Introduction

Every breath is as important for life as each heartbeat. Yet respiratory disease is one of the major health challenges of the 21st century, mainly because its health and socioeconomic impact is still greatly underestimated. Some 10 years have passed since the publication of the first White Book in 2003 which showed the enormous burden of lung diseases in Europe. Despite this overwhelming burden, there is still a general lack of understanding among patients and the general public about the range and impact of respiratory disease, and this is mirrored at the political level. To give a few examples, how many policy-makers know that pneumonia is the world’s number one killer of children under the age of 5 years, accounting for more childhood deaths than malaria, AIDS and measles combined? How many know that, in 2010, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) was estimated to have cost the global economy $400 billion (€300 billion at 2010 prices) or that chronic respiratory disease, together with other noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as cancer or cardiovascular disease, make the largest contribution to global mortality? As the legitimate European voices for people with respiratory illnesses and the professionals that treat them, the European Lung Foundation (ELF) and the European Respiratory Society (ERS) are working to change this situation, to prevent people from becoming ill and to improve the condition of the millions who live with respiratory illnesses. But we cannot do this alone.

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