30 years of leading the attack against asthma

22 Nov 2019

Over the past 30 years the National Asthma Council Australia (NAC) has firmly established its role as the nation’s trusted authority on asthma care.

Since forming as the National Asthma Campaign in 1989, the NAC has set the standard by leading crucial initiatives to build capabilities for people to breathe better.

Here, we reflect on some of our early achievements.

National guidelines for asthma management

The national treatment guidelines are the backbone of the NAC’s work. First published as the Asthma Management Handbook, the guidelines have evolved over 30 years and eight editions to date, with a ninth in the pipeline.

NAC CEO Siobhan Brophy says it remains a crucial resource helping GPs, nurses and pharmacists deliver best-practice care and improved outcomes for Australians with asthma.

‘The Handbook continues to set the standard for asthma best-practice care while incorporating new developments in research and treatments through evidence-based guidance,’ Ms Brophy says.

Developing a national strategy

In the mid-1990s the NAC instigated and led the development of the national asthma strategy, culminating in the release of the National Asthma Strategy Implementation Plan in 1999.

Former NAC CEO Kristine Whorlow AM says the goal was ensuring cohesion and a united approach to asthma across the country.

 ‘It really did bring a lot of the work in asthma together and got people to think more nationally, rather than in isolated pockets,’ she says.

In 2018 the latest iteration of the National Asthma Strategy was launched to take Australia to the next stage of improvement in asthma outcomes.

Asthma: a national health priority

Recognising the need for government commitment to help move asthma care forward, the NAC began garnering support for establishing asthma as a national health priority in the late 1990s.

In 1999 it was declared a National Health Priority Area, which Ms Whorlow says brought a significant program of government funding to asthma for the first time.

‘It enabled us to do a great many things,’ Ms Whorlow says. ‘It’s very important to have government recognition and commitment.’

A global impact

Ms Whorlow says the guidelines and other national initiatives such as the Report on the Cost of Asthma (1992) put Australia at the forefront of asthma management globally.

‘We had to have those things, because we had such an enormous asthma problem. We had to be good at it,’ she says.

A key challenge through the late 1990s and early 2000s was phasing out CFC-containing inhalers, in line with the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

The NAC played a key role in achieving the phase-out in Australia, co-chairing a large working party of stakeholders alongside the Australian Government Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts and disseminating information to health professionals and consumers.

‘Our collaborative planning led to a seamless transition,’ Ms Whorlow says.

The NAC then partnered with the United Nations Environment Programme on a transition awareness package to assist developing countries with the phase-out.

Ms Whorlow says it’s one of many instances where the NAC shared its knowledge and experience with the global asthma management community.

‘The National Asthma Council itself, as a national and dynamic stakeholder organisation, was actively promoted as a suitable model for adaptation in the Asia Pacific region,’ she says.

Shaping policy and practice

Since 2002 the NAC has delivered crucial asthma education and information to over 20,000 health professionals through more than 1200 workshops around the country.

A strong network of experts and partner organisations help inform the NAC’s projects, programs and initiatives.

Ms Brophy says the NAC will build on these collaborations to address inequalities in asthma outcomes in the years ahead.

‘We continue to seize opportunities to ask what needs to be done to keep Australia at the forefront of asthma care,’ she says.