Mobile asthma care unit set to begin visiting Malcolm X Elementary School students

The Breathmobile, a mobile asthma care unit, will begin visiting Malcom X Elementary School in South Berkeley beginning in October.
Prescott-Joseph Center/Courtesy
The Breathmobile, a mobile asthma care unit, will begin visiting Malcom X Elementary School in South Berkeley beginning in October.

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A mobile asthma care unit sponsored by the Prescott-Joseph Center for Community Enhancement in Oakland will begin visiting some Berkeley students starting in October.

The Breathmobile, which celebrated its fourth anniversary of operation in the Bay Area on Wednesday, was approved three weeks ago by the Berkeley Unified School District and Berkeley City Council to begin piloting its program at Malcolm X Elementary School.

The Breathmobile program, which first started in Los Angeles, provides care to children with asthma problems — who would otherwise incur high medical costs and miss school due to this preventable medical condition — by visiting local elementary schools every four to six weeks.

“We get children who come in with their asthma out of control to under control in two to three visits,” said Dr. Washington Burns, the Prescott-Joseph Center’s executive director.

About one in five children aged five through 17 in Alameda County has been diagnosed with asthma — a statistic higher than the state’s average of one in six — according to the 2009 California Health Interview Survey. The respiratory condition has been known to be caused by severe air pollution from freeways, trucking and shipping, as well as from a variety of household irritants like mold, pests and secondhand smoke.

“We must bring these services to this community that has been affected with pretty significant asthma, especially young children, partially because of the (interstate) corridor and pollution,” said Councilmember Max Anderson, who worked to get Breathmobile to come to Berkeley where it will be piloted.

The process of bringing the Breathmobile to Berkeley began four months ago when Anderson and Burns began talks with the school board to solidify a plan of implementation within the district.

The Breathmobile team hopes to have 14 kids signed up before the program begins, according to Anderson, and a press conference will be held sometime within the next few weeks to further publicize the program.

“This service is completely free. It will cost the school district and the city nothing except a powerline to the Breathmobile at Malcolm X,” Anderson said. “It is funded by grants and the demonstrated success of the program, which has attracted funders.”

If all goes well with the Malcolm X program, Rosa Parks Elementary School — another elementary school in the district with a high prevalence of asthma — will be considered to be the second Berkeley Breathmobile site.

“The most valuable thing we have is the minds of our children,” Burns said. “We need to provide them a healthy environment and healthy bodies so they can develop their minds.”

Contact Megan Messerly at [email protected].

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