World Asthma Day: STOP for asthma

On World Asthma Day, 7 May, the Forum of International Respiratory Societies - of which The Union is a founding member alongside the Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA), calls for health professionals to evaluate their approach to testing and treating people with this deadly condition and to improve access to basic, effective asthma treatment around the world.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 235 million people suffer from asthma, which can cause wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness, and coughing. In worst-case scenarios, asthma is a killer. Although asthma cannot be cured, it is possible to control asthma through using appropriate medication and avoiding common asthma triggers such as tobacco smoke, air pollution, mould spores, and colds and flu. 

The Global Asthma Report 2018, published by the Global Asthma Network, of which The Union is a partner, highlights that many people, especially in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), are unable to access the quality-assured essential asthma medicines and care they need.

The report,  includes several key recommendations to the World Health Organization (WHO), governments, health authorities, health professionals, professional societies and patient organisations, including a recommendation to the WHO to develop and disseminate training manuals for asthma management for LMICs and for the health professional community to actively participate in improving asthma programmes by assisting in improving correct inhaler technique and adherence to treatment.

Furthermore, in order to improve access to effective asthma treatments, The Union supports the recommendation by GINA in the Global Strategy for Asthma Management and Prevention 2018 for the use of inhaled corticosteroids (ICS), and combination use of ICS and long-acting beta-2 agonist (LABA) for mild asthma. Inhaled short-acting beta agonists (SABA) has been used as first-line treatment for asthma for 50 years, but research shows that regular or frequent use of SABA is associated with adverse effects, and as such The Union supports GINA’s work to seek interventions for mild asthma that do not rely on SABA. The upcoming 2019 GINA Global Strategy for Asthma Management and Prevention contains a landmark change, in that GINA no longer recommends SABA-only treatment for Step 1 treatment of asthma.

The Adult and Child Lung Health (ACLH) section of the Union membership has actively been advocating for basic, effective asthma treatments and particularly for increasing access to ICS/LABA inhalers. In 2017, ACLH submitted an application to add the budesonide/formoterol ICS/LABA inhaler to the WHO Essential Medicine List (EML), and subsequently the WHO Expert Committee on Selection and Use of Essential Medicines recommended the addition of this inhaler to the core list of EML.

The ACLH has continued their work recently to promote the availability of affordable, effective and quality-assured asthma treatments, including organising a symposium devoted to asthma management during the 49th Union World Conference on Lung Health in The Hague, which included a presentation on the Global Asthma report, lessons from The Union’s experience on asthma management, and the problem of access to medicines for asthma and other respiratory diseases. This work is being progressed further in partnership with The Union’s Lung Health Department, which now has a refreshed five year strategy for lung health, including asthma.

Professor Kevin Mortimer, Director of Lung Health, The Union, says: “Asthma is a disease that can be controlled effectively for the majority of people, but it is under-diagnosed and under-treated, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, resulting in a substantial and avoidable burden of asthma morbidity and mortality. There is an urgent need to improve access to basic effective inhaled treatments for all children and adults with asthma wherever they live in the world. These treatments have been available for half a century and it is a moral outrage that they remain out of reach for so many people with asthma who would gain so much benefit from them.”

For more information on the Global Asthma network, visit

Find out more about World Asthma Day here.