Chronic respiratory diseases

Health and development in the WHO European Region are increasingly threatened by the alarming surge in preventable noncommunicable diseases.  Among the most widespread of these conditions are chronic respiratory diseases, which adversely impact the quality of life of affected individuals and potentially lead to premature death. They also have large adverse economic effects on families, communities and societies in general. 

WHO/Europe aims to support Member States in their efforts to reduce the toll of morbidity, disability and premature mortality related to chronic respiratory diseases. Specific objectives include surveillance to assess the current problem and monitor progress, reduction of exposure to risk factors and strengthening of health systems to improve care for people suffering from chronic respiratory diseases. A comprehensive and integrated approach is taken to address risk factors that span many different policy sectors, including transportation, industry, housing, occupational health and safety, education and health care.

What are chronic respiratory diseases?

Chronic respiratory diseases are chronic diseases of the airways and other structures of the lung. Some of the most common are asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), respiratory allergies, occupational lung diseases and pulmonary hypertension. The most important risk factors for developing or exacerbating preventable chronic respiratory diseases are:

  • tobacco smoke
  • indoor air pollution (caused by mould, dampness, tobacco smoke or the burning of biomass fuels)
  • outdoor pollution
  • allergens
  • low birth weight, poor nutrition, acute respiratory infections of early childhood
  • occupational dusts and chemicals. 

Socioeconomically disadvantaged populations in low and middle-income countries are especially vulnerable to the development and exacerbation of respiratory diseases, in part because:

  • they are more exposed to indoor solid fuels and unsafe occupational environments;
  • occupational chronic respiratory diseases are often not adequately recognized as a problem;
  • treatment drugs are often unavailable or not affordable;
  • tobacco use tends to be higher among poor people than among wealthier members of society.