Countries urged to act now and tackle lung disease

Credit: Keystone/EPA/Julian Abram Wainwright

Tuberculosis, tobacco use, air pollution and other lung diseases will continue to “steal the breath and life of millions of people every year” unless we reimagine the future.

Those were the words of the World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Dr Tedros Adhanon Ghebreyesus, appearing at the opening of the 51st Union World Conference On Lung Health in an all-star lineup with former US President Bill Clinton and Crown Princess Akishino of Japan, on Tuesday.

“Covid-19 is reminding us all that life is fragile, and health is the most precious commodity on Earth. Together, we must harness the same urgency and solidarity with which the world is fighting Covid-19 to make sure everyone can breathe freely and cleanly, ”said Dr Tedros.

“We cannot allow the pandemic to become an excuse for failing to deliver on the commitments we have made to end tobacco and air pollution,” he added. “Quite the opposite. The pandemic is showing us why we must work with even more determination, collaboration and innovation to meet those commitments. ”

Why is this important? The conference comes at an “important time” to redefine the future of the planet, said Clinton, another keynote speaker at The Union's 100th anniversary event.

It was exactly a century ago that the Paris-based organisation was founded in 1920 to end all suffering from tuberculosis (TB) and other lung diseases. Even today, despite the progress made since, TB remains the world's largest infectious disease killer, claiming 4,000 lives a day.

“This crisis also gives us a chance to totally reimagine what our future will look like, what our societies, our economies and our healthcare systems [will] look like and how we relate to one another,” Clinton said on Tuesday. “The path to an optimal post-Covid world is unlikely to be simple and quick. But we cannot simply revert to the status quo. ”

What else was discussed? On a positive note, the world still has the capacity to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 despite the pandemic, emphasised The Union's executive director José Luis Castro.

Achieving SDG targets in time is especially feasible for TB, which is still the leading cause of death worldwide, even though it is preventable, treatable and curable. According to Castro, the SDGs are not ideas, but commitments world leaders must uphold “no matter what”.

“Today, we have more knowledge, more technology, more resources and more connectivity than humanity has had at any other time in history,” said Castro. “We have the power to see that the Sustainable Development Goals are not just good ideas that get put aside when a crisis arises. But that these are commitments that we have made to each other, no matter what. It is up to us. ”

Read a full version of this story on Health Policy Watch