10 Jan 2023
By Asthma and Allergy Foundation
Asthma sufferers in Scotland are facing catastrophic consequences in the coming months because of the cost-of-living crisis.
“I thought I had seen poverty in Africa, but what I have seen in Scotland has shocked me,” said Martina Chukwuma-Ezike, Chief Executive of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation.
“We are facing a public health catastrophe for asthma sufferers in Scotland because of the rocketing poverty rates. In some school classrooms in our worst-hit areas, there are 50 per cent asthma rates among the children.
“And with 113 deaths in 2020, sadly I can only see this going in one direction unless the Scottish Government launches an urgent intervention.”
Mrs Chukwuma-Ezike said fuel poverty, bad housing, poor diet, stress and anxiety caused by cost-of-living will drive asthma rates skywards.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation – Scotland’s only dedicated asthma charity – is calling for the Government to provide additional support for asthma sufferers during the crisis. The charity says it could be a "death sentence” for those living with the disease.
The charity, which has offices in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow, is calling for greater education around the respiratory condition, priority support for families living with the life-threatening illness, and new research to be carried out in an attempt to defuse the health crisis it says is fast approaching.
Poverty is one of the main drivers of asthma, especially in children and young people. Children living in poverty are three times more likely to die from an asthma attack.
Some 90% of asthma deaths are preventable, say experts. But there’s still not enough education and people do not know how to respond when someone suffers an attack.
Mrs Chukwuma-Ezike, who is also the Lord Rector of Aberdeen University, added: “We need a national campaign led by the Scottish Government. The public should know ‘what to do in an asthma attack’.
“Nobody should die from an asthma attack in this day and age but, sadly, three people in the UK die from this every day.
“We need an urgent conversation around the link between asthma and poverty in light of the current cost-of-living crisis.”
The charity boss has already had a meeting with Scottish Government Health Minister Maree Todd and found it “productive”.
She wrote to her again this week requesting another meeting specifically around the cost-of-living crisis.
She added: “We are facing a public health timebomb because of the rates of people moving into poverty with every week that passes.
“Asthma attacks don’t happen without reason. They are triggered. And what we have learned is that poor diet, cold and badly ventilated housing, stress and anxiety all contribute. This is why we are asking the Scottish Government to give special priority to asthma sufferers in terms of social and financial support. Education in this area is woefully lacking which is why we still have more than 100 deaths in Scotland every year. With more education, these could have been prevented.”
AAF has been visiting schools to find out how children are coping with the cost-of-living crisis.
“The pandemic was particularly hard on asthma sufferers who had to shield during CV1,” she added. “As a result, many became unemployed, and these are the people we want to reach and support now.
“One child dying from asthma in this country is one too many. All of these deaths are avoidable.
“Every 20 minutes a young sufferer in Scotland is taken to Accident and Emergency with an attack. And a child living below the breadline is three times more likely to end up in hospital with this.
“For a child living in a cold house, with mould on the walls and in a stressful environment, where its parents have to make a decision whether to feed them or heat the house, is the brutal reality.”
The AAF has also been monitoring supermarket food prices in recent weeks and measuring the impact on families where asthma is a concern.
“Not only are gas and electricity prices a massive concern, but the significant rise in food prices is quite shocking. This is particularly noticeable around staple foods, like rice, pasta, and vegetables. And when parents don’t have the money to cook healthy meals then tend to opt for cheaper, unhealthier options. This leads to higher rates of obesity which, of course, causes asthma sufferers even greater problems.
“Thousands of school days are lost every year because of asthma. And when children are at school, it is hard for them to focus because of symptoms and general unease. They also become more isolated because they cannot take part in certain physical activities. Bullying is also a problem for kids with asthma.
“The data in Scotland around all of these issues is sorely lacking. It may get to the point that we as a charity have to try and raise money to commission new research, but we feel it should be the Scottish Government and its ministers who are taking the lead on this.”
If anyone would like more information on what to do in the event of an asthma attack or in general, please contact the Asthma and Allergy Foundation on 0141 501 0539 or e mail email@example.com