World Lung Day 2023: In a world perpetually facing health challenges, lung diseases have remained a silent, pervasive threat that demands our immediate attention. As we discuss the pressing issues surrounding lung health, it is essential to acknowledge the sheer magnitude of their impact. Lung diseases, both communicable and non-communicable, affect people of all ages, backgrounds, and regions, making them a universal concern. In this age of constant change and uncertainty, elevating the discourse on lung health takes on a new urgency.
The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the vulnerability of our respiratory systems and the critical need for robust healthcare infrastructure. However, as we navigate through the pandemic’s aftermath, it’s crucial not to lose sight of the pre-existing challenges posed by conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, lung cancer, and lower respiratory tract infections. Furthermore, the shadow of tobacco use continues to loom large, posing a grave threat to lung health. These persistent challenges require our unwavering commitment to strengthening healthcare systems, promoting health equity, and fostering behavior change.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, the world was grappling with another health crisis – air pollution. In response, measures were taken by the government to reduce vehicular emissions. During this period, an extensive study was conducted across various areas, focusing on the lung function of adults. The results were worrying. It was discovered that obstructive and restrictive lung diseases affected a substantial portion of the population. Pollution was a significant contributor, but it was not the sole cause. Tobacco use and indoor air pollution emerged as formidable causes, with secondhand smoke compounding the issue. These findings underscore the urgent need for comprehensive action.
In addition, a white paper was published on post-infectious diseases, an initiative stemming from a collective effort. This paper delved into the realm of post-infectious diseases, highlighting a lesser-discussed aspect of public health.
World Lung Day 2023
As we join the World Lung Day deliberations, it is crucial to recognise that lung diseases affect individuals worldwide, albeit with disparities in impact. Low- and middle-income nations often bear the brunt of this inequality. Our endeavors should be centered around addressing these disparities, alleviating the burden of diseases, and enhancing the quality of life for those affected.
One recurring theme in these discussions is the notion of “One World, One Health, One Future.” This concept underscores the interconnectedness of global health challenges. Respiratory diseases, in particular, transcend borders, yet they disproportionately affect disadvantaged regions. To address these issues effectively, we must strive to reduce these disparities and inequities.
Among the conditions discussed at this conference, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, lung cancer, and lower respiratory tract infections are significant. COPD, once a late addition to the non-communicable disease programme, has now become a focal point. The burden of childhood asthma is a challenge that demands our attention, as it can persist into adulthood if environmental factors are not addressed. Lung cancer, responsible for a substantial portion of cancer deaths, underscores the need for robust prevention strategies. Lower respiratory tract infections, especially pneumonia, continue to claim numerous lives. Effective implementation of existing strategies is paramount.
Regarding tuberculosis (TB), the quest to eliminate TB is ambitious, but the progress is slow. Achieving this goal necessitates a concerted effort involving various sectors. Empowering communities, healthcare providers, and strengthening health systems are critical components of this endeavor.
However, all these efforts will fall short if we do not empower our communities and prioritize lung health. Addressing post-pandemic diseases also necessitates our attention. One of the significant contributing factors is tobacco use. Harm reduction strategies are essential, but they can only succeed when individuals commit to behavioral change.
Tobacco usage remains a significant challenge. We must emphasize the importance of comprehensive tobacco control measures. It’s disheartening to find that individuals, who should be role models, sometimes set the wrong example. Our institutions must become tobacco-free zones. Vaping, too, has become a concern, and its implications for public health warrant careful consideration.
A resilient path forward
We must recognise that our journey is far from over. The insights shared during this gathering underscore the importance of concerted efforts, both on individual and collective fronts. We must ensure that lung health remains a steadfast priority. This requires ongoing investments in healthcare infrastructure, research, and education. It entails empowering communities to take charge of their health and advocating for policies that promote clean air and a tobacco-free environment.
The journey towards improved lung health is not a solitary one; it is a collective endeavor. We must remember that health disparities persist, and access to quality care remains unequal in many parts of the world. We must commit ourselves to bridge these gaps and ensure that everyone, regardless of their geographical location or socioeconomic status, has access to the care they need.
In the face of an evolving climate and emerging health threats, we must adapt and innovate. Lung health does not exist in isolation; it is intricately linked to the broader landscape of global health. The lessons we learn from addressing lung diseases can serve as a blueprint for tackling future health challenges.
So, as we depart from this gathering, let us carry with us a renewed sense of purpose—a commitment to championing lung health on the global stage. Let us be the advocates for clean air, for tobacco control, and for resilient healthcare systems. Let us ensure that the call for lung health is heard far and wide, echoing in the corridors of power and in the hearts of communities. In doing so, we forge a path towards a healthier, more equitable future, where every breath is cherished, protected, and preserved.
(Dr Suneela Garg is the chairperson of the Programme Advisory Committee, National Institute Of Health & Family Welfare. She is a fellow of the National Academy of Medical Sciences and is a recipient of the Public Health Impact Award. This article is the edited transcript of Dr Garg’s presentation at a roundtable on Lung diseases in the post-Covid era – Challenges for India, organised by Policy Circle at the India International Centre on September 23.)