Pharmacies in Northland are urging asthma sufferers to have tests done for a disease that, on average, can kill 21 Northlanders every six years.

The tests are part of a new health initiative between the Northland District Health Board and 30 pharmacies in the region in a bid to improve disparities in asthma health outcomes among Maori and other ethnic groups.

Under the initiative, eligible asthma patients will be asked a series of questions when they pop into pharmacies for a test to see how well they are managing the disease.

Those eligible for a free test include Maori and Pacific people using more than one asthma reliever device per month.


Maori children presenting in the pharmacy with a respiratory condition, and asthmatic patients presenting to the pharmacy post Emergency Department discharge related to respiratory conditions, are also eligible.

The initiative could help as many as 2000 asthma sufferers in Northland by providing guidance on how to better manage the disease.

A report prepared in 2016 by Otago University and the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation New Zealand shows 21 Northlanders died from asthma between 2008 and 2013.

The latter are the most recent death rate statistics available.

However, hospitalisation rate information is available up until 2015 when 306 people were admitted to hospitals in Northland after an asthma attack.

Damp and cold houses, lifestyle choices including smoking and genetic disposition are among causes of asthma in the region.

Whangarei social worker Leon Hill is one of the Northlanders suffering from asthma and he is urging people to take advantage of tests at their local pharmacies.

The 50-year-old was born with asthma and, despite good control of the disease through timely medication and exercises, he would take a pharmacy test in the coming days.


He said the partnership between NDHB and pharmacies would benefit asthma sufferers, particularly low-income earners better manage the disease.

"I'd encourage people to have their asthma checked. The initiative is part of awareness about asthma and I think it's going to benefit the community a lot if people take advantage of it," he said.

Hill vividly remembers his worst asthma attack seven years ago that landed him in the Whangarei Hospital's Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

"I started having short breathe at home and the nebuliser machine didn't help. I grabbed my chest and was gasping for air. Imagine holding your breath for long.

"That was a wake up call for me to quit smoking which I did. I used to smoke 20 cigarettes a day and it took me about two years for my asthma to stabilise after I quit smoking," he said.

Hill said in his pre-teen years, he used to be admitted to hospital for asthma twice a year for two to three weeks at a time.


Northland pharmacist Iain Buchanan said asthma patients seen at pharmacies would be followed up eight weeks after their first test to track their progress.

Buchanan said in 2016, admission rates to hospitals for asthma in Northland Maori aged between 45 and 64 were 240 per 100,000 population compared to 66 per 100,000 population for non-Maori.

Rates for Pacific people were even higher than Maori at 327 admissions per 100,000 population.

"As a frontline community healthcare provider, it can be heartbreaking to see people so heavily affected by a disease which can be could be improved by using a simple test.

"We wanted to find a way to identify those most in need and make sure they had an asthma treatment plan that could be shared with their whanau to ensure everyone can act when necessary to improve the patient's heath," he said.