Plaid Cymru MS, Sioned Williams this week called on the Welsh Government to take action to tackle the high rates of asthma-related deaths in Wales among women during a Senedd debate on respiratory disease.
Speaking during a Senedd debate on Wednesday, Sioned Williams, who is the Plaid Cymru spokesperson on Equalities and Social Justice, urged the Senedd to support Plaid Cymru's motion calling upon the Welsh Government to develop an improvement plan for respiratory disease to transform the lives of people living with lung conditions.
During the debate, the Member of Senedd for South Wales West spoke of how her grandmother, Mari Owens, a miner's wife who lived in Rhymney, "a poor mining village, where the dust and pollution of the coal industry filled the air at the time of her death in 1958" had died of asthma when she was 50 years old, before the MS was born. The MS added that "people are still dying from asthma in Wales today—people like my grandmother, who live in poor areas, where air pollution remains high, people who live in cold and damp houses."
Sioned Williams MS said:
"A study by Asthma and Lung UK shows that women are almost twice as likely to die from an asthma attack than men. It is estimated that 180,000 women in Wales are living with asthma, and the report shows that not enough research has been done to examine the effects of female sex hormones on asthma. Fluctuations in female sex hormones caused by puberty, pregnancy, menstruation and menopause can worsen or even trigger life-threatening asthma attacks. In remembering that my grandmother was the age that she was when she died—50 years old—this is also obviously a possible factor in what happened to her.
"So, it's very concerning that there are women like my grandmother still dying from asthma in Wales today. Medicine and better treatments are available, but factors such as poverty, a lack of clean air and the impact of health inequalities still play their part in these deaths, and it's a large part. This is an area that needs further investigation, as the one-size-fits-all approach currently used to treat asthma is dangerous for many women in Wales."
Sioned Williams went on to outline the detrimental effects that economic inequality and unclear air can have on respiratory health:
"In the region of Wales that I represent, the Swansea Bay University Health Board area, 7.3% of people have asthma, which is higher than the Welsh average. The region also contains some of the most deprived communities in Wales. 15% of Neath Port Talbot, the county where I live, is included in the 10% most deprived communities in Wales, and 33% is included in the 20% most deprived. The poorest 20% are two to three times more likely to require emergency hospital admissions due to asthma, compared with the wealthiest 20%.
"We have heard from Mabon ap Gwynfor about the impact of poor air quality, with Port Talbot in my region being one of the worst places for air pollution in the UK. In Aberavon, 75% of surgeries and 11% of schools are in areas that breach the WHO limits for NO2. 75.9% of people with COPD who live in deprivation note that air pollution affects their health. Significant health inequalities are certainly associated with COPD, with people from the most deprived households more likely to have an acute attack when they have difficulty breathing.
"It's not acceptable that these factors, which contributed to the death of my grandmother far too young in 1958, and thousands of other Welsh people since then, are still endangering lives and cutting lives short in 2023."