ASTHMA: Bill Would Launch New Prevention Efforts
A coalition of legislators, advocates and people with asthma joined forces at the State Capitol yesterday to announce the introduction of legislation that would establish an innovative asthma prevention and control program for the state. State Sen. Byron Sher's (D-Stanford) SB 1111 -- co-sponsored by 25 legislators and 20 organizations, including the Children's Advocacy Institute, the Public Health Institute and the American Lung Association of California -- would establish a statewide presence to address asthma as a public health problem. It would be administered through the state Department of Health Services and implemented at the local level. Sher said, "Despite all the information we now have at our disposal to address asthma, prevalence rates and deaths have increased, not decreased, over the last 20 years. SB 1111 is a wise investment in preventing asthma and helping people breathe easier." The legislation is a broader and more comprehensive version of SB 2208, vetoed last year by Gov. Pete Wilson because it did not go far enough in addressing the problems. The bill is based in part on recommendations resulting from a May 1998 summit entitled "Asthma in California: Laying the Foundation for a Statewide Strategy."
The Scope of the Problem
Asthma affects an estimated 2.3 million people in California -- more than any other state. The number of cases increased 75% between 1984 and 1998. Yet those at the Capitol yesterday lamented that the only asthma-related information currently available are hospitalization discharges and deaths. Carolyn Hedgepeth, a volunteer board member with the American Lung Association of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, said, "There's a false perception that asthma is an everyday condition like the 'common cold,' where it comes and goes, but is never fatal. If that perception is not changed, school absences, hospitalizations and death rates related to asthma will continue to rise, and more tragically -- go unnoticed." Tony Najera, vice president of government relations for the American Lung Association of California, added, "As part of Public Health Week, we need to realize that this is a manageable disease and serious health problems associated with asthma can be prevented" (American Lung Association of California release, 4/7).
Housing and Kids' Health
In related news, a new study ties the nation's housing crisis to a host of pediatric medical problems, with the high incidence of lead poisoning and asthma linked directly to poor housing conditions. "Not Safe at Home" consists of a comprehensive medical literature review and more than 100 stories submitted by pediatric caregivers. The study indicates that the nation's housing crisis, with more than "1.2 million U.S. households liv[ing] in housing with significant physical problems" and housing assistance reaching "only a fraction of eligible families," is responsible for a wide range of pediatric health problems, including asthma, injuries, lead poisoning, malnutrition and stunted growth (executive summary, 4/99). Randy Shaw, an author of the report and director of Housing America and the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, "said affordable units in San Francisco are disappearing rapidly, driving poor working families out of the city." He said, "Because of rent inflation, low-income families are forced to choose between rent and food." The report called for more federal aid to solve the problem, specifically 100,000 new Section 8 vouchers and tax breaks. HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo said he would push for the reforms (Levy, San Francisco Chronicle, 4/8).