Researchers in Australia will establish the world's first dedicated asthma service for pregnant women in a trial of what they hope will reduce the adverse effects of asthma on the growth and survival of babies.
Associate Professor Vicki Clifton from the Robinson Institute at the University of Adelaide will establish a trial asthma service for pregnant women next year. The service will be run at the Lyell McEwin Hospital in the northern suburbs of Adelaide, South Australia.
"Asthma affects about 16% of pregnancies in South Australia, which is a huge problem because pregnancy worsens asthma. This can have serious consequences for the growth and survival of the baby," Associate Professor Clifton says.
"Unfortunately, asthma has been poorly treated during pregnancy for many years. Currently there is no dedicated asthma service for pregnant women in Australia, or anywhere else in the world. Government funding is not forthcoming to support a trial to determine the cost effectiveness and clinical effectiveness of such a service.
"We will run a trial service in 2013 on a limited budget, because we believe this is an extremely important initiative to change clinical practice and help a large proportion of pregnant women," she says.
According to official figures, maternal asthma contributes to 20% of all preterm births in South Australia, 15% of stillbirths and 15% of growth-restricted fetuses. Asthma is also associated with pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, hemorrhage and congenital abnormalities.
Associate Professor Clifton has conducted a number of research projects on the impact of asthma on mothers and their babies, and in 2013 she will take up a new five-year research fellowship looking into this area, funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).
"We now have more information than ever before about how and why asthma worsens during pregnancy, and why it can have such a detrimental effect on the baby, but much more research needs to be done," she says.
"Better understanding the mechanisms that worsen asthma, with a view to improving treatment, will be a key aim of our future research.
"However, we also need to see improvements in clinical practice. By introducing a dedicated asthma service, we hope to raise awareness of the problems experienced by mothers and their unborn babies from asthma, and provide treatment and advice.
"Ultimately, with the right care and management, our aim is to reduce the number of preterm births, stillbirths, and growth-restricted fetuses that are directly affected by asthma," Associate Professor Clifton says.