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On World Lung Day FIRS Calls for Global Investment in Respiratory Health

Respiratory diseases a leading cause of death worldwide, despite being preventable and economical to treat.

Today, on World Lung Day (WLD), members of the Forum of International Respiratory Societies (FIRS) and WLD partner organizations, such as the American Thoracic Society, are calling for respiratory health to be a top priority in global decision-making beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Global Impact of Respiratory Disease report, launched today, despite cost-effective health interventions being available, respiratory diseases remain a leading cause of death and disability. Nearly 200 million people, or 4 percent of the world’s population, have COPD and 3.2 million die of it each year, making it the third-leading cause of death worldwide.

In the context of the current global COVID-19 pandemic it is easy to overlook the lethality and disabling impacts of ongoing respiratory illnesses. For example, even in a “normal” year asthma affects more than 350 million people and is the most common chronic disease of childhood worldwide. Pneumonia kills more than 2.4 million people annually and is a leading cause of death among children younger than five and adults older than 65. More than 10 million people develop TB and 1.4 million die of it each year, making it the most common lethal infectious disease next to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has claimed the lives of more than 4.5 million people, largely from respiratory causes.

Lung cancer kills 1.8 million people each year. In addition, there is a need to tackle air pollution, with at least 2.4 billion people exposed to indoor air pollution, and 90 percent of all people breathing outdoor air that exceeds WHO guideline limits, especially in low- and middle-income countries. More than 1.3 billion people are exposed to tobacco smoke.

“It is urgent to place acute and chronic respiratory diseases on the high priority list of actions at every level and change the future of respiratory and general health worldwide,” said Mark Cohen, president of FIRS, 2021-2022.

“Interventions to prevent and treat respiratory diseases are among the most cost-effective available—a ‘best-buy’ in the view of the WHO. Genuine investment in respiratory health will pay exponential dividends in longevity, healthy living days, and national economies.”

FIRS calls for these essential actions to reduce the burden of respiratory disease and improve global health:

  • Improve awareness among the public and policy makers that respiratory health is vital to global health and that childhood respiratory disease has long-term negative consequences on adult health.
  • Reduce, and then eliminate, use of all tobacco and smoking products.
  • Adopt and adhere to WHO standards, at a minimum, to reduce ambient, indoor, and occupational air pollution for all countries.
  • Implement universal access to quality health care, including the availability of affordable, quality-assured, essential medicines, oxygen and universal coverage for all effective childhood and adult immunizations including vaccinations for COVID.
  • Improve the prevention and early diagnosis of respiratory diseases.
  • Increase education and training of health-care professionals in respiratory disease worldwide.
  • Standardize the monitoring and reporting of respiratory diseases to enable development of better-informed national strategies through programs of the WHO and governmental and nongovernmental organizations.
  • Boost funding for respiratory research to develop programs, tools, and strategies to better prevent and treat respiratory diseases.

Significant progress on these issues will help to eliminate respiratory diseases from the top 10 leading causes of death in the world.

Contact for Media:
Fiona Salter, fiona.salter@firsnet.org