in low income areas are impacted by asthma.
Too many students also don’t have an ‘asthma action plan’ on file in schools. In addition, inhalers sometimes get lost or misplaced, which can be exaggerated among homeless populations, Dr. Richardson said.
“The students live in homeless shelters and move from place to place, or stay with family and friends, and this can cause an inhaler to get misplaced or lost,” Dr. Richardson said. “The inhaler is a life saver.”
Children’s National is working with school administrators and families to improve coordination in schools to ensure inhalers are more available in schools, according to Drs. Teach and Richardson.
To improve asthma conditions, Dr. Teach says policy changes are needed, including “everything from making inhalers more widely available for kids who need them to working on housing issues, to improving air quality in the schools and educating primary care providers to make sure they’re able to provide asthma care their kids need.”
Although the proportion of children in DC with asthma continue to go up, Dr. Teach said, “There’s really good evidence that the disease is, on a population basis, coming under better control. We’re seeing actual rates of emergency department visits for asthma, among kids with asthma, actually plummeted about 40 percent in the District.”
“That’s due to the efforts of ourselves and others, rally across the primary and specialty care continuum, the District school nurses, public advocacy groups, housing groups,” Dr. Teach added. “A lot of us have come together to target this issue and really important progress is being made. That said, there’s a lot of work left to do.”
Contact: Emily Hartman or Joe Cantlupe at 202-476-4500.
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