Tuesday

18th Jun 2019

Focus

Europe's 'invisible' killer, chronic lung disease

  • According to the 2017 Global Burden of Disease Study, COPD accounts for 5.4% of deaths. (Photo: Tom Sinon)

With the number of cases on the rise, campaigners are calling on EU and national policymakers to help lung disease sufferers live longer, more active, lives by supporting rehabilitation services and interventions that keep them in work, at home and out of hospital.

The World Health Organization has predicted that COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) - a group of progressive lung conditions that cause inflammation and breathing difficulties, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis - will rank as the third-highest cause of death worldwide by 2030.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Patients' Associations (EFA) recently reported that the 2017 Global Burden of Disease Study suggested COPD had already moved up to become the second highest killer, accounting for 5.4 percent of deaths.

Mainly affecting adults over 40, the primary cause is tobacco smoke – including exposure to second-hand smoke – although genetic and environmental factors can also contribute.

Invisible and overlooked

Campaigners say COPD remains "invisible" and "overlooked" by much of society.

To draw attention to the disease, EFA and the European COPD Coalition (ECC) are running patient-focused campaigns to mark World COPD Day on 15 November.

Experts warn the disease is under-diagnosed, but studies suggest severe COPD affects between 4-10 percent of adults in Europe, and up to 15 percent when milder cases are included.

EFA president Mikaela Odemyr said COPD was a "devastating disease" that is often diagnosed late, thereby "limiting patients' capacity to fight back against the disease in time".

"To stop their bodies and lives deteriorating, COPD patients need a multidisciplinary team, including pulmonary physiotherapists, to guide and support them in extending their lives after diagnosis," she said.

But access to lung rehabilitation services was "very poor", with zero or only partial reimbursements available to patients in much of the EU, which in turn has led to a shortage of specialists, Odemyr added.

While exercise cannot replace medication, daily physical activity can help COPD patients' quality of life, says EFA, which is using the theme 'The Many Faces of COPD' to campaign for more patient support.

Severity of the diseases is lower in patients who are in employment, with a more active life also corresponding with fewer visits to lung specialists, lower usage of cortisone and antibiotics and less time spent in hospital, the group added.

Earlier this year they launched a 12-month project, COPD Move, which is publishing video interviews with patients, along with exercise tutorials, to highlight the importance of physical exercise to reduce the impact of the disease.

Exercising on a regular basis is the most important prerequisite to living longer but patients, especially those at severe stages, often feel too overwhelmed to start training alone, added Odemyr. She said exercises adapted to lung function, and professional and supervised support were "crucial".

Better prevention

One in three MEPs signed a written declaration in 2016 on the need to guarantee rehabilitation for chronic respiratory disease patients, as well as multidisciplinary intervention to keep people in the workforce and their homes as long as possible.

It also called for better prevention, mainly by tackling smoking, and more "timely and accurate" diagnosis, including routine lung health and allergy tests.

A 2014 EFA report said national health authorities could "dramatically reduce COPD deaths and costs" by making lung function (spirometry) tests compulsory in regular health check-ups.

As part of its World COPD Day campaign, the ECC - jointly with professional network the European Respiratory Society - will provide free spirometry testing at the European Commission, in Brussels, on 20 November.

It will also be displaying images of patients, healthcare workers and carers at Metro stations in the EU quarter, and at the Berlaymont building, for its awareness-raising 'Faces of COPD' campaign.

They include Pierre, who is "struggling to quit smoking" but who regularly attends a pulmonary rehabilitation session near his home in France, to help maintain his breathing capacity by performing supervised physical activity.

"We're helping putting faces to the disease because COPD remains mainly invisible to the lay population," said ECC Secretary General Catherine Hartmann.

"Despite being a severe respiratory disease that affects up to 10 percent of the European adult population [it] is largely unknown, highly underestimated and therefore under-diagnosed and under-treated, while being almost fully preventable," she added.

She said that, together with the wider EU respiratory health community, they were calling on European political leaders to: "protect their citizens and prevent the outbreak of the disease by further restricting access to tobacco as well as implementing strong policies on air quality"; support and promote further research on the disease, including social and environmental factors; put COPD into mainstream chronic disease-related European strategies, and to sustain national plans or programmes on COPD.

Setting out more extensive demands in a 'call to action', ECC says the magnitude of the "societal burden" is such that not presenting a collective and coordinated response to COPD would "likely result in increased care and treatment costs for employers, individuals and health systems, including the loss of labour productivity and reduced economic growth".

Air pollution, Europe's largest environmental health hazard

While the health of hundreds of thousands of Europeans' are affected each year by air quality issues, the EU and its member states struggle to implement and comply with legislation that aims to reduce air pollution.

Indoor air quality on EU building agenda for first time

MEPs will debate amendments to new EU building regulations next week, intended to improve energy efficiency but which could also see indoor air quality become a mandatory criteria for the first time.

The worrying state of Europe's lungs

One of the most frequent chronic diseases in Europe is estimated to take the life of over 250 people worldwide every hour. Tobacco is the direct cause for most cases.

EU calls for better disease prevention

EU health commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis is encouraging states to spend more to prevent diseases that weigh much on health systems.

Interview

Health inequalities are economic issue, says commissioner

Social and geographical inequalities in Europeans' health are one of the main challenges for the EU, says health commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis. He calls on finance ministers to look at the consequences for their country's economies and competitiveness.

News in Brief

  1. Swiss stock exchange could lose EU access in July
  2. Austria's Strache will not take up EU parliament seat
  3. Tanker attacks pose questions for EU on Iran deal
  4. Johnson skips TV debate for UK prime ministership
  5. Slovakia's first female president takes office
  6. Irish immigration officers flew back business class
  7. Catalan MEP denied taking seat in European Parliament
  8. EU plans to restructure eurozone bonds

Opinion

A fundamental contradiction in EU drug policy

The knock-on affects from a 'war on drugs' in Europe is creating problems in Albania - and as far afield as Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Bangladesh and the Philippines.

Supported by

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  3. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  5. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  6. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  7. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  8. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody

Latest News

  1. EU summit must give effective answer on migration
  2. Spain's Garcia set to be next Socialist leader in parliament
  3. Erdogan mocks Macron amid EU sanctions threat
  4. The most dangerous pesticide you've never heard of
  5. 'Russian sources' targeted EU elections with disinformation
  6. Top EU jobs summit dominates This WEEK
  7. EP parties planning 'coalition agenda' ahead of jobs summit
  8. MEP blasts Portugal over football whistleblower

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  2. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  5. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  10. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  11. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  12. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us