A new study has found that a recently funded asthma medicine is almost twice as likely to control the symptoms of the disease than the usual medications3 taken by patients each day.
New Zealand has one of the highest rates of asthma in the world, occurring in around 20% of children and adults and affecting at least 600,000 people. The disease costs the country $800 million each year.
The new research which involved over 4000 patients, found that a significantly higher number (71%) of those treated with a medicine containing fluticasone furoate and vilanterol achieved better control of their asthma symptoms than those who continued with their usually prescribed inhaler medication (56%).
PHARMAC added this medicine to its list of funded medications last year. The medication is delivered to patients using the Ellipta inhaler.
Otago University Associate Professor Jim Reid says we have to better educate New Zealanders on the critical need to prevent their asthma symptoms from occurring, rather than try to control them when they have an episode.
“Last year we lost 70 Kiwis to asthma, many of them children and a significant number of these deaths were preventable. Taking the correct medication at the right time is essential for patients to control their symptoms and prevent more asthma attacks,” he says.
“I think we can treat asthma, but because it is an episodic disease and asthmatics respiratory function normalises between the attacks, many patients just don’t understand that they need to keep taking their medication to prevent further attacks from occurring,” he says.
“Asthma has a considerable impact on New Zealand, especially among children. We don’t yet fully understand why its prevalence is so high in this country either – it could be housing, allergens or viral triggers,” he says.
He says the results from the 2017 Salford Lung Study are a significant advancement for his field of research.
“Clinical research of this nature is usually done with highly selective patient groups. The study authors have used a new methodology which allows them to examine thousands of asthmatics with very few exclusions,” he says.
The British study, published in The Lancet, is the world’s first Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT) to include a broad population of patients in an everyday clinical practice setting.
Conventional RCTs are usually conducted following strict inclusion criteria, which often exclude those patients with other multiple conditions. This study was designed to include those patients who would often be excluded.
“This gives us new, real world insights into how the disease can be better managed across a large population,” he says.
Professor Reid says while research is advancing in how we treat the symptoms of asthma we still don’t have a well-developed understanding of what causes asthma.
“Despite all of the research we are still not sure whether it’s caused by the environment, or some types of moulds and pollens, certainly if you are continually exposed to those moulds then the asthma will continue to worsen”.
“The trigger factor is the real question, especially in New Zealand where we’ve got such a high prevalence of asthma and we just don’t know why,” he says.
Professor Reid says outside of the environmental variables there is also some indication a large number of patients, especially children, are born with hyperactive airways and any sort of stimulus will cause an attack.
“We used to believe asthma symptoms were exacerbated by cold air, but now the thinking is that it’s more about the osmotic pressure of the mucosa. The mucosa can dry out when people are exercising, that’s one of the reasons why it’s good for asthmatics to swim as they can retain moisture in their respiratory tract,” he says.
The 2017 Salford Lung Study showed that a once-daily inhalation of a Breo Ellipta was noticeably more effective at improving scores in the standard Asthma Control Test (a scientifically validated test for the assessment of asthma control), than taking regular maintenance inhaler therapy alone.
Professor Reid, says patients living with asthma should have a written action plan along with medicine at home in case they experience symptoms, most importantly, he says, they need to know when to call for help.
Hundreds of Special Olympics athletes from around NZ will be screened for undiagnosed eye conditions with the support of a local charity.
More than 1070 Kiwi special needs athletes will benefit from the eye screening initiative which will see them receive specialist eye care during their events beginning in Wellington this month.
The screenings will be supported by the Essilor Vision Foundation (EVF), a New Zealand charity which provides free vision testing and glasses for low decile schools as well as screening for university students and other groups. The charity will be supporting the Lions Club International Special Olympics Opening Eyes movement at the Wellington games starting on November 26.
A spokesperson for the Foundation Gordon Stevenson, says a great number of special needs competitors suffer poor eye health, as they can be more difficult to examine, require specialist equipment and skills, and need a longer examination time.
Stevenson says the assessment process is a “significant” undertaking for the more than 60 specialist optometrists, technicians and volunteers who will screen more than a thousand competitors and manufacture lenses for the hundreds of those expected to be diagnosed with vision conditions – in just five days.
A study by Special Olympics New Zealand which provides sports training, competition and advocacy for people with intellectual disabilities showed that nine out of 10 athletes failed their Opening Eyes screening tests.
Stevenson says this is because funds are often difficult to secure for spectacle and ophthalmic care, especially if spectacles are misplaced or broken and it can be difficult for this group to maintain a current pair.
“Sadly many of many of these sports people have never had an eye examination as they often fall through the cracks when it comes to access to this type of healthcare,
“Vision development is closely associated with brain development and incidence of conditions such as strabismus, Myopia , Astigmatism and Keratoconus are noticeably higher than the wider population.
“The look on the faces of these athletes as they are able to see clearly for the first time in their lives is heartwarming for the optometrists and other volunteers – we feel truly privileged to have the opportunity to support them in this way,” he says.
Stevenson says unfortunately that in addition to correcting near and far sightedness, over a dozen other undiagnosed conditions were identified in athletes at one of the previous games they supported.
“These ranged from Cataracts, Glaucoma, Pterygium, Blepharitis, Entropion, Ectropion, Strabismus, Amblyopia, Corneal Dystrophy, Keratoconus are other conditions that were detected in the screening process during previous games,” he says.
Stevenson says many of these conditions are treatable if detected early enough.
