New Zealand is renowned for being clean and green with beautiful natural landscapes encased with fresh air, so it is difficult to believe that we have one of the highest rates of asthma and respiratory diseases in the world with 1 in 7 children and 1 in 8 adults in New Zealand suffering from some form of the illness.
Those figures mean Asthma is more than a disease that happens to others and positions it as a real challenge to the daily lives in most New Zealand households. Our whānau at Spark Health are representative of these statistics.
When I was nine, I woke up to find my mum and brother gone – he had had an asthma attack overnight and had to be admitted to hospital and while I was stoked that it meant for me the opportunity to wear whatever I wanted to school (which yes meant my 80s sundress in the middle of July) it was also quite scary at a young age to be confronted with the fact that your sibling could be confronted with a life threatening event.
I was also diagnosed as an asthmatic although fortunately did not have it as severely as my brother so my journey was not filled with hospital visits, nonetheless it was still a frustrating journey for a child. Firstly, given the relative lack of knowledge and awareness of the disease in those days, it was fortunate to get a diagnoses (some GPs at the time didn’t even know how to diagnose it while other doctors got a reputation as the ‘asthma doctor’. Once diagnosed, you were, depending on your health provider, faced with a journey of medication trials and changes to find the right inhaler or medication and requirement to do daily peak flow readings – which are not ‘cool’ on sleepovers or school camps. The worst mitigation prescribed as my trigger was consuming dairy products which meant many years of no chocolate – which is now proven to not be a cause of Asthma.
One of our team went through a similar scary experience where their mother had a severe attack and they as an 8-year-old called the ambulance, saving her life – but shared concerns that if he hadn’t been there that the outcome may not have been as positive. Their brother also had asthma and shared the same journey of trialing a litany of different medications before they found one that worked. He also recalls a time when his brother took too many doses of his inhaler when he was particularly bad which resulted in an increased heart rate.
One of the key treatment challenges with asthma is the poor communication gap between the healthcare provider and patient – in my brother’s case we were told to capture peak flow readings but were not told what a ‘poor’ reading was and what may indicate an attack may occur. In the case of my colleagues brother understanding the side effects of over dosing and what to do if the inhaler wasn’t cutting the mustard would have also helped.
This year’s theme for World Asthma day is ‘Closing the Gaps’ as research shows that Maori and Pacific peoples and those living I poverty are much more severely affected by Asthma. There is much more known about the disease, its triggers and treatments today but even with that information a large number of New Zealanders still struggle to navigate the sector and
With Spark Health’s new digital health platform, Kete Waiora we are on a mission to support those working to close the gaps by empowering patients and providers to work together to deliver the best possible health outcomes. Using Kete Waiora, in our cases our doctors and family could have had access to the medications information, peak flow readings (which may have triggered an alert of an attack in advance removing the need for hospital treatment) and helped to identify triggers much more easily than we could in the 80s. Also connecting to data of other asthmatics providers would be able to see what treatments work for different asthma patients, potentially streamlining the care process and reducing the number of different inhalers that needed to be tested.
What can you do?
It can be hard navigating life with Asthma, both maintaining what you need to do on a daily basis and when your asthma is triggered.
You can help to make the journey of an asthmatic a bit easier, by making a donation to fund the donation of COPD resources and educational tools free of charge to the New Zealanders that need them the most.
Dr Fingleton, Medical Director for The Asthma & Respiratory Foundation is also hosting a Q&A on asthma today and the video can be viewed here or on their Facebook page.
You can also check out articles and information on Asthma and other respiratory diseases here https://www.asthmafoundation.org.nz/stories
To read more about Kete Waiora visit kete.waiora.nz