22 Jan 2015

Tamariki respond well to new asthma device

7:12 pm on 22 January 2015

Health experts are hailing a new asthma inhaler made in New Zealand as having the potential to transform the lives of tāngata whenua.

Tatiana Hotere with her daughter Kiana Hotere who took part in the Smartinhaler study.

Tatiana Hotere with her daughter Kiana Hotere who took part in the Smartinhaler study. Photo: Supplied

Māori experience higher rates of illness and death from asthma than non-Māori.

Specialists say a new study shows the SmartTrack inhaler, which reminds people to take their asthma medication, is a breakthrough.

The inhaler uses 14 different ring tones so users do not get reminder fatigue.

Asthma researcher, Amy Chan, said 220 children between the ages of 6 and 15 who presented to emergency departments with asthma took part in the trial of the product.

University of Auckland lead researcher, Amy Chan.

University of Auckland lead researcher, Amy Chan. Photo: Nicola Topping

The results were published in The Lancet RespiratoryMedical Journal.

She said a significant number of Māori took part in the study and feedback, particularly from those with large whānau, was that the device helped tamariki manage their own asthma effectively rather than the parents having to remind them all the time.

"The results astounded researchers, with children who used the device in the trial taking their inhalers an average of 84 per cent of the time, compared with those who didn't only remembering to take their medication 30 per cent of the time."

Tū Kōtahi Māori Asthma Trust's manager Cheryl Davies said it could be of huge benefit to whānau.

"The biggest thing we find is that people just forget. It's not so much that they don't want to take it, it's just they forget to take it. So I see this as a tool that can really help with reminding people. It's about offering options and giving whānau the option of taking an inhaler that could improve their health and well-being as well as that of their tamariki, rangatahi and kaumātua."

The mother of one of those who took part in the study, Tatiana Hotere, said she no longer had to nag her daughter Kiana into taking her medication.

The Smart Track inhaler

The Smart Track inhaler Photo: Supplied

"There's been such a huge improvement in her health and her ability to play outside, and even in her fitness level, because she was able to actually do a lot more without being tired, without feeling out of breath."

And 10-year old Kiana agrees.

"The music [on the SmartTrack inhaler] was loud so if I was downstairs and the inhaler was upstairs I could hear it so when it went off I knew it was time for me to take it.

"When I had the asthma and I was competing in school activities including running I couldn't really do it, but once my asthma got better the teachers said I was the second-best in my class."

A member of the Asthma Foundation's expert advisory group, who is also a paediatrician at Starship Hospital, said studies show that less than 50 percent of those who are meant to use an inhaler regularly do so, but the this new device could be a game changer.

Professor Innes Asher said while its results are impressive, it must be made readily available.

"If we're going to use this tool to increase reliability we've got to make it affordable for families and that's an issue for Pharmac.

"It's important that when we introduce things we don't make inequities in the country worse. So if we introduce something that's costly and people are disproportionately affected, for example Māori with asthma, they're going to miss out on that. We don't like that, we want everyone to have access to something that's good so there's going to have to be some negotiation."

The manufacturer of the device, Nexus6, said it expects to have the Smartinhaler available this year.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs