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From Mark’s Desk: Turning the Corner

Welcome to Allergy Today. We invite you to share this free e-newsletter with anyone interested in allergies.

I wonder how this period in our communities will be remembered and recorded. Most of my generation have not been directly exposed to a global crisis on this scale. Isolated cultural, social, political, financial and, of course, environmental crises have occurred, or are occurring, but they have not visited all of us as intrusively or as immediately as COVID-19.

Despite the irresistible march of the allergy epidemic and its current rating by WHO as the world’s leading chronic health condition, it pales by comparison to the speed and all-encompassing impact of COVID-19.

However, through the lockdown and now at Level One, we have continued to provide information and support to those with allergies through our email service and 0800 34 0800 freephone line, albeit often with a COVID-19 lens. Many people wondered whether their runny noses and sneezes were allergy or virus-related; others had challenges finding allergy-safe food.

We are now adapting to the new norm. On the one hand, the use of Zoom and other mediums for meetings give us some new opportunities. On the other, our efforts to maintain and strengthen awareness and understanding of allergies and encourage support for sufferers has become a very different challenge. The effectiveness of getting our messages out through media and communication channels is now weighed against the new set of priorities in people’s lives that COVID-19 has demanded.

Our ability to gain cut-through in the current communication environment is hampered by a perfect storm of global unrest, a global health pandemic and a diversity of world leadership that is underwhelming and worryingly ineffective. Throw in an election year locally, and some spare bandwidth for sharing the everyday challenge of chronic health conditions is very hard to find.

So, Allergy New Zealand’s board and stakeholders have taken stock and hit ‘reset’ for 2020/21. Our review has determined that we stick to our basics — information, education and support for those living with allergies, and particularly those who may be experiencing heightened stress as a result of this pandemic.

Our advocacy work will also continue in the background. During the lockdown, our Allergy Advisor gave an oral submission via Zoom to the Education and Workforce Select Committee, on the Education and Training Bill. A key focus of this was Allergy New Zealand’s concern that Worksafe NZ is unable to effectively regulate the safety of children with risk of anaphylaxis in schools and early childhood services. Media reports about Worksafe NZ in recent times indicate similar concerns from other parties.

We have also made a submission to NZ Food Safety (under Ministry for Primary Industries) and Ministry of Education regarding the need for guidelines to enable students with food allergies to participate safely in the Free and Healthy School Lunch Programme. Allergy New Zealand also continues to support Patient Voice Aotearoa with its campaign to have a commitment from Government for the Pharmac budget to be at least doubled in the next few months.

However, we also want to continue taking action where possible, that can make a significant difference in the lives of individuals. We have recently managed to co-ordinate an excellent example of this with the generous co-operation of many willing supporters.

FundaPen™ a national success!

Launched in November 2019, our FundaPen™ initiative was made possible thanks to a $300,000 Pub Charity donation. As we go to press, the last few fully-funded EpiPens® for allergy patients at risk of anaphylaxis, have been dispatched.

 

The 2875 New Zealanders who were able to receive a free EpiPen®, have told us, and our partners, about the huge impact FundaPen™ has made to their lives. We would love to continue this initiative and will seek support for it in the near future.

I can tell you that giving away 2875 EpiPens® to New Zealand's allergy community was not as easy as it sounds! We especially want to acknowledge the unquestioned co-operation of thousands of General Practice teams throughout the country, who patiently co-operated with us and their Primary Health Organisations (PHOs) to deliver this opportunity to their patients with allergies.

Most impressively, any early hesitation, or the many queries we responded to, were always around how they could participate — never why they should participate.

Not a single healthcare professional in nine tumultuous months questioned how they would be recompensed for their support of FundaPen™ — they weren’t. Every dollar of that donation provided a child or family member with the free EpiPen® they needed. Despite the extra administration, a new prescribing protocol, proactively contacting their allergy patients etc, not one bemoaned how busy they were or how difficult this was going to be.

This was despite FundaPen™ launching two weeks prior to a measles outbreak sweeping the country and subsequently overwhelming primary care services everywhere. Even an EpiPen® supply scare a week before Christmas, and again in February, could not derail their support and engagement.

The unwavering primary healthcare network support throughout the FundaPen™ programme was absolutely critical to its success.

So, a very sincere collective thank you to all those involved, from all your patients who benefited.

We will be sharing some of the humbling feedback we have received from recipients with you in the coming weeks. To the dedicated team at www.AllergyPharmacy.co.nz who distributed every one of those FundaPens™, what a superb effort! Thank you again.

And lastly to our team at head office — Thank you for all the long hours and for presenting a warm, professional demeanour from the first FundaPen™ call to the last.

We would love to hear from you about your first FundaPen™ experience. Please share the difference it made for you to allergy@allergy.org.nz  and we can share it with those who made FundaPen™ possible.

Other News

There is a lot of other news in this issue of Allergy Today. Please check out our expert articles, the latest in labelling advice from Penny Jorgensen (in response to social media requests), reader competitions, our allergy-friendly advertisers, and a delicious mid-year creation from Alana Scott.

‘News Bites’ always has the latest news on allergies — check out the Australian Parliamentary Report into allergies and anaphylaxis, and the most recent advice on food allergies and eczema.  

Please make a note of the last weekend in August for the fantastic ‘Healthy Living Show and Allergy Free Show’ in Auckland, and 3–4 September for the equally entertaining and informative Wellington show. Say hi to our volunteers at our stands!  https://www.healthylivingshow.co.nz/

We hope you all enjoyed some extra family time through the school holidays and can now look forward to the days getting warmer and longer.

And, if you get a moment, please reach out to an allergy friend or family member in your community and ask how they are.

Mark Dixon,
CEO Allergy NZ.