Emory Report

Mar. 29, 1999

 Volume 51, No. 25


Georgia launches the nation's first arthritis public health initiative

More than a million people in Georgia are affected by arthritis. One out of every six people in our state lives with the debilitating pain caused by more than 100 different forms of this, the nation's No. 1 crippler and leading cause of disability. With 40 million affected nationwide, arthritis is widespread.

The Arthritis Foundation is an important source of help and hope for all individuals affected by arthritis. The foundation's mission is to support research to find cures and prevention for arthritis and to improve the quality of life for those affected by arthritis. The Arthritis Foundation executes its mission daily by providing quality of life program services and public education forums, and raising money to fund research initiatives.

The Georgia chapter is boldly launching a statewide public health project through a collaborative partnership with the Georgia Division of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The goal of this partnership is to determine the burden of arthritis on the Georgia community, and the results will be an excellent starting point for implementation of the National Arthritis Action Plan created and published jointly by the Arthritis Foundation and the CDC. The Georgia chapter is proud to be the first to initiate and fund this type of project which includes both research and service provision.

The first phase of the research effort is to evaluate six arthritis-related questions from the Georgia Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). BRFSS is a telephone survey conducted by all states. The relevant questions on the BFSS are:

1. During the past 12 months, have you had pain, aching, stiffness or swelling in or around a joint?

2. Were these symptoms present on most days for at least a month?

3. Are you now limited in any way in any activities because of your joint symptoms?

4. Have you ever been told by a doctor that you have arthritis?

5. What type of arthritis did the doctor say you have?

6. Are you currently being treated by a doctor for arthritis?

Results from the 1998 survey in Georgia will be available later this summer. The six arthritis-related questions are being used by Georgia and only a few other states. In addition a second, validity study seeks to determine if the six arthritis-related questions from the Georgia BRFSS are capturing a true picture of arthritis in Georgia. A comprehensive effort is underway to recruit 800 participants from the Georgia BRFSS who will agree to be examined by a rheumatologist in order to determine whether the patient has arthritis. The participants complete a written questionnaire in the doctor's office followed by a brief clinical evaluation.

The results from the BRFSS survey and office questionnaire are then compared with the rheumatologist's evaluation. Georgia data will most likely be collected by the end of this year and available next spring.

Initial results from both the Georgia BRFSS and the validity study will help the Georgia chapter determine the effectiveness of its programs. For the first time ever, the chapter will know more precisely how many Georgians are affected by arthritis, the type of arthritis of those affected, and the race, gender and age of those affected. This information will be instrumental in the evaluation of the chapter's services and programs for their ability to reach all citizens throughout the state. Health care costs associated with arthritis will be assessed, and the foundation will use the findings to support efforts to lessen Georgia's financial burden.

The Arthritis Foundation Georgia Chapter appreciates the support from the Woodruff Foundation, the Georgia Division of Public Health and the CDC all of who have made this vital research possible. For more information regarding the public health project or arthritis in general, please call the Arthritis Foundation, Georgia Chapter at 404-237-8771 or visit our national website at <www.arthritis.org>.

Eileen Rosenstein works at the Arthritis Foundation.

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