The Global Impact of Respiratory Disease

We oftentimes fail to recognize how integral our health is to our overall wellbeing until we have issues with it. We only realize how important our breath is to us when we struggle with it – be it when we run to catch a train, or when we contract an infection that impedes our breathing. The lungs form part of the most vital organs in our body. Yet, the lungs are also among the ones most at risk from infection or injury.

Respiratory diseases are among the leading causes of death and disability in the world today.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease:
It is estimated that approximately 65 million people suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) each year. The deaths from this amount to 3 million people annually – which makes it the third leading cause of death worldwide – according to The Global Impact of Respiratory Disease – Second Edition., Forum of International Respiratory Societies, published in 2017, by the European Respiratory Society, Sheffield.

Approximately 334 million people suffer from asthma. Asthma is a condition in which your airways narrow and swell and may produce extra mucus. This can make breathing difficult and trigger coughing, a whistling sound (wheezing) when you breathe out and shortness of breath. Asthma is also among the most common chronic diseases of childhood affecting 14% of all children globally.

Pneumonia is an infection that inflames the air sacs in one or both lungs. The air sacs may fill with fluid or pus (purulent material), causing coughing with phlegm or pus, fever, chills, and difficulty breathing. A variety of organisms, including bacteria, viruses and fungi, can cause pneumonia. It is also responsible for killing millions of people annually and is a leading cause of death among children under 5 years old.

Tuberculosis, or TB, is a potentially serious infectious disease that mainly affects the lungs. The bacteria that cause tuberculosis are spread from one person to another through aerosolized droplets – which are tiny droplets released into the air via coughs and sneezes. Over 10 million people develop tuberculosis (TB) and 1.4 million die from it each year, making it the most common lethal infectious disease.

Lung cancer:
Lung cancer kills 1.6 million people each year, and is the most deadly cancer. There is a higher risk of getting lung cancer if one smokes or breathes second-hand smoke, if one has had previous radiation therapy (often after undergoing radiation therapy to the chest for another type of cancer), if one has ben exposed to radon gas asbestos or other carcinogens, or if one has a family history of lung cancer.

Globally, 4 million people die prematurely from chronic respiratory disease. Furthermore, at least 2 billion people are exposed to indoor toxic smoke, 1 billion inhale outdoor pollutant air and 1 billion are exposed to tobacco smoke – all of which carry a higher risk of contracting adverse respiratory conditions. 

Many humans are unaware of these numbers, and the stark reality that comes with it. The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda was adopted by world leaders in 2015 at a historic UN Summit in New York and came into force on January 1, 2016. This agenda is a plan of action to achieve 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets by the year 2030, which include the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development. The SDG goal no 3 is pivotal to the overall wellness of humanity, to “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.” To continue to work towards this goal, smaller steps can be taken by individuals. Following recommended protocols such as hand washing and sanitisation, social distancing and the wearing of masks may make a big difference in the spread and indeed the global impact of respiratory disease.
Health Biology