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Asthma March at City Hall

By Leon Tulton

Written and Submitted by Leon Tulton

A coalition of elected officials, community residents, and representatives from various health organizations assembled on the steps of City Hall yesterday to announce their support of an upcoming asthma march, entitled C.A.M.IN.A.R for Asthma, scheduled to be held in East Harlem this Saturday.

Picture of the Coalition at the step of City Hall annoucing the Asthma MarchNYC Councilmember Philip Reed of City Council District 8, who represents the East Harlem community and a co-sponsor of the march, stated that the purpose of Saturday’s event is to bring attention to the issue of asthma, which is adversely affecting many of his constituents. “We have a crisis,” Reed said. “The reason for this walk is to not only put a spotlight on how asthma is a major health problem in our community, but to show the human faces that are affected by this respiratory disease.” Reed publicly acknowledged the hard work of the East Harlem Asthma Working Group (EHAWG), a community-based coalition of East Harlem residents and various health, medical, and environmental organizations, for putting together the march. “The East Harlem Asthma Working Group came up with the title “C.A.M.IN.A.R”, which mean ‘to walk’ in Spanish, as an acronym for ‘Community Actively Marching to INspire Awareness and Responsibility,” he said. “We want to do just that…inspire awareness about environmental triggers of asthma and let the public know about those who are responsible for thse environmental problems affecting their health.”

NYC Council Speaker Gifford Miller voiced his support for the march. “This Saturday, I urge all New Yorkers to be a part of it [the asthma march],” Miller said. “The council has maintained its commitment to combating this ailment by continuing funding for special initiatives like the East Harlem Asthma Working Group, whose efforts have resulted in lower hospitalization rates for children suffering with asthma, particularly in East Harlem.” The city council head also commented about the disproportionate number of bus depots situated in communities like East Harlem contributing to increased air pollution, a trigger of asthma. “Par of our responsibility [as government] must be to attack the problem of air pollution,” Miller said. “Poorer and fragile communities are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to air pollution because, as we all know, they often have a high concentration of diesel bus and truck traffic.” He cited that communities north of 96th Street, such as East Harlem, is home to five of seven bus depots in the borough of Manhattan. “It’s an old story-we have all heard it before-it’s time that we wrote an appropriate ending,” he said. Miller added that NYS Governor George Pataki and the state legislature must commit to serious investment in cleaner-fuel buses instead of continually purchasing diesel-powered buses.

NYS Senate Minority Leader David A. Paterson, who represents the 30th State Senate District and a co-sponsor of C.A.M.IN.A.R for Asthma, also expressed his support for the march. “This march is an opportunity to educate and legislate more profound and innovative ways of fighting this terrible disease,” stated Paterson. “With the participation of our U.S. Senators, we’re bringing national attention to a respiratory ailment that has plagued our communities for years.” A representative from EHAWG later confirmed that U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Hilary Rodham Clinton have confirmed that they will be participating in the asthma march, which will be lead by Clinton. The state senator also stated that elected officials must pressure the federal government for increased funding to medical facilities in order to better combat asthma. “We have to make sure that [health facilities in East Harlem such as] Metropolitan, Mount Sinai, and North General are equip to handle this [asthma],” he said.

Carolyn Rosen, MD, a pediatrician at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and a member of EHAWG, stated that the march symbolizes a partnership between elected official and the community in the fight against asthma. Reading the organization’s position statement, she mentioned points in the plan that included inspiring the East Harlem community and the nation to take action against the asthma epidemic and the responsibility for asthma control must be taken by the public, individually and collectively, and the government. Rosen cited that the public can collectively seek appropriate resources and band together to fight against environmental pollutants in East Harlem.

Prior to the press conference, Mia Mischuk-O’Brien, a representative of Respironics’ Asthma & Allergy Division, stated that her organization is proud to be a financial co-sponsor of the march. “Respironics is dedicated to empowering healthcare providers and their patients, at all points of care, to better manage asthma and allergies with education, unique programs and innovative products that help deliver optimal clinical and financial outcomes,” O’Brien said. Lloyd Bishop, associate vice president for Government and Community Affairs at the Greater New York Hospital Association, also expressed his organization’s support of Saturday’s event. “As one of the major sponsors of the march, we are proud to stand with our members, the public and private hospitals in the community, and with 1199/SEIU through our joint Healthcare Education Project, in support of the East Harlem Asthma Working Group’s effort to spotlight asthma as a concern in the community.”

D’Andrea Jones, a 10-year-old East Harlem resident who has asthmas and was chosen to be the march’s co-grand marshal, made a public plea to elected officials to help clean up environmental pollutants that trigger her asthma. “I have asthma,” she said. “Please clean the air so me and other kids with asthma can breathe.” Jones described how being affected with asthma interferes with her schooling. “When I am in the hospital, I can’t go to school and learn,” she said. Paula Elbirt, MD, medical director of the Children’s Aid Society’s Health Service division and Jones’ chaperone, later explained that her organization runs a medical clinic at P.S. 50 where the young girl attends. She explained that her organization established a full service medical and dental clinic for the students of P.S. 50 and their families in 2000 to identify and treat chronic illness, such as asthma. “We have identified over 150 children at P.S. 50, a school of approximately 600 children, who are in need of our direct assistance for issues relating to their asthma,” Elbirt said. She added that asthma contributes to school absenteeism and interferes with a student’s quality of learning. “On Saturday, we’re not only fighting for our children’s’ health, but their future as productive members of their community,” Elbirt said.

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