For over 30 years British asthmatic children were sent for three weeks to the French Spa town of La Bourboule in the Massif Centrale. When the work started in 1949 it was extremely difficult to treat asthma effectively and it was perfectly reasonable to include the regime of spa treatment as a legitimate form of treatment. The launch of the drug sodium cromoglycate in the 60s made a huge difference to the health of asthmatic children (something that is largely forgotten by modern doctors). A few years later the production of steroid inhalers provided a highly effective method of control thus completely altering the prognosis of the disease, although it has to be said that even today it can still be very serious and hospital admissions can be required. Miss Jennifer Lee who had joined the staff of IHC at the very beginning and remained for the next twelve years until her departure to take up a University course, she was in charge of the children in France while they were undergoing the treatment. From the arrival of the first party the standard of services provided by the Spa Authorities, the French doctors especially Dr. Jean Canet, and at the Children's Home run by Madame Brunereau was truly remarkable and created an atmosphere conducive to the well being of the children. The results-often very long term-were astonishing and only after nearly 40 years did the scheme come to an end, chiefly because the level of success of treatment in the U.K. reduced the necessity to go abroad.
I wrote the article below in 1967.
Recently I spent several days in La Bourboule studying the treatment of the 12 children who constituted this years May party. As I was the first British doctor for 7 years to visit the Spa through I.H.C. I was given a warm welcome by several of the French doctors and also by numerous other people who help to look after our parties. The reason of my journey was two-fold: firstly to pave the way for future visits of Local Committee doctors; secondly to reassess the value of the treatment in terms of the ever rising cost of a three weeks stay which, even with reduced medical fees, can now be as much as eighty five pounds. Several statistical follow-ups have been done on I.H.C, children during the past ten years and they have all shown that considerable improvement in both asthma and eczema can result. This benefit is particularly marked amongst the under tens in whom it is of very special value because there is no doubt that many asthmatic children do tend to improve anyway as they reach adult life. (In 1964, as part of my medical studies, I had done a survey on 120 children who had been to La Bourboule and found that by the age of 18, 80% of children had made a substantial improvement or had complete alleviation of their condition.) There are of course other methods of treating asthma and, for the Frenchman, La Bourboule is merely one of them. In England many of the treatments are free, thus it is more difficult to justify the expenditure of this money. However, as a result of my visit, and the follow up work which I have done, I feel very strongly that nothing else offers such a chance of getting better in so short a time. It is the fact that the cure takes only three weeks (admittedly more than one visit to the Spa may be necessary in severe cases) which distinguishes it from other forms of long tern therapy. It is difficult to know if the mineral waters themselves, by virtue of their chemical constituents, can improve asthma, but the way in which they are taken, mostly various forms of inhalation, - require the child to be constantly breathing; in and out against a stream of vapourised water. Everyone is agreed about the effectiveness of breathing, exercises in helping asthmatics, and the methods used at La Bourboule provide an excellent way of providing this treatment. .
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