NHLBI, NLM Help Washington Celebrate World Asthma Day
By Louise Williams
"I never thought I would be able to lead a normal life," popular rap artist Coolio told the group at D.C.'s Tyler Elementary School. But, he added, he can and so can others with asthma.
His appearance at Tyler was part of an international effort to draw attention to the global burden of asthma and to improve the condition's care. Altogether, hundreds of diverse events were held across the United States and around the world on May 3, the second annual World Asthma Day. United by the theme, "Let Every Person Breathe," the undertaking included press conferences, asthma screenings, children's poster contests, discussion forums, kite festivals and much more. In South Africa, former president Nelson Mandela participated in his country's observance. The events began in New Zealand and many were broadcast worldwide over the Internet through WebVention.
World Asthma Day was coordinated by the Global Initiative for Asthma, a collaborative effort of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the World Health Organization. NHLBI's National Asthma Education and Prevention Program coordinated the day's U.S. events, which included the federal government's release of its new "Action Against Asthma," a report that outlines its plans to decrease asthma prevalence and mortality among Americans.
The global challenge is huge: Worldwide, more than 150 million persons have been diagnosed with asthma. In the U.S., about 14.9 million persons have asthma. The condition has been increasing in prevalence it rose by a whopping 102 percent between 1979-1980 and 1993-1994. Prevalence is rising fastest among preschool-aged children. In the U.S., about 5 million children have asthma.
The Washington-area event at Tyler was cosponsored by NHLBI, NLM, the Office of the Mayor of the District of Columbia, and the D.C. Asthma Coalition, a partnership that includes civic and government organizations, universities, business leaders and asthma patients and caretakers.
Besides Coolio, presenters included NHLBI director Dr. Claude Lenfant, NLM director Dr. Donald Lindberg, D.C. department of health director Dr. Ivan C. A. Walks, American Lung Association of D.C. President Inez Smith Reid, Howard University College of Medicine dean Dr. Floyd Malveaux, and D.C. public school system Assistant Superintendent for School Support Programs Joyce S. Jamison. U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher made a video appearance.
Eleven of Tyler's students performed a skit that illustrated the need for those with asthma to work with health professionals to manage their condition. And Lenfant presented awards to winners of a student poster contest about asthma.
Lenfant kicked off the D.C. event by giving an overview of asthma's toll, especially for those hit hardest the inner cities, and low-income and minority groups. He pointed to two maps of metropolitan Washington that showed far fewer asthma deaths among whites than blacks. "Not all people are enjoying the same benefits of control," he said. "We need to be more aggressive in treating asthma. Asthma can be controlled and no one should die from it.
"We need to work more closely with the health care providers and residents of high-risk communities like Washington, D.C.," he continued. "They know the local issues and can bring our information directly to the people who need it in ways that will make a difference."
Lindberg told of NLM's development of a unique interactive asthma exhibit that uses a digital video disk. The disk provides asthma information in an entertaining format to every school and library in the United States.
Singer, composer and film star Coolio gave a personal account of his struggle with asthma. "I had asthma so bad," he told the gathering, "that I feel lucky to be alive." He said that the last 5 years have changed his outlook on the condition.
He then showed the group his inhaler and told how, as a child, he'd been afraid of leaving it behind. He recalled one terrifying night when it took repeated visits to the doctor and the hospital to bring an asthma attack under control.
To help the Tyler students understand what it's like during an attack, he asked them to squeeze a hand into a fist and try to breathe through it.
He also urged parents to take an active role in their children's treatment and then told the children to take their medicine as needed.
He thanked those present for participating in the day's event. "I never thought I would see a World Asthma Day," he said. "When I was young, people didn't know much about asthma," and now those who might not be directly affected by it are trying to make everyone aware.
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