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The Federal Minister for Health, the Hon. Greg Hunt MP, today launched the new National Asthma Strategy which updates the national response to this chronic disease affecting more than 2.5 million Australians.
The Strategy aims to reduce the health, social and economic impacts of asthma with a targeted and comprehensive approach to optimise asthma diagnosis and management.
It is a blueprint for improving the prevention, care and management of asthma for people with asthma and their families, health care providers, researchers and government.
Building on the significant progress made in asthma over the past three decades the Strategy’s development was led by the National Asthma Council Australia, in partnership with Asthma Australia, with funding from the Australian Government Department of Health.
“It has been a collaborative effort from many stakeholders, including all levels of government, industry and patients. The Strategy is underpinned by a whole-of-system approach that has the person with asthma and their caregivers at the centre,” said Dr Jonathan Burdon AM, Chair of the National Asthma Council and respiratory physician.
“As Australia’s most widespread chronic health condition, asthma has a significant impact on the community,” said The Hon. David Simmons OAM, Chair of Asthma Australia. “We’re looking forward to putting the Strategy into practice by delivering programs in the community such as our national asthma helpline and telephone coaching service, asthma first aid training and school guidelines that will reach around half a million young people.”
A key focus of the Strategy is to improve outcomes for those with asthma who face specific challenges, such as people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and those with severe or poorly controlled asthma. This is where the biggest gap between evidence and practice lies, and where the potential for reducing its impact is greatest.
“We know by optimising asthma diagnosis and management, significant gains can be achieved in a patient’s quality of life,” said Dr Burdon. “As a result of that, we will see substantial reductions in asthma related deaths and associated costs.”
In the recently released PBS annual expenditure report, two asthma medications were listed amongst the most expensive drugs to the health system.
“Though asthma medication causes a significant burden on tax dollars every year, patients are not necessarily getting the appropriate treatments to improve their symptoms,” said Dr Burdon. “It is critical that the health professional workforce is armed with appropriate knowledge and tools to identify the best options with their patients.”
With the funding support from the Federal Government, the National Asthma Council Australia has developed and delivered numerous health professional information papers that covers a wide range of topics in asthma, as well as the Asthma Best Practice education program, which has been highly effective to prepare health professionals with practical advice to deliver best care.
The Strategy also emphasises the importance of prevention and patient self-management.
Mr Simmons said, “When it comes to the asthma mortality rate and hospitalisations, we have reached a plateau over the last 20 years. Poor self-management of asthma has contributed to this and we must continue our work with people with asthma to address the reasons for poor management, to challenge myths about asthma, and provide ongoing education and support.”
Research shows that 45 per cent of Australian asthma patients don’t adhere to their management plan for various reasons; only 25 per cent of adults and 40 per cent of children with asthma have a written asthma action plan and nearly 40 per cent of people with asthma only use reliever medicines. Inevitably, a quarter of these patients were forced to seek last-minute treatment for a dangerous flare-up in their condition.
“The reality is that those numbers need to be improved significantly if we want to make an impact on asthma in Australia,” said Mr Simmons. “We’re hopeful that a funding commitment will be made alongside the launch of the new national strategy, to maintain and expand programs that can create this change.”
“The good news is that a significant proportion of asthma morbidity and its associated costs to the health system and the community are preventable, and we now know exactly what to do to move the dial.”
Dr Burdon remarked that for the 1 in 10 Australians with asthma the Strategy is a beacon of hope that their government cares and has concrete plans to make their lives better.
“The Strategy prompts all of us working in asthma to re-examine our work to ensure what we are doing is appropriate and effective for Australia’s diverse population,” added Dr Burdon. “We applaud the Minister’s vision and leadership, which will bring all the stakeholders together in a planned and coordinated way to affect change”.
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