Asthma, a respiratory condition that develops when air passages in the lungs are inflamed and airways narrow, kills some 5,000 people in the United States annually. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 255,000 people died of asthma world-wide in 2005. Of these, 80 percent occurred in low and lower-middle income countries.
Currently, experts are struggling to understand why the number of asthma sufferers is rising by an average of 50 percent every decade worldwide. In the United States alone, according to the WHO, the number of asthmatics has leapt by over 60 percent since the early 1980s.
These numbers prove that asthma is an increasingly social disease. Neutral environmental factors, cold weather and pollen, for example — are responsible for some 60 percent of asthma attacks. However, an alarmingly disproportionate number of asthma-related deaths come from children of low-income, inner-city households.
Cramped multi-family households mean higher exposure to
environmental stresses for asthma sufferers, particularly children.
Attacks are directly linked to poorly-maintained older buildings. The
exact nature of the risk is unclear while studies have not taken indoor
allergens into account. Common household prevention methods, which
include regular air conditioning and avoidance of pollutants, often
fall short in the inner-city. Mold and sub-standard ventilation are par
for the course in low-income housing.
Urbanization indeed appears to be correlated with the increase;
triggers unique to the city include high humidity and smog. But danger
doesn’t stop when the front door is closed. Dust mites, cockroach
dander, old carpet and second-hand smoke are all powerful irritants and
may cause a fatal attack.
In Chicago, Mobile C.A.R.E., founded in 1998, offers free and
comprehensive treatment for asthma and allergies to children in need at
60 Chicago Public Schools and parochial schools via mobile medical
clinics. The "Asthma Vans" have seen first-hand the disproportionate
suffering of inner-city youths. Mobile C.A.R.E’s success highlights the
treatability of this disease.
After three visits to the Asthma Vans, nearly 80 percent of
patients have their condition under control, compared to 18 percent
prior to treatment. Families of patients also report a 50 percent
reduction in asthma related emergency room visits, as well as a
significant decrease in hospitalizations.