Respiratory health key post COVID amid calls for global action

As events were held to celebrate World Lung Day (WLD), there have been growing calls for more attention and investment in the world’s respiratory health.

The Forum of International Respiratory Societies (FIRS) and WLD partner organisations, such as the American Thoracic Society, used the day to press 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 this weekend, 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,” said the report. “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.

FIRS said 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. “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 said there were a range of steps that needed to be taken if global health was to be improved.

Efforts to 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 had to be increased.

The report also called for the reduction and then the elimination of the use of all tobacco and smoking products.

“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 immunisations including vaccinations for COVID,” added the report.

FIRS said 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.

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