A National Asthma Programme was undertaken in Finland from 1994 to 2004 to improve asthma care and prevent an increase in costs. The main goal was to lessen the burden of asthma to individuals and society.
The action programme focused on implementation of new knowledge, especially for primary care. The main premise underpinning the campaign was that asthma is an inflammatory disease and requires anti-inflammatory treatment from the outset. The key for implementation was an effective network of asthma-responsible professionals and development of a post hoc evaluation strategy. In 1997 Finnish pharmacies were included in the Pharmacy Programme and in 2002 a Childhood Asthma mini-Programme was launched.
The incidence of asthma is still increasing, but the burden of asthma has decreased considerably. The number of hospital days has fallen by 54% from 110 000 in 1993 to 51 000 in 2003, 69% in relation to the number of asthmatics (n = 135 363 and 207 757, respectively), with the trend still downwards. In 1993, 7212 patients of working age (9% of 80 133 asthmatics) received a disability pension from the Social Insurance Institution compared with 1741 in 2003 (1.5% of 116 067 asthmatics). The absolute decrease was 76%, and 83% in relation to the number of asthmatics. The increase in the cost of asthma (compensation for disability, drugs, hospital care, and outpatient doctor visits) ended: in 1993 the costs were 218 million euro which had fallen to 213.5 million euro in 2003. Costs per patient per year have decreased 36% (from 1611 euro to 1031 euro).
It is possible to reduce the morbidity of asthma and its impact on individuals as well as on society. Improvements would have taken place without the programme, but not of this magnitude.
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The Finnish National Prevention and Treatment Programme for Chronic Bronchitis and COPD, launched in 1998, has, to date, been running for 6 years (2003). The goals of this action programme were to reduce the incidence of COPD and the number of moderate and severe cases of the disease, and to reduce both the number of days of hospitalisation and treatment costs. A prevalent implementation of over 250 information and training events started. Health centres and pharmacies appointed a person in charge of COPD patients. In order to improve the cooperation between primary and specialised care, two thirds of hospital districts created local COPD treatment chains. The early diagnosis of COPD by spirometric examination was activated during the programme. Number of health centres with available spirometric services increased to 95%. Before the start of the programme, approximately 5-9% of the adult population had COPD. During the whole programme, the proportion of male and female smokers decreased from 30% to 26% and from 20% to 19%, respectively. The total number of hospitalisation periods and days due to COPD decreased by 15% and 18%, respectively. Both the number of pensioners and daily sickness days due to COPD also decreased by 18%. Registered COPD induced deaths remained at their previous levels during the monitoring period, i.e. around 1000 deaths out of 5.2 millions annually. The measures recommended by the programme have been widely introduced but they need to be still more effective.