Asthma affects an estimated 4 to 5% of all Americans. Children are hardest hit and those from the inner city are two to three times more likely to suffer from the respiratory problem than others.
In the past, asthma has been a politically charged health issue, especially in communities such as East Harlem and portions of the Bronx, where asthma is rampant. Critics charge the city hasn't done enough to curb environmental triggers like diesel fumes and cockroaches.
But Monday, city leaders announced that their 3-year plan of action, the Childhood Asthma Initiative, is working.
"I'm very much pleased to report, with the mayor, that the hard work is paying off," city health commissioner Dr. Neal Cohen said.
At a morning press conference, Cohen and Mayor Rudy Giuliani announced steep declines in the number of New Yorkers being hospitalized with asthma.
In 1997, nearly ten out of every 1,000 children from birth until the age 14 were admitted to a hospital for asthma, compared to 6.4 out of 1,000 in 2000, a drop of more than one-third.
There have been steeper drops in the hardest-hit areas: a decrease of more than 55% in the Hunts Point-Mott Haven section of the Bronx and a 41% drop in East Harlem, though the childhood asthma hospitalization rate is still nearly three times the citywide average.
The city maintains its aggressive program to educate the public is working: Vans will now patrol areas around 11 city hospitals, reminding residents what triggers asthma and correcting common treatment mistakes.
"Many people have asthma and they use the medication, but they are not using the medication the proper way," says outreach worker Giselle Torres.
Despite the rosy assessment by the city, not every hospital is seeing decreases. At Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, emergency room visits for childhood asthma are up 20% and hospital admissions are up slightly more than that.
Montefiore asthma specialist Dr Irwin Redlener says the city needs to do more to provide services.
"In low-income, high-risk areas, there are still not sufficient numbers of doctors and health centers to make sure asthma is treated in a preventive way to prevent attacks in the first place," he says.
In the past, the city has closed down a number of health clinics in a favor of consolidation.
But a spokesperson for the city's public hospital system denies care is being compromised. She says enough care is available.
Other asthma doctors agree the city is on the right track but say asthma hospitalizations are still too high and the city must continue do more.
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