Asthma NZ CEO Katheren Leitner Talks COPD & Healthy Homes

Posted by: nick Nov 10, 2021 Category: Ryze Kōrero
Asthma NZ CEO Katheren Leitner Talks COPD & Healthy Homes

We are lucky to have Katheren Leitner who is the CEO of Asthma NZ. Katheren has been working in the health field for years. The issue of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) has only recently been highlighted in the media. Today, I will be talking to Katheren about COPD and how it is affecting NZ, what we need to be doing, what the effects are of our poor housing, and why this is all contributing to respiratory illnesses.


Asthma NZ CEO Katheren Leitner Talks Healthy Homes


Katheren is on a mission to reduce hospitalization by Asthma and COPD. She says Asthma NZ mission is to reduce hospitalizations by 50% by 2029 and she was quoted in an interview recently saying “until we sought the housing, we're never going to do that.”


She says the drafty leaky homes are causing serious illness with 700,000 people currently medicated for respiratory conditions in Aotearoa New Zealand She goes on to say more must be done to reduce New Zealand high rate of respiratory illness and housing is a contributing factor. 


Joining Asthma NZ


When asked why she joined Asthma NZ in 2018, Katheren replies: ...I think the single greatest reason I came into the role was that for 20 years New Zealand had the second highest rate of death for under 35 year olds from Asthma. 


Dying from Asthma is really preventable. That’s harsh, but what I think is even harsher is the quality of life of those with respiratory conditions if they don't manage it well. It steals away hopes and dreams and aspirations but it also steals talent from Aotearoa.  Whether it's sport talent, intellectual talent or talent that is going to bring up our next generation. Well it just steals so much from the nation and yeah that's what was really eye opening for me, 


How does NZ Asthma rates compare to other O.E.C.D nations


Katheren replies: So 20 years ago the UK had the highest rate of death for under 35 year olds. New Zealand was second back then. The U. K. Looked at the situation and realized that was really a plight on them as a society. It was completely unacceptable and they went about making some massive changes rapidly and started getting rigorous around their building codes as well, 


There was a massive decision in the U. K. To do something about the shocking Asthma stats they now dropped right down the ladder in terms of where they are, in terms of Australia, Australia got really high rates of Asthma.They don't have the high rates of death. But I think the other thing that's stunning in Australia is that Asthma is actually respected,  , people don't muck around with it. 


If somebody is experiencing the tightness of the chest, they go and get it sorted out where as in Aotearoa  , we have no respect for Asthma at all. We have no respect for respiratory conditions. 


We have not realized the implications of not protecting our respiratory system. So health apathy in New Zealand is some of the highest in the world, unfortunately.


New Zealanders don't appreciate their health until they don't have it. We're very much a reactionary nation. We’re not proactive, we love and we've seen this through COVID, which has been a brilliant illustrator of this. 


We respond to crises, when the chips are down New Zealanders stand up.  , we see this all the time, whether it's in business, whether it's in a natural disaster when the chips are down, Kiwis do come together as a team of five million, so to speak. But otherwise, we’re seen around the world in terms of that laid back nature, where we are really laid back and  , when we are laid back towards our health in particular, our breathing, because here's the thing is that nothing else matters when you can't breathe, you really have minutes. 

Katheren's Healthy Home Journey

This was the very last space Katheren ever thought she would be coming into the CEO role. There were other things she thought she could see herself doing like talking to PHARMAC and places like that. 

Katheren continues: I did not see myself talking to the construction sector. No way, I did not see myself understanding anything about building science. So it was a real shock. 


I was like the majority of kiwis, I grew up thinking that it was normal to see my breath in winter (inside our homes).  , wake up, and race to the only room in the house that’s got a heater. When it's cold outside, it should be cold inside. Up until three years ago, that's what I thought was normal. I didn't realize anything else then it wasn't till I started listening to my nurses and the things they would tell me


So Asthma New Zealand basically has nurse educators and we go into people's homes, we go into schools, workplaces go into wherever people need us to be to educate them on the way in which they can live well with Asthma 


I hear my nurses that have come back from a family and they're having to have a hot drink because they're so damn cold,  , they're talking about this kid's bedroom being four or five degrees and crazy things like this. 


A child hospitalised three times, in the space of a month because of the state of the houses that they are living in. Then I started getting phone calls, from our patients, asking me, could you please write to our landlord, and help us because we know this house is making us sick, , and that was really what flagged me. 


I got a phone call from a mum beside herself, who said my kids they were born healthy and now both have chronic conditions, those chronic conditions will last them a lifetime 


More in our interview below

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