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A World Lung Day is needed to put the spotlight on lung health

(May 25th, 2017, Geneva, Switzerland) – At a side event at the 70th World Health Assembly, Uruguay’s Public Health Minister joined experts from five global health organizations to call for urgent action to improve lung health and reduce the burden of respiratory disease, which accounts for five of the 30 most common causes of death. During the event, the expert panel (details below) discussed the findings of “The Global Impact of Respiratory Disease,” a new report from the Forum of International Respiratory Societies (FIRS) which sets out the global burden of respiratory disease and shows that implementing strategies to improve lung health would help countries meet their objectives under the Sustainable Development Goals.

In addition, a global charter for lung health, calling for official global recognition of a World Lung Day, was launched during the event. The goal is to secure 100,000 signatures from healthcare professionals, organizations and concerned individuals for subsequent consideration by the World Health Organization.  An officially-recognized, annual event devoted to respiratory disease would help to focus attention and resources on an often overlooked threat to global health.

José Luis Castro, MPA, Executive Director, The Union; President and CEO, Vital Strategies; and President, NCD Alliance noted: “The rising burden of lung disease is of real and immediate concern, made even more urgent by factors like climate change, air pollution and anti-microbial resistance that will both accelerate that burden and impede our ability to contain it. An official World Lung Day, recognized by the UN, would reinforce that this issue is a threat to global health and global development, and help to focus the attention of governments and donors on what needs to be done. We urge respiratory health specialists and health advocates around the world to join our call for action.”

Dean Schraufnagel, MD, executive director of FIRS said: “Alleviating the burden of respiratory disease should be a leading strategy of The Global Goals. While respiratory disease has such a tremendous impact on the world’s population, it is largely preventable. The goals outlined in this report are achievable. Investing the resources necessary to control, prevent and cure these diseases is a cost-effective investment that benefits the entire world. It’s among the most important, cost effective health interventions available. Public policy makers in the healthcare sector need to recognize the size of the problem and take concrete steps now to improve global lung health.”

Among its major findings, the FIRS report notes that:

  • Approximately 3 million people die each year from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), making it the third leading cause of death worldwide
  • Approximately 334 million people suffer from asthma, which is the most common chronic disease of childhood, affecting 14% of children globally; 383,000 people died from asthma in 2015, most of them in low-and middle income countries
  • In 2015, 10.4 million people developed tuberculosis (TB) and 1.4 million people died from it
  • Acute lower respiratory tract infections are among the top three causes of death and disability among both children and adults, causing an estimated 4 million deaths annually. Suffering from these infections in childhood is found to predispose the individual for chronic respiratory diseases later in life. Respiratory tract infections caused by influenza kill between 250,000 and 500,000 people and cost between US $71 and $167 billion annually
  • The most common lethal neoplasm in the world is lung cancer, which kills 1.6 million people annually
  • The prevalence of COPD, asthma, multi-drug resistant TB and lung cancer is rising.

The panel advocated for better monitoring and data to identify the full burden of respiratory diseases and strong action to reduce risk factors like tobacco use (Uruguay has implemented strong tobacco control policies in recent years) and exposure to air pollution (including indoor air pollution from household solid fuel use and second-hand smoke and outdoor pollution from industry, vehicle emissions, power generation and trash burning). In addition, the panel called for investment and improvements in diagnosis, control and treatment for lung disease, particularly communicable diseases like tuberculosis. Improving access to healthcare and medicines is essential, as is increasing the number of lung health specialists -particularly in resource-constrained settings that tend to carry the heaviest burden of respiratory diseases like TB.

More information about the report and the global charter is available at

Notes to Editors

The speakers and sponsors at today’s event included:

Nandita Murukutla, PhD – Vice President of Global Policy and Research; and Country Director, India, Vital Strategies (Moderator)
Dean Schraufnagel, MD – Executive Director, Forum of International Respiratory Societies; Professor, Pulmonary, CriticalCare, Sleep and Allergy, Department of Medicine, University of Illinois at Chicago, speaking on The Global Impact of Respiratory Disease
Carlos Dora, MD, PhD – Coordinator, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, World Health Organization, speaking on WHO’s Air Pollution Roadmap: Enhancing the Global Response to Improve Air Quality
Jorge Basso, MD – Public Health Minister, Uruguay, speaking on The Global Battle for Tobacco Control – Lessons from Uruguay
Thomas Matte, MD, MPH – Vice President for Environmental Health, Vital Strategies, speaking on Strengthening Health Sector Engagement in Prevention of Respiratory Disease
José Luis Castro – Executive Director, The Union; President and CEO, Vital Strategies; President, NCD Alliance, speaking on Our Call for a World Lung Day

About the Forum of International Respiratory Societies

The Forum of International Respiratory Societies (FIRS) represents the leading international respiratory societies of the world, with memberships of more than 70,000 professionals, who devote their working lives to some aspect of respiratory health or disease. The societies’ journals publish the majority of respiratory scientific breakthroughs and their annual meetings provide a forum for nearly all important research in the field. FIRS organizations produce recommendations that influence how health care providers everywhere diagnose, treat, and care for their patients with respiratory problems. The goal of FIRS is to promote respiratory health worldwide.

About the International Society for Urban Health

The International Society for Urban Health (ISUH) is the pioneer global organization bringing together experts from across academia, government, NGOs and business to improve the health of cities. The ISUH was founded in 2002 at The New York Academy of Medicine to advance the understanding of and increase the evidence for action on the broad determinants of urban health. Its 2017 International Conference of Urban Health (ICUH) on “Health Equity: the New Urban Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals” will be held on September 26-29 in Coimbra, Portugal (

About the NCD Alliance

The NCD Alliance is a unique civil society network, uniting 2,000 organisations in more than 170 countries, dedicated to improving NCD prevention and control worldwide. We are a recognised global thought leader on NCD policy and practice, a convener of the civil society movement, and an advocate for people at risk of or living with NCDs. Together with strategic partners, including the WHO, the United Nations (UN) and governments, we work at global, regional and national levels to bring a united civil society voice to the global campaign on NCDs.

About The Union

The Union ( is a global scientific organisation with the mission to improve health among people living in poverty. We do that by conducting scientific research, working with governments and other agencies to translate research into better health for people around the world, and delivering projects directly in the field. The Union is made up of a membership body of people around the world who help to advance our mission, and a scientific institute that implements public health projects within countries. For close to 100 years, we have been leaders in the fight against some of the world’s biggest killers, including tuberculosis, lung diseases and tobacco use.

About the WHO Global Alliance Against Chronic Respiratory Diseases

The Global Alliance against Chronic Respiratory Diseases (GARD) is a voluntary alliance of national and international organizations, institutions and agencies working towards the vision of a world where all people breathe freely. The World Health Organization provides technical leadership and secretariat support for the alliance. Chronic respiratory diseases are chronic diseases of the airways and other structures of the lungs including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, allergic rhinitis, occupational lung diseases, sleep apnoea and pulmonary hypertension. GARD works on projects dealing with surveillance, prevention and control, research, advocacy and partnership building.

About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies ( is a global health organization that seeks to accelerate progress on the world’s most pressing health problems, including preventable injury and death, tuberculosis, and risk factors like unhealthy diets, tobacco use and environmental harms including air pollution, that are driving the growing global burden of non-communicable disease. Our team combines evidence-based strategies with innovation to help develop and implement sound public health policies, manage programs efficiently, strengthen data systems, conduct research, and design strategic communication campaigns for policy and behavior change.

For more information or to arrange an interview with one of the speakers at this event, please contact Tracey Johnston at Vital Strategies, at +44.7889.081.170 or