Helping educate youngsters around asthma was a key focus of the recent World Asthma Day (May 7), coinciding with Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ announcing its schools’ campaign – encouraging students to know what to do in an asthma emergency.

One in seven children (133,000) have asthma in New Zealand, and it’s estimated that 586,000 school days are lost each year due to asthma-related symptoms in children.    

World Asthma Day is celebrated around the world to raise the profile and continued education of asthma. Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ (ARFNZ) ran a fun and engaging campaign for schools to celebrate World Asthma Day.

Letitia O’Dwyer, chief executive of Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ said that this was the second year of the World Asthma Day schools’ campaign, with hopes that it happens every year.

“Last year we had more than 90 schools participate on the day by doing activities or fundraising for the Foundation. We received great feedback from schools as the students had a fabulous time doing the activities while also learning about asthma.”  

“Statistics show there will be at least four children in a class of 30 students who have asthma, so we know this is a very important topic.”

This year ARFNZ provided free activity packs for schools, with a focus on asthma emergency awareness – encouraging students to learn what to do in an asthma emergency and asking schools to check their asthma emergency kit is up-to-date.

“Making these preparations in advance could well save lives,” says Letitia.    

ARFNZ is a charitable organisation that strives to provide resources and education across all areas of the community. It receives no government funding.

Some of the Foundation’s school-related initiatives include Sailor the Puffer Fish, a musical show educating primary school children about asthma; recently launched in Te Reo Māori. ARFNZ also provides a ‘Teachers’ Asthma Toolkit’, designed for teachers to have important information about asthma in one place – via an interactive website.   

What is Asthma?    

Asthma is a common illness of the respiratory system. In New Zealand, one child in seven needs to take medicine for asthma. People with asthma have sensitive airways. A child’s sensitive airways may be irritated by a trigger in the environment (such as pollen), by an illness, or an emotion (such as anxiety) leading to swelling and tightening of the airways making it difficult to breathe.    

Asthma Facts:   

More than 597,000 New Zealanders take medication for asthma (that’s one in eight adults, one in seven children)

7685 hospital admissions were caused by asthma in 2017, of which 40 percent were children under 15   

The cost of asthma to the nation exceeds $1 billion per year   

Māori, Pacific peoples and low-income families are around three times more likely to be hospitalised by asthma   

77 Kiwis die from asthma each year

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