Home Commentary Op-ed Raising Awareness About Asthma

Raising Awareness About Asthma

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March 7, 2008 – Every day, hundreds of Virgin Islanders are challenged by the simple act of drawing life-sustaining breath into their lungs. This struggle – a literal tug of war for life – is an everyday occurrence that many of us of who are not afflicted with asthma do not understand. Across the country, more than twenty million children and adults are afflicted with asthma, a chronic disease with no known cause and no known cure which affects people of every age.
Statistics compiled by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation paint a bleak picture about the impact of asthma on our lifestyles and communities. Asthma is the leading cause of school absences from a chronic illness and the fourth leading cause of work absenteeism. The social and economic costs of the disease are understandably high, measured in the dollars of emergency room visits and lost workdays.
In response to these alarming statistics, I am working to raise public awareness of the risks faced everyday by Virgin Islanders who live with asthma by joining members of the National Lieutenant Governor’s Association in raising awareness about this disease. Helping Virgin Islanders Breathe Easier (H.V.I.B.E.) is the local component of a multi-state public health initiative of the National Lieutenant Governor’s Association called Helping America Breathe Easier. This program, involves 11 states and three territories in the first round, to include Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Guam, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Kentucky and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The goal of the awareness campaign is to bring about consciousness of the treatment and prevalence of asthma in the Virgin Islands. Our community bears a higher predisposition for this disease. Severe asthma continues to disproportionately affect minority populations with African-Americans at higher rates than our Caucasian or Hispanic neighbors. African Americans are three times more likely to be hospitalized or die from asthma. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation, “ethnic differences in asthma prevalence are highly correlated with poverty, urban air quality, indoor allergens and a lack of patient education and inadequate medical care.
The realities of asthma are a daily presence here at the Office of the Lieutenant Governor. Among our ranks, we have employees who either suffer from asthma or who experience the trauma of an asthma attack when their children fight to take a breath. A person having an asthma attack may wheeze, have difficulty breathing, cough or have tightness of the chest. On any given day across America, 40,000 people will miss work or school due to asthma; 30,000 will have an asthma attack, 5,000 will visit the emergency room; and 1,000 will be admitted to the hospital. Taking a deep breath is something that an asthma sufferer cannot take for granted.
With our health partners, H.V.I.B.E. hopes to collectively raise social awareness about asthma and lend our efforts to improving the quality of life for people with asthma by providing information about available programs and services or starting a dialogue about the responsibilities that all of us have to create an environment where taking a breath is not a challenge. While there is no cure for asthma, medical experts agree that it can be managed and patients can lead productive lives if the asthma is diagnosed and the patient adheres to a medical regimen.
During the next few months, I will be working with physicians to provide tools to use with asthma patients and to learn ways this territory can help in asthma management. People with asthma can and should live normal and active lives that are made easier by understanding, the availability of resources and access to services. We all have a responsibility to Help Virgin Islanders Breathe Easier.
Editor's note: Gregory R. Francis is the lieutenant governor of the Virgin Islands.

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