2014 Press Releases

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Global lung health forum calls for more awareness of COPD

19 November 2014 -- On World COPD Day (19 November 2014), the Forum of International Respiratory Societies (FIRS) is mobilizing its members to raise awareness of the disease and help prevent the risk factors that cause it.

210 million people have COPD worldwide, causing the death of at least 2.9 million people each year. It is the sixth major cause of death and disability in low- and middle-income countries and is projected to be the third most common cause of death by 2020.

World COPD Day, which is observed in November each year, is an opportunity to highlight the impact of COPD to governments, politicians, funding agencies, clinicians, public health personnel and also the general public.

The Forum of International Respiratory Societies (FIRS) is dedicated to raising awareness of the disease and on World COPD Day, the alliance hopes to highlight some of key risk factors, diagnosis, and essential management components of the disease.  

Risk factors for COPD

Risk factors for COPD other than smoking tobacco are being increasingly recognized. These include environmental exposures, such as occupational exposures to dusts and fumes, and indoor biomass fuel burning in many developing countries.
Epidemiological studies indicate that the most common risk factors for COPD are age, smoking, indoor exposure to coal and workplace exposure to dust.

Spirometry is essential for COPD diagnosis

One possible explanation of the inaccurate diagnostic labelling of COPD is the underutilization of spirometry for COPD diagnosis. Only 20% of individuals surveyed in a population-based study had undergone spirometry sometime in their life. Spirometry training programs, as well as the availability of spirometers in the primary care setting, are still scarce.

Treatment and prevention of COPD

Patients should have access to comprehensive treatment including education for patients and family, smoking cessation programs, medication, pulmonary rehabilitation and oxygen therapy as prescribed.

Prevention of smoking and exposure to pollutants, such as coal and dust, are the interventions most likely to succeed against COPD worldwide.

ATS President Tom Ferkol, MD said: “COPD is a global killer.  It is a major cause of death and disability in low- and middle-income countries and is projected to be the third-leading cause of death by 2020. We have joined together with other members of the Forum to highlight the impact of COPD to the public and policymakers.  Understanding the risk factors for COPD, raising awareness of the importance of spirometry, and increasing access to available treatments are just some of the ways we can tackle COPD and improve the outlook for future generations.”

Notes for editors

More information on COPD

210 million people have COPD worldwide, causing the death of at least 2.9 million people each year. Individuals classified as having COPD according to GOLD criteria have nearly 2-3 times greater risk of dying compared with subjects who do not meet the spirometric criteria for COPD.


Data from epidemiological studies coming from different regions indicate a high prevalence of the disease and that the inaccurate diagnostic labelling of COPD represents an important health problem. The prevalence of COPD has been estimated to be 10 % among individuals who are 40 years or older. Underdiagnosis (i.e. meeting spirometric criteria for COPD without having been previously diagnosed as having COPD) may occur in as many as 89-90% of such individuals and misdiagnosis (i.e. having normal spirometric values, but not having previously been diagnosed as having COPD) may occur in approximately 64% of cases. Up to 70% of patients with COPD are undertreated.

World COPD Day is held every November to raise awareness of the disease.

About FIRS

The Forum of International Respiratory Societies (FIRS) was established in 2002, with members coming from six international societies Asociacion Latinoamericana del Thorax (ALAT), the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP), the American Thoracic Society (ATS), the Asian Pacific Society of Respirology (APSR), the European Respiratory Society (ERS), the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union), and the Pan African Thoracic Society (PATS). The forum aims to promote advocacy in matters of global respiratory health and the identification of new areas for global initiatives.