As we head into the festive season after a long and challenging year, the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ (ARFNZ) is encouraging Kiwis to stay safe and look after their respiratory health this summer.
"With COVID now in the community here in New Zealand, it can be a stressful time for those with respiratory conditions," says ARFNZ Chief Executive Letitia Harding. "At this time of year, there are family gatherings, Christmas parties and holidays happening, so the risks of exposure are higher. It’s important to take sensible precautions and follow government advice, regardless of where you are in the country."
While meeting outdoors is a great option from the perspective of COVID safety, it can be difficult for allergy sufferers. "Pollen is a common trigger for many people, and limiting your exposure can help," says ARFNZ Research and Education Manager Joanna Turner. "One way to do this is to arrange outdoor activities for late afternoon or evening, when pollen levels drop off. Other common triggers include smoke and heat, so watch out around the summer barbecues and avoid second-hand smoke."
Respiratory conditions are extremely common in New Zealand, affecting over 700,000 people. Asthma affects one in seven children and one in eight adults, and one in three of us have allergies. Māori and Pacific peoples and those living in deprived areas have particularly high levels of respiratory disease, and are more likely to suffer poor health outcomes.
ARFNZ provides vital resources, education, and support for all New Zealanders living with respiratory conditions. These include Asthma Action Plans in multiple languages, which help people to recognise deteriorating asthma symptoms, how to respond to them, and when to call an ambulance. Asthma Action Plans follow a ‘traffic light’ system, from well to worsening to an asthma emergency. Having a personalised action plan from your healthcare practitioner could save your life.
Asthma is especially prevalent among children, with over half a million school days lost to asthma-related complications each year. ARFNZ’s Sailor the Pufferfish/Heremana te Kōpūtōtara show provides asthma education for schools in English and te Reo Māori. Recently, ARFNZ launched a Sailor Digital Classroom too, so no matter where you are in New Zealand you have free access to vital asthma education.
ARFNZ is funded by public donations, community grants and other partnerships, all of which have been significantly reduced by COVID.
"We want to keep our asthma education and resources free of charge, so our Christmas wish is for the Government to help us support the 700,000 Kiwis living with respiratory conditions," says Letitia. "Asthma affects so many Kiwis, there is no cure, and it’s vital for all of those with asthma to have the tools and resources to manage their condition. Māori and Pacific communities carry a particularly heavy burden, so it’s a matter of health equity.
"As the leading national NGO on respiratory conditions, we are the crucial knowledge bank that creates and disseminates the asthma and COPD guidelines, patient management plans, asthma education in schools, and continual professional development. It is time this government valued the role that national NGOs like us play in improving the lives of those with chronic long-term diseases."