Din Redzepagic is a pharmacist at Zoom Pharmacy.
Pharmacists are urgent thousands of Kiwis living with asthma to use preventative medication for the chronic disease every day – prior to exposure to Covid-19.
The call follows analysis of discussions with hundreds of Covid-positive patients over the past week, which found a number of those with pre-existing respiratory conditions such as asthma or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) are struggling with the impact of contracting Omicron.
New Zealand has a high prevalence of asthma, with one in eight (12 per cent) adults having been prescribed asthma medication. Up to 15 per cent of the population are believed to be affected by COPD.
NZ also has one of the highest hospital admission rates for asthma of all OECD countries.
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Adherence to prescription medicine is also a significant issue for the country, with research finding a third (33 per cent) of Kiwis have had a doctor’s prescription that they have not filled.
Din Redzepagic, pharmacist at Zoom Pharmacy, said his team had interviewed hundreds of Covid-positive patients as part of a new DHB program to deliver free medicines to those isolating.
He said the healthcare intervention model required pharmacists to have a virtual consultation with Covid patients to understand how well they are managing.
“The new DHB initiative means pharmacists are now talking with a large sample of patients who have Covid, and it is giving us unique insights into how those with other chronic conditions are managing with the symptoms of the new virus.
“What we know about the current surge in Omicron cases is that around one in every twenty patients we are talking to are getting very sick.
“There are obvious signs of severe respiratory distress among many of them and further analysis reveals that many have been diagnosed with asthma, but are not regularly using their preventative inhaler.
“It is concerning to see that some of those already living with respiratory diseases such as asthma and COPD have let their management plans lapse and are not adhering to their doctor’s advice on the frequency of using a preventer.
“As a result we have advised three of the patients isolating with significant breathing difficulty in the last two days to call an ambulance,” he said.
Redzepagic said the preventer is designed to deliver medicine into the respiratory system, preventing symptoms and reducing the potential for asthma attacks.
He said the trend is particularly noticeable in areas with traditionally poor access to health care services but higher concentrations of Covid positive patients – such as South and West Auckland.
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“What we may be seeing at the moment is a combination of two aspects of healthcare which are relatively unique to New Zealand – our unusually high prevalence of asthma and high rates of Māori and Pasifika with pre-existing respiratory diseases who are also testing positive for Covid.
“In addition to ensuring they have had all three doses of the vaccine, it is important that those 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 to check their stocks of preventer inhalers – including their expiry date. If they have lapsed in taking the medicine every day, they need to restart this according to the advice given to them by their HCP (healthcare provider).
“This is important as they may be out of practice with timing their breathing with delivery of medicine through the inhaler.
“This inhaler should be used every day as it may take two to four weeks before it reaches its full effect.
“They should then look at talking to their GP about how well their asthma is being managed – this may require using a peak flow meter which can be done at home as part of a virtual consultation,” he said.
Redzepagic said Zoom Pharmacy was expanding capacity to cope with the growing demand from patients required to isolate at home.
He said it now had a team of motorcyclists who could more easily navigate peak-hour traffic – to ensure same-day deliveries to patients in need.
“The level of demand at the moment from the thousands of patients which are isolating is so high, that our morning shift is starting at 3am.
“In the past two days we have delivered over 750 medicine packs, and we expect this number to grow significantly over the coming weeks,” he said.