Din Redzepagic is a pharmacist at Zoom Pharmacy.
Pharmacists are urging thousands of Kiwis with asthma to use preventive medication for the chronic condition every day – before they are exposed to Covid-19.
The call follows analysis of discussions with hundreds of Covid-positive patients over the past week, which revealed that a number of people with pre-existing respiratory conditions such as asthma or lung disease Chronic Obstructive Disease (COPD) are struggling with the impact of Omicron’s contraction.
New Zealand has a high prevalence of asthma, with one in eight adults (12%) having been prescribed asthma medication. It is estimated that up to 15% of the population is affected by COPD.
New Zealand also has one of the highest asthma hospitalization rates of any OECD country.
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Adherence to prescription drugs is also a significant issue for the country, with research finding that a third (33%) of Kiwis have had a medical prescription they have not filled.
Din Redzepagic, a pharmacist at Zoom Pharmacy, said his team interviewed hundreds of Covid-positive patients under a new DHB program to provide free medication to those self-isolating.
He said the healthcare intervention model required pharmacists to have a virtual consultation with Covid patients to understand how well they are doing.
“The new DHB initiative means that pharmacists are now speaking with a large sample of Covid patients, and it gives us unique insight into how those with other chronic conditions are managing symptoms of the new virus.
“What we know from the current increase in Omicron cases is that approximately one in twenty patients we speak with become very ill.
“There are clear signs of severe respiratory distress in many of them and further analysis reveals that many have been diagnosed with asthma but are not using their preventive inhaler regularly.
“It is worrying that some of those who are already living with respiratory diseases such as asthma and COPD have let their management plans down and do not follow their doctor’s advice on how often to use a preventive.
“As a result, we have advised three of the isolated patients with significant breathing difficulties over the past two days to call an ambulance,” he said.
Redzepagic said the preventative is designed to deliver medication to the respiratory system, prevent symptoms and reduce the risk of asthma attacks.
He said the trend is particularly noticeable in areas where access to health services has traditionally been poor, but where concentrations of Covid-positive patients are higher – such as South and West Auckland.
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“What we may be seeing right now is a combination of two aspects of healthcare that are relatively unique to New Zealand – our unusually high prevalence of asthma and the high rates of Maori and Pasifika with illnesses. pre-existing respiratory conditions who also test positive for Covid.
“In addition to ensuring they have received all three doses of the vaccine, it is important that people with pre-existing respiratory conditions such as asthma take a number of additional steps to prepare for the possibility of a covid infection.
“The first thing to do is check their stocks of preventer inhalers – including their expiry date. If they have stopped taking the medicine every day, they should start again according to the advice given to them by their healthcare professional (healthcare provider).
“This is important because they may lack practice in timing their breathing with the delivery of medication through the inhaler.
“This inhaler should be used every day as it can take two to four weeks for it to reach its full effect.
“They should then consider talking to their GP about the quality of their asthma management – this may involve the use of a peak flow meter which can be done at home in a virtual consultation,” said he declared.
Redzepagic said Zoom Pharmacy is increasing capacity to meet growing demand from patients needing to self-isolate at home.
He said he now had a team of motorcyclists who could more easily navigate peak-hour traffic – to ensure same-day deliveries to patients in need.
“The current level of demand from the thousands of patients self-isolating is so high that our morning shift starts at 3am.
“In the past two days, we have delivered over 750 drug kits, and we expect that number to increase significantly over the next few weeks,” he said.