Asthma in inner cities.J Natl Med Assoc 1999; 91(8 Suppl):1S-8SJN
While the management of asthma has improved over the past two decades, the incidence of asthma in the inner city has not. The inner city, comprising a disproportionate number of people who live close to or below the poverty line, shows increased rates of morbidity and mortality from asthma. African Americans and Hispanic Americans are two to six times more likely to die from asthma than their white counterparts. When federally funded programs have targeted reducing morbidity and mortality in children from these populations, they have succeeded, but in a national study only 18 states had initiatives targeting asthma in low-income populations. This is tantamount to a public health crisis. Patients are not always properly diagnosed and are often without a regular source of health care, and symptoms are seen only in an acute context. Living conditions for the inner-city child have significant allergen triggers associated with house dust, cockroaches, cigarette smoke, chemical pollutants, and particulate matter. Viral infections, such as those caused by respiratory syncytial virus, are worse in crowded living conditions. The desirability of an increased public awareness of the seriousness of the disease and the need for chronic health care are issues that should be raised, through culturally relevant public means and in the knowledge that visual information is most effective. Physicians must understand the proper use of rescue and controller drugs, and asthma education must expand beyond doctors and nurses in their offices. The National Medical Association is committed to doing this aggressively, and community organizations, alliances, and coalitions must also aggressively follow. Public agencies must be lobbied to set high standards for proper asthma care and resources. With organizations acting in concert, the mortality and morbidity from asthma can be substantially prevented in the inner city.