September 8, 2009 — Nearly a dozen 7th graders with asthma were welcomed along with other classmates back to school today by a special guest — Kathleen Sebelius, 21st Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) — who had a message for them about staying healthy.
Sebelius met with students and their parents at Thurgood Marshall Elementary, one of 16 schools in Philadelphia that partners with the Merck Childhood Asthma Network, Inc. (MCAN) program to help students better manage their asthma. She talked about the importance of education and creating healthy habits to avoid missing school.
"Nothing is more important than keeping our children healthy, in school and ready to learn as we start the new school year," said Dr. Floyd Malveaux, Executive Director of MCAN and former Dean of the College of Medicine at Howard University. "We applaud Secretary Sebelius for recognizing that staying healthy can be a challenge for students with asthma — a factor that is even further complicated with the possibility of being exposed to the H1N1 virus, which can increase the severity of asthma symptoms, leading to possible hospitalizations."
During the meeting, Secretary Sebelius highlighted the work of the Philadelphia MCAN project as a model for inner-city childhood asthma management. Launched in 2005, the Philadelphia MCAN project has improved asthma outcomes for children and reduced school absenteeism by using a community-based approach that integrates families, community agencies, schools and healthcare providers to implement scientifically proven asthma interventions.
The Philadelphia program brings hope into communities that shoulder a disproportionate share of the childhood asthma burden. Screening conducted with the Philadelphia MCAN project in partnership with The School District of Philadelphia found that one out of four students in the West, Southwest, Olney, Logan and Germantown communities — target communities for the program — have been diagnosed with asthma or have been admitted to the hospital for wheezing, compared to one out of 10 nationwide.
The Philadelphia program provides children with asthma and their families access to three key services:
- Community Asthma Prevention Program (CAPP) classes that educate parents, other caretakers and children with asthma
- CAPP home visits where community health workers help families eliminate or control allergens and irritants within the home
- Health Promotion Council (HPC) Link Line services that connect families to asthma care coordinators
"The unique structure of our program allows us to bring multiple stakeholders to the table to create a successful team that can get children to care and services for better long-term and immediate asthma management," said Michael Rosenthal, MD, of Thomas Jefferson University and co-lead investigator of the Philadelphia MCAN program.
"By collaborating with specific schools to identify children that have asthma, the Philadelphia MCAN project has armed school nurses with essential information to assist students who are at higher risk for complications with H1N1 and seasonal flu virus, allowing them to be better prepared to manage these children at school," he added.
Nationally, MCAN, a non-profit organization funded by the Merck Company Foundation, provides funding to four other local programs that target low-income, urban populations with high rates of pediatric asthma in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Puerto Rico. The goal is to evaluate the effectiveness of these programs and use the findings to develop model programs that can be replicated and tailored in communities across the country.
"The Philadelphia MCAN program has shown that we can help children manage their asthma and that means improved quality of life, significantly fewer trips to the ER or stays in the hospital, and best of all, more days in school," said Tyra Bryant-Stephens, MD, from The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and co-lead investigator of the Philadelphia MCAN project. "Empowering caregivers and children with this knowledge has helped to greatly decrease the school days missed by children in Philadelphia, a segment of the nearly 13 million schools days missed each year by the millions of children nationwide that have been diagnosed with asthma."
The Merck Childhood Asthma Network (MCAN) is a separately incorporated, non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization established to address the complex and growing problem of pediatric asthma. MCAN is funded by the Merck Company Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Merck & Co., Inc. Led by Floyd Malveaux, MD, PhD, a nationally recognized expert in asthma and allergic diseases and former Dean of the Howard University College of Medicine, MCAN is specifically focused on enhancing access to quality asthma care and management for children in the United States. For more information, please visit http://www.mcanonline.org.
About the Philadelphia MCAN Project
The Philadelphia MCAN project aims to improve asthma outcomes for children and to reduce school absenteeism through integration of asthma-related programs/services and improved asthma management. The program implements scientifically proven asthma interventions by using a community-based approach which integrates individual families, community agencies, schools and healthcare providers.
During the past three years, partners have worked collaboratively to improve asthma management for urban, disadvantaged children in Philadelphia. Partners include the Philadelphia Allies Against Asthma (PAAA), The Community Asthma Prevention Program (CAPP) of The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), The Health Promotion Council (HPC) Public Health Management Corporation (PHMC), the Department of Family and Community Medicine/Thomas Jefferson University (DFCM/TJU), The School District of Philadelphia (SDP) and The City of Philadelphia Department of Public Health (PDPH).