The 2017 Special Olympics National Summer Games will be held in Wellington from 27 November to 1 December and is New Zealand’s largest sports event for people with intellectual disabilities.
Kiwis living with HIV will now have access to a new interactive tool to help them overcome a range of treatment barriers and better communicate with their healthcare providers. The introduction of the tool into New Zealand follows the release of a new study which investigated the experiences of HIV patients at a global level.
The study found there are many reasons why people living with HIV may find it more difficult to talk comfortably with their healthcare providers, which also compromises medical treatment and quality of life.
The Unity Tool, which will be introduced to Kiwis this month, is an interactive online resource designed by HIV advocacy groups, healthcare providers and GSK/ViiV Healthcare to improve treatment outcomes and optimise treatment beyond control of the HIV virus, by helping the patient feel more comfortable disclosing their health needs.
Another new study shows mental health issues such as depression and anxiety may be more than twice as high in HIV patients compared to that of the rest of the population. It is hoped that the tool which encourages greater communication will also help to support those in a more vulnerable state of mind.
The tool uses an online form to take patients through a series of questions and then creates an appointment guide which they can take to their healthcare provider for further discussion on issues of concern.
The questionnaire covers issues including general well-being, emotional, social and family life, work life, sex life and suitability of the HIV treatment and its effect on their quality of life.
Dr Ian Griffiths, medical director of GSK NZ, says the tool is a useful precursor to a patient appointment as it helps them identify and describe problems and facilitate a more meaningful conversation with their specialist.
“There can be a wide range of reasons why people living with HIV may not be able to communicate openly with their doctor face-to-face. The aim of the Unity Tool is to support those people living with HIV in their conversations with their healthcare providers over especially personal, difficult or troublesome issues which may be worrying them,” he says.
Dr Griffiths says it’s essential that there is greater communication between people living with HIV and their medical carers as the research shows that poor interactions between the two groups has a detrimental effect on a patient’s treatment adherence and quality of life.
“What this tool will help us do is break down the barriers to communication between doctor and patient to ensure they optimise lifestyle choices and treatment regimens,” he says. Further research showed that as many as 90% of people living with HIV believe that their medical consultations could be improved if their wellbeing was discussed in greater depth than it currently was.
Dr Griffiths says interestingly it was not just HIV patients who felt that current interactions were inadequate, with almost half of healthcare providers saying that discussion guides would be a valuable tool to help better support interactions with patients to improve clinical outcomes.
Body Positive* executive director Mark Fisher says that more needs to be done to meet the needs of those living with HIV including helping to foster a more open and honest discussion with their healthcare providers.
“The Unity Tool is an important way to maintain an ongoing dialogue between healthcare providers and those people living with HIV. The online form helps them communicate their general well-being at the same time as asking them to describe their current treatment status. “With their treatment status outlined, they are prepared to have an informed and engaging discussion with their health care provider to discuss options to improve their wellbeing and to discuss new treatment options, such as the most recently funded HIV medication Tivicay, indicated as one of the first line treatment options by international guidelines which some may not have even asked if they are eligible for,” says Fisher.
Sexual Health Specialist and GP Dr Rick Franklin, who has more than 25 years’ experience treating HIV patients, says the new tool will go a long way in helping to secure best practice for healthcare providers and their HIV patients when it comes to prescription and adherence of medicines. “We know that there are a number of barriers which HIV patients may experience in seeking better treatment, anything we can do to facilitate the conversation with their healthcare provider will help us better manage the disease and ensure optimal quality of life” says Dr Franklin.
Dr Griffiths says New Zealand will be the sixth country to receive the Unity Tool which is already being utilised in the UK, Austria, Belgium, Netherlands, Singapore and Spain. This resource will be hosted online and available to patients, healthcare providers and advocacy groups.
Increasing Kiwi demand for an Asian beverage known as bubble tea will see Australasia’s fastest growing tea brand double the number of their New Zealand stores next year.
Bubble Tea or boba tea is a tea drink made with soft tapioca balls called pearls. Originally created in Taiwan in the 1980’s, the beverage has gained popularity in markets around the world. Globally, sales of tapioca pearls are part of $5.4bn market and are growing at a rate of 4% per annum.
Marcus Teh, Gong Cha’s New Zealand manager, says the company will add another three stores to New Zealand next year. The company will also employ 20 local staff in addition to the team of 30 currently working for the company.
Since launching just over a decade ago, Gong Cha has opened 1500 stores, including more than 600 outlets in USA, South East Asia and Australia – making it the fastest growing tea brand in this part of the world, says Teh.
“Bubble tea has been well received in the New Zealand market and is growing at around 20% per year here,” he says.
He says the new store will open in Auckland’s Sylvia Park mall this month.
“With over 12.6 million customers each year, Sylvia Park is the country’s largest mall and has made a significant investment in developing a new food and beverage offering – one that we feel will increase the appeal of the mall as a culinary destination outside of the CBD,
“The opening of Gong Cha in Sylvia Park signals our expansion and ability to meet the demand from a wider demographic wanting to purchase the products. Already popular with Asian communities, we now have a growing demand with other parts of the Kiwi market,” he says.
Gong Cha was recently voted the most popular food and beverage brand in Singapore, and was also named the most popular tea brand in Korea.
In New Zealand Gong Cha is owned by the ST Group. The company also manages other retail brands such as Papparich and Hokkaido Baked Cheese Tarts turning over $8 million in sales and employing over 60 staff.
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