On Tuesday, April 10th, I had the opportunity to attend the West Virginia School Based Health Assembly Annual Meeting at Coonskin Park. It was a wonderful meeting bringing together statewide healthcare advocates and partners to discuss the status and success of school-based health centers. For those that may not be familiar, the West Virginia School-Based Health Assembly (WVSBHA) aims to advance comprehensive health care in school settings through responsive policies, practices, and partnerships. The assembly serves 80 schools in 28 counties at 67 school-based health clinics. The WVAC is a proud partner of the WVSBHA – working together to promote the health and wellness of children of all ages and backgrounds.
At this meeting I heard from several state supporters regarding stories of success and challenges that have been overcome. One presenter, however, stood out to me when she made one simple statement. Her name was Dr. Jorea Marple and she is the State Superintendent of Schools for the West Virginia Department of Education and the simple words that she said were, “I think it is now time that we all are physicians of prevention and that wellness of our children becomes a moral imperative for our community.”
What a wonderful thought – that we are all “physicians of prevention”. It does not matter what your educational background is or with what company, school, non-profit, etc. that you work for – now is the time that we all must become physicians. We must become physicians of prevention and we must work together to prevent childhood diseases. Dr. Marple also stated in her address that in a recent article published by the Gazette that they determined that 30% of our fifth graders are obese and that 25% suffer from high blood pressure and high cholesterol. These are startling numbers for children that should have bright futures but are now facing serious health consequences.
So what does this mean for the WVAC? Well, it means that we must all put on our white lab coats and start working on prevention. As a Coalition, we can begin working as physicians of prevention for these children. While she did not provide any specific statistics on children with asthma in West Virginia, we already know the following statistics for our children:
- Approximately 13% or 47,000 West Virginians under the age of 18 have at some point been diagnosed with asthma by a health care professional.
- It was estimated that in 2009, 8.5% or 32,000 West Virginia children had asthma.
- Approximately 60% of children under the age of 18 and 43% of public high school students with asthma had an asthma attack in the past 12 months.
- Twenty percent of public high school students with asthma missed school due to asthma during the 2008-2009 school year.
- Children under the age of 15 accounted for 22% of asthma hospitalizations in 2008 (WV-AEPP Fact Sheet).
So, how can we be a physician of prevention for a disease that attacks the airways? There are many things that we can do to help, and here are a few:
- Encourage those with asthma to make frequent visits to the doctor concerning this condition – this is the best way to begin a prevention plan to start breathing easier.
- Encourage asthma action plans! Everyone with asthma should have a plan – monitoring asthma is the best way to minimize asthma episodes and to help the patient be in control of his or her asthma.
- Know the asthma triggers. Study up on the things that can trigger an episode – strong smells, grass, pollen, etc. Once the patient understands the triggers, management can become much easier.
- Do you know your body and your breathing patterns? Encourage the individual with asthma to record breathing patterns around the time of an asthma episode. Once these patterns are tracked a better plan of action can be implemented to prevent the episode.
- Medicine is key! Asthma medications should never be skipped or missed in order to help clear the airways. Continued use of a quick-relief inhaler is not normal – this means that the asthma is not under control and that a long-term medication might be more sufficient. (Mayo Clinic, 2012).
So, these are some great tips to get you started in becoming a physician of prevention with those that you know that have asthma, or even with those that you do not know. Encourage your child’s school to look at indoor air quality standards (regardless of whether your child has asthma or not), find some credible articles or information to deliver to the neighbor child that struggles with his or her breathing in the spring, etc. Take steps to prevent someone from suffering through an asthma episode. There is no better time to become a physician of prevention than now.