Education around asthma has gone mobile with Menzies School of Health Research’s Child Health Division developing an interactive app targeted to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.

The app is available in eight languages including, English, Tiwi, Murrinh Patha, Yolngu Matha, Kriol, Pitjantjatjara, Western Arrernte and Warlpiri. It uses images, audio and quizzes to teach users about asthma.

“The development of the asthma app was based on Indigenous voices from the community. In 2017, we received funding from Asthma Australia, the National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) Centres for Research Excellence, and Queensland Health to modify the paper-based asthma flipchart to a mobile app using a mixture of static and interactive formats with voiceover in local Indigenous languages,” said Menzies senior research fellow and project lead, Dr Gabrielle McCallum.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia are three times more likely to die from asthma and face poor clinical outcomes in the health system. The development of health education that is culturally safe and appropriate, such as the app, is a key factor in reducing language and context barriers in health equity.

“Among Indigenous Australians, respiratory illness is the most common reason for general practitioner visits, with asthma the most common self-reported chronic respiratory problem,” said Dr McCallum.

“Improving the method of delivery of health education that is innovative and culturally important is needed, in particular for Indigenous people in settings where the health staff turnover is high and access to specialist services is limited. Mobile apps are one such way of improving health education delivery.”

“The team evaluated the app with 80 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander carers from the Northern Territory and Queensland and found that knowledge of asthma significantly improved after using the asthma app, particularly how asthma is treated and the steps in first aid.”

Menzies Child Health Indigenous Reference Group were heavily involved in the app’s development.

“Getting information about how to keep asthma in check out to community is very important right now. The threat of Coronavirus means that good lung health is critical in preventing a disaster from happening,” said Larrakia Elder and Chair of the Menzies Child Health Indigenous Reference Group, Aunty Bilawara Lee.

Receiving incredible feedback already, the team at Menzies are creating similar software for other health conditions.

“We are in the final stages of modifying the bronchiolitis, pneumonia and bronchiectasis flipcharts to be included in the “Lung Health for Kids” app by Menzies. In the future, we hope to modify our adult-based flipcharts to a digital platform that include pneumonia, bronchiectasis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma,” said Dr McCallum.

Funding for the development of the app was provided by Asthma Australia, the NHMRC’s Centre for Research Excellence in Respiratory Health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children and Queensland Health.

“We are very proud to be a partner in this app. It is evidence-based and tailored in a meaningful way to empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to live better with their asthma. It will deliver better outcomes for people and that’s what we strive to achieve,” said CEO of Asthma Australia, Michele Goldman.

By Rachael Knowles