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Help is on the Way for Somali and Latino Families Coping with Asthma
Campaign removes cultural, practical barriers to treatment

When it comes to asthma, Awralla Hashi-Aldus has heard it all.  One of two Community Health Outreach Workers (CHOWs) in Portland, and the only one who speaks fluent Somali, she is often stopped by parents of children with the condition who have been known to corner her in the supermarket or on the street to find out what to do in the case of an asthma attack.

As of today, Awralla and her colleague Nelida Berke, who specializes in working with Portland's Latino community, have a new tool in their backpacks:  an educational campaign that includes bus cards, radio commercials, flyers, and colorful pocket cards in Somali and Spanish that highlight the signs and symptoms of asthma and where to go for help.  Featured on all these materials are hotline phone numbers, one in Somali and one in Spanish, to reach the CHOWs directly in their Portland City Hall offices with calls for help.

The campaign was developed as part of a two-year project led by MaineHealth and funded by the Maine Health Access Foundation, to improve asthma outcomes among several at-risk populations in Greater Portland.  The effort is an outgrowth of the AH! Asthma Health Program at MaineHealth and Maine Medical Center.

Organizations involved in the collaborative project include Portland's school-based health centers, Barber Foods, Healthcare for the Homeless, the Maine Medical Center Family Practice Center, Latino Health and Community Service, Mercy Primary Care, Intermed Pediatrics, Noah's Ark Child Care, PROP, Somali Healthcare, the Root Cellar, the Minority Health Program, and HomeHealth/Visiting Nurse of Southern Maine.

The organizations noted that Somali and Latino immigrants in greater Portland were not seeking diagnosis and proper treatment for asthma.  A significant percentage of these populations has asthma, probably at a higher level of incidence than the general population.  In these cultures, there is a tendency to self-diagnose, to rely on traditional healers, and to avoid medical intervention except in a serious emergency.  Barriers identified included an unfamilarity with Western medicine and a distrust of the health care system.

The campaign reflects advice from focus groups drawn from the Somali and Latino communities, including the key messages and ease of making contact with the CHOWs.  It was determined that popular myths needed to be combatted, and that the CHOWs were key to reaching the largest number of people.  The artwork in the campaign uses images and colors that resonate with the two cultures.

Maine has the second highest rate of adult asthma in the US, and one in every 12 children in the state has been diagnosed with the condition.  Factors such as limited access to health care, poor indoor and outdoor air quality, and exposure to second hand tobacco smoke have all been linked to Maine's growing asthma problem.

Studies have shown that doctors and hospitals alone cannot solve the problem.  Homes, workplaces, childcare centers, and schools need to work together to educate and reinforce messages about limiting exposure to asthma triggers, such as cigarette smoke and dust mites, use of recommended medications, and regular medical care.



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