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#TBT: Ethnic Disparities in the Burden and Treatment of Asthma

May 29, 2014

As part of our “Throwback Thursday” blog series, we’re taking a look at a topic that’s currently in the news and tagging it with previous research, videos or commentaries in a relevant way. As the saying goes, “what’s old is new again” – and we hope you enjoy our wonky twist on #TBT.

May is National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month, offering an opportunity to take a closer look at the challenges faced by the nearly 25 million American adults and children who live with asthma.

Asthma affects people of all ages and backgrounds and is one of the main drivers of health care expenditures and absences from work and school. In fact, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA):

  • Asthma is the fourth leading cause for missing work or being unproductive at work.
  • Because of asthma, nearly 15 million workdays each year are “lost,” which accounts for about $3 billion in indirect costs.
  • Asthma is “the number one chronic cause of school absenteeism among children each year, accounting for more than 13 million total missed days of school."

Although there is no cure for asthma, the chronic disease is manageable through appropriate prevention strategies and treatments. One of the biggest challenges, however, is ensuring that people with asthma have access to the treatments they need. For minority populations, access to those necessary treatments can be especially difficult—and that’s why we’ve chosen “Ethnic Disparities in the Burden and Treatment of Asthma” as our “Throwback Thursday” selection.

This report, published by the National Pharmaceutical Council and AAFA in 2005, notes that “[i]n the United States the burden of asthma falls disproportionately on the black and Hispanic—largely Puerto Rican—populations, and especially on minority children. These groups have disproportionately high rates of poor asthma outcomes, including hospitalizations and deaths.”

In particular, “As much as 40 percent of the risk of asthma in minority children is attributable to exposure to residential allergens that could be reduced, if not eliminated. Access to care is hampered by socioeconomic disparities, shortages of primary care physicians in minority communities, and language and literacy barriers.”

To address these challenges, the report says that “Increasing the use of long-term control medications is key to reducing disparities in the burden of asthma,” especially as part of an asthma management program. Additionally, asthma education and management programs designed for minority groups have demonstrated success and "the widespread adoption of such programs could potentially alleviate a large proportion of the burden of asthma in minority children and adults."

For additional information about asthma, visit the AAFA website.

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