New Zealand has double the rate of asthma per head of population than that of other countries in the OECD and Hawke's Bay fares even worse.

But on World Asthma Day, Hawke's Bay Hospital's respiratory clinical nurse specialist Kate Te Pou said a respiratory project being delivered in Hawke's Bay has breathed new life into the lives of asthmatics.

Ms Te Pou describes the initiative, brought to the district by fellow respiratory specialist Sue Ward, as massive.

"Since the project was put in place we've gone from 600 coming into Villa 2 for spirometry, down to 50 last year. Our acute waiting list was five months - now it's three weeks. Hospital bed use has gone down - it's a big project."


Ms Te Pou said it was all about early detection. "We have a terrible situation in Hawke's Bay - it's an epidemic. We want everyone to have an action plan."

The respiratory project looks at the "whole picture", supporting clients with specially trained nurse educators and offering other resources, including budget services, rehab and physio.

Hawke's Bay asthmatic Paulette West is living proof the system works.

"I knew nothing - all I knew was that asthma killed people. I didn't think I'd make it to 40."

Now the 50-year-old sickness beneficiary has gone from "taking hours to peel the potatoes and not being able to walk to the letterbox", to recently completing a 9km walk.

"I used to leave my keys outside for the ambos - I had a permanent bag packed for the hospital."

Ms Te Pou said education was key. "It's a family and a community disease. Rehab is another major strategy we apply. A big part of pulmonary rehab is learning that everyone gets breathless - it's about how we deal with that effectively."

Research shows if we can improve lung and general fitness asthmatic events are reduced. "They are less likely to be at a risk of infection."

Ms Te Pou said Breathe HB was an excellent and free service which offers advice, brochures and grants for appointments.

"They are nurse educators - they are awesome. We want early detection of any change - you know your triggers - you then have control."

Last year New Zealand lost 550,000 school days to asthma. Becoming smokefree and having a healthy diet were also shown to make a dramatic difference to asthma rates.

Health professionals involved in the project are now in the process of applying for sustainable funding as it has been "such a massive success".

"We want people to know this is not the end of their life - come and see us, or a GP, practice nurse or Breathe HB."