Today is World Asthma Day, an annual event to improve asthma care and awareness around the world. Asthma is a chronic, inflammatory disease of the lungs that has increased in prevalence in many countries, including the U.S., over the last several decades. Asthma is the most common cause of missed school days among children, and is more common among children living in poverty and some minority groups, including African Americans.
Asthma has an important connection to the home environment. Symptoms can be triggered by allergens from pests (e.g., cockroaches, mice), pets, mold, and dust mites, as well as irritants such as tobacco smoke and other indoor and outdoor air pollutants. The good news is that a person with asthma can lead a normal, active life by taking steps to manage the condition, including regular healthcare visits, the proper use of medications, use of an asthma action plan, and avoiding environmental triggers.
In May, 2012, HUD and its federal partners released a Coordinated Federal Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Asthma Disparities. In addition, HUD is supporting several initiatives that will benefit both children and adults with asthma who live in public or other federally assisted multifamily housing. In an effort to reduce exposure to asthma triggers, the Department launched a smoke-free housing initiative which encourages owners and managers of multifamily housing to implement policies to prohibit smoking by residents and staff. As a result, we currently estimate that 486 public housing agencies have established smoke-free policies in some or all of the buildings they manage.
Additionally, HUD is promoting the use of integrated pest management (IPM) to control pests in federally assisted properties. IPM takes a holistic approach to pest control that includes ongoing monitoring for pests, sealing cracks that allow pests to move between apartments, providing pest control education to residents, and, when needed, the targeted and safe use of pesticides.
Furthermore in 2010 and 2011, HUD awarded $3.8 million in grants to conduct educational and environmental interventions for children with asthma in federally subsidized multifamily housing. Results to date have been exciting. For example, The Sinai Urban Health Institute used community health workers to deliver interventions to residents of Chicago public housing. In a short time, they’ve reported a significant reduction in the need for emergency medical care among the children and improvements in the quality of life for the children’s caregivers.
We have the knowledge to create housing that provides a safe and supportive environment for children and others with asthma. At HUD, we are promoting housing management practices and policies that we expect will reduce the burden of asthma among families that are receiving federal housing assistance. It is important that the owners and managers of all rental housing do their share to improve the lives of those with asthma by creating and maintaining healthy indoor environments.
Peter Ashley, Dr PH, is the Director, Policy and Standards Division in the Office of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control.