Navigating the world of food allergies is complex and often anxiety-inducing for parents.?
As I sit here today with my 8-year-old son, awaiting our fifth food challenge in hospital for allergies he has had since a child, I reflect on what it is like having a child with life-threatening allergies. I also look around the room and see the impact of COVID-19 on the hospital environment.
Each year in Australia, 10% of children up to the age of one are diagnosed with food allergies, and 8% of children up to five years of age. Hospital admissions for severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) have doubled over the last decade in Australia, and admissions for anaphylaxis due to food allergy in children aged zero to four years are even higher, having increased five-fold over the same period.
Nine foods cause 90% of food allergic reactions, including cow’s milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, sesame, soy, fish, shellfish, and wheat.
So, I know I am not alone. I know I am not the only mum who stands in the aisle at the supermarket, reading the back of every packet to check the ingredients, before putting it in the trolley. Not the only Mum who yells out as we walk out the door, ?Have you got your Epipen??, in an attempt to teach personal responsibility. And not the only Mum who lies awake many nights wondering how my son, when he is a young man, will navigate going out with his friends to bars and restaurants.
Coming into the hospital today it is a different experience. Our temperature is checked at the door, we are asked questions about our health and travel, and we are assigned a yellow dot if all is clear. We are distanced from others in the room, when it is usually packed full. Speaking to the Clinical Nurse Consultant, there are currently 1000 children on the waiting list for this treatment ? partly due to COVID-19.
It is an interesting observation that whilst this is an appointment we can?t do at home, there are many different types of hospital appointments that can be done over the phone or via video call, meaning that families do not need to attend the hospital environment. It is estimated that the rise of telehealth since COVID-19 has meant that over 7 million potential chances to transmit coronavirus have been avoided.
So, what does that speak to the future of telehealth and hospital appointments? It is time to look for more innovative ways to deliver health care. To reduce the burden on hospitals, and to also reduce the burden on families who spend time and money getting to and from hospital appointments, that may not be required to be held in person. It is time to think more from a patient-centred approach and offer new ways to deliver health care.
About the author
Francesca Pinzone is the Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of online allied health services provider, Umbo. She is passionate about bringing health services to children in rural communities and removing social inequalities. She has a MA in International Public Health from the University of Sydney, a Graduate Certificate in Social Impact from the University of NSW, and a Bachelor of Science, Nursing from the University of Technology, Sydney.
Francesca has over 12 years of experience working in non-profit organisations and in international development, having previously worked with Medecins Sans Frontieres in Pakistan, UNICEF in India and CanTeen in Australia, and also currently teaches Creating Social Change: From Innovation to Impact at UNSW Sydney with the Centre for Social Impact.
She is also a mother of a child who has received speech therapy.