Educating about asthma

The Asthma Waikato team with some educational material – from left are Carolyn Munro, Sheryl Long and Alyssia Paekau.

The growing need for people to better manage their asthma is behind a move by Asthma Waikato to extend its range of effectiveness in 2021.

The three-person team operating from Hamilton plans to broaden its reach by growing the online service it expanded during last year’s lockdown. It also hopes to establish more training opportunities for health professionals, and take the updated message into more schools, early learning centres, community and kaumatua groups.

“We started extending our message into schools and early learning centres late last year. One reason was that there have changes in the management of asthma over the last couple of years, and it is really important for people to know about those,” said Sheryl Long, Asthma Waikato general manager and a trained physiotherapist who works with asthma educator Alyssia Paekau, and support worker Carolyn Munro.

New Zealand has a high prevalence of asthma. According to the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation of NZ, the chronic respiratory condition affects one in seven children aged two to 14 years, and one in eight adults.    Around 586,000 school days are lost each year due to the condition.

Sheryl said while most people know someone with the condition, what is less known is that an average of 77 people a year die from asthma.

“It can be deadly, but with the correct management, most people can live normal lives. That is why it is so important for people to be informed about what medication to use, and how to use it.  We aren’t doctors, but we do know how to ensure people are taking the correct dosage of what they have been prescribed, and make sure they are using the right device in the right way.  People often don’t realise that by using a spacer, they increase the dose delivered to the lungs by between 50 to 70 percent.”

The team also distributes ‘asthma bags’ in which children can keep all their medications and equipment, ready to take with them at a moment’s notice.

Asthma Waikato is a charity whose limited funding means the team works only part-time to cover the sprawling Waikato DHB coverage area.  They do asthma consultations for children up to the age of 15 and their families, run asthma education sessions for various groups, run spirometry (a measurement of lung capacity) training courses for health professionals and run weekly support groups.

They hope to build up their pre-Covid-19 online use for both consultation and training.

“We are able to use whatever Zoom or social media platform people are familiar with. It is easier to do some consultations face-to-face, but we can pretty much cover most of what is needed online.  Not only does it mean we can reach more people, but it also future-proofs Asthma Waikato.”

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