Zunika Crenshaw

Zunika Crenshaw helps her 3-year-old daughter Jhase Crenshaw Bass with an asthma inhaler.

The St. Louis area is among “the most challenging places to live in the U.S. if you have asthma,” according to a newly released Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America’s (AAFA) report.

The region’s ranking is based on estimated asthma prevalence, emergency room visits, and deaths due to asthma.

AAFA has launched its Health Equity Advancement and Leadership (HEAL) program, and St. Louis is one of its first sites in partnership with its St. Louis chapter. Its goal is to “drastically reduce the burden of asthma in underserved populations who bear the heaviest burden of asthma,” Melanie Carver, AAFA chief mission officer said in a release.

“Asthma outcomes are greatly influenced by social determinants of health. We have an opportunity to focus efforts on the intersection of injustice in environment, education, wealth and income, race, and ethnicity, and how these factors determine asthma health. Asthma and allergies can affect any person, but they don’t affect everyone equally.

“Asthma rates, deaths, and hospitalizations are often different for people based on their income or race/ethnicity. Researchers are trying to better understand racial and ethnic differences when it comes to other diseases, such as allergies or eczema.

The AAFA-STL site will focus on home visits, asthma education, and care coordination for older adults with asthma and work with Oasis St. Louis to launch a home visit program which will include routine check-ins, coordinated care with an asthma specialist, and providing asthma and allergy friendly products for the home.

The local HEAL program’s first year will run through mid-2023, and similar programs are funded in Chicago, Detroit, and Los Angeles.

“While there are many proven and effective community-based asthma programs for children with asthma, there are very few programs that serve adults,” Carver said.

“We hope to use best practices from pediatric programs to build successful programs for adults and teens through these HEAL Innovation awards.”

 The AAFA describes health equity as “the state in which everyone has a fair and just opportunity to reach their highest level of health.”

To reach the target, historical and contemporary injustices must be addressed; economic, social, and other obstacles to health and health care must be overcome; and preventable health disparities must be eliminated.

 “AAFA is eager to invest in communities and local partners to improve asthma care and outcomes,” Kenneth Mendez, AAFA CEO and president said.

“While the costs of asthma and health disparities total billions of dollars every year for Americans, we know that we can significantly improve asthma outcomes and reduce costs through investments in the community. In addition to saving money, it’s simply the right thing to do on behalf of those who have experienced stark inequities in health.”

HEAL’s first year is supported by a $1 million sponsorship from the company Amgen, a biopharmaceutical company headquartered in Thousand Oaks, California. 

 Sanaz Eftekhari, AAFA vice president of corporate affairs and research, said, “community-based asthma interventions have been proven effective and HEAL will generate momentum to sustain critical programs across the nation.”

To learn more about AAFA’s HEAL program and health equity work, visit: aafa.org/healthequity

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