The University Record, October 4, 1999

School of Public Health named to direct national asthma program

By Amy Reyes
News and Information Services

School of Public Health Dean Noreen Clark (left) with Linda Jo Doctor. Clark will direct the Allies Against Asthma project. Doctor is deputy director. Photo by Bob Kalmbach
The School of Public Health (SPH) has been named the national program office for a $12.5 million Robert Wood Johnson Foundation community-based project designed to improve the quality of life for children with asthma.

Asthma, a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways, is the most common chronic disease of childhood, affecting an estimated 5 million children. The prevalence of asthma has been increasing for all age groups, but especially children, in whom the incidence rate has increased by 92 percent over the past decade, says Noreen Clark, SPH dean and director of the project, Allies Against Asthma.

The project calls for establishing local coalitions that will implement programs designed to reduce hospital stays, emergency room visits and the number of missed school days; develop asthma management programs; and, in general, enhance the quality of life for children with asthma.

“The program will help communities around the country strengthen their capacity to control asthma,” Clark says. “If we are serious about solving the problem of asthma, we have to tackle it collectively. We need to understand more about the nature and effect of collaborations among public, private and voluntary organizations.”

The coalitions will create community-based asthma programs that will utilize the best of existing treatment methods and the latest asthma-related scientific discoveries. Faculty members from throughout the University who are involved in asthma research will serve as technical advisers on the project.

“This is an excellent example of how the University can move between research and action. Through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, we will be able to help eight communities undertake and assess asthma control activities,” Clark says.

Each of the coalitions will involve local medical care providers, public health and environmental agencies, managed care organizations, community residents, schools, housing professionals, and other organizations that have a role in asthma management issues.

Funds will be awarded over a four-year period to establish up to eight community-based coalitions. In fall 2000, the project will award one-year organization and planning grants of up to $150,000. The following year, three-year grants of up to $450,000 a year will be awarded to local coalitions to establish asthma management programs.

A call for proposals was issued Sept. 27 to 20,000 organizations throughout the country that have an interest in asthma and in working with high-risk populations.

“Our aim is to reach the children so that they can lead healthy lives,” says Linda Jo Doctor, deputy director of the program. “Among chronic diseases, asthma is the number one reason why children are missing school. Because of the disease, they are unable to participate in everyday physical activities, so their quality of life is compromised. There are no quick fixes for these serious problems, but supporting children with asthma so that they remain healthy will require collaboration and commitment of the whole.”

The number of new cases of children and adults with asthma has more than doubled in the past two decades, increasing from 7 million to 15 million cases today, with the greatest burden on children from poor, urban and minority communities.

Annually, asthma accounts for about 15 million outpatient visits, more than 445,000 hospitalizations, 1.2 million emergency room visits and 10 million missed school days. The estimated cost of treating asthma in 1996 was $14 billion.

The quality of medical care, self-management of symptoms and a reduction in the exposure to allergens, such as house dust-mites, cockroaches, animal dander, tobacco smoke and mold, can reduce the frequency and severity of asthma attacks.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to health and health care.