Asthma affects 25 million Americans, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 10 percent of the school-age children, particularly those raised in low-income communities, are affected.
High poverty rates and low indoor air quality often make managing asthma challenging for families living in urban areas. Exacerbated by the presence of triggers such as cockroaches, dust, and mold, the disease can be life-threatening for children who don’t have access to proper medications, and the problem is significant in neighborhoods throughout the greater Washington, DC, area.
“Asthma is an issue that disproportionately affects those who can least afford to have it,” said Stephen Teach, MD, MPH, Director and Principal Investigator of IMPACT DC (Improving Pediatric Asthma Care in the District of Columbia) as well as Chair to the Department of Pediatrics at the George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences, in an interview on the Kojo Nnamdi Show.
The District’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 Ruth Richardson, PhD, RN, a nurse with Children’s School Services. “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.”
Dr. Teach and Dr. Richardson are collaborating with community organizers, families, and schools to make inhalers more readily available to children in low-income neighborhoods. Additionally, they are working to educate primary care providers about asthma and improve air quality in schools, taking steps that have already had a profound impact on the community.
“Strong evidence indicates that the disease is coming under better control,” Dr. Teach said. “In the past year, we have seen rates of emergency department visits for kids with asthma plummet by 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.”