The MEP Lung Health Group: Raising awareness of respiratory diseases across Europe

The group, launched last October, aims to stimulate debate and raise awareness of the risk factors and the complications of respiratory diseases, explains co-chair Željana Zovko.
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By Željana Zovko

Željana Zovko (HR, EPP) is Vice-Chair of the European Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs.

01 Mar 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown EU Member States what the Union can achieve with an enhanced and coordinated response. This momentum should now be used to transpose the lessons learned to other health-related issues and to develop long-term strategies.

Before the pandemic, Europe registered over 600,000 deaths a year due to respiratory diseases, while lung cancer is the third-most common type of newly diagnosed cancer on our continent. Both COVID-related and non COVID-related health problems need greater attention, improved monitoring and actions to enhance prevention and treatment.

As Members of the European Parliament, we recognise the importance of these challenges and look for ways to contribute. In order to stimulate the debate and to raise awareness of respiratory diseases, a group of MEPs launched - in close cooperation with the European Respiratory Society - the MEP Lung Health Group during the event ‘Every Breath Counts – Respiratory Health in COVID-19 times’ last October.

As co-chair of the MEP Lung Health Group, I welcome the initiative and the great support from different political groups in the European Parliament. It is an informal platform where MEPs speak with experts, health professionals and other stakeholders.

We listen to the messages and concerns of patients and interact with other policymakers to transfer this dialogue into policy input across diverse areas such as health, research, the environment, and housing. A good overview of the way ahead has been mapped out and can be found in the ‘Breathe Vision 2030 initiative, compiled by several respiratory health organisations.

I co-hosted the presentation of this paper in January and was pleased to learn about the preparedness of the various stakeholders to make a difference. One of the first conclusions was the urgent need for increased awareness, particularly on the impact of respiratory diseases on the lives of patients. Moreover, we need to invest in preventing these diseases through education and by improving our living standards.

Medical care should be more accessible, as should medical guidance, from initial screening to post-cure evaluation. In addition, we should invest more in research and technology to develop enhanced treatments. The fine balance of competences between Member States and the EU means that the discussions we hold with our organisation often aim to inspire individual countries to reflect on their national health sector.

“With the MEP Lung Health Group, we try to stimulate the debate and raise awareness of the risk factors and the complications of respiratory diseases”

The decision by Croatia last year to set up a national lung cancer detection programme is an ideal example of such an innovative approach. With this detection programme, Croatia hopes to lower its lung cancer patient mortality rate by 20 percent in the next five to ten years. By improving accessibility to early diagnosis, the success of suitable cancer treatments improves.

If other Member States begin implementing similar programmes, we can significantly reduce the number of preventable deaths linked to respiratory diseases. With the MEP Lung Health Group, we are trying to stimulate debate and raise awareness of the risk factors and the complications of respiratory diseases.

Our goal is to build on the ways forward. Through these much-needed steps, we contribute to a healthier and more patient-friendly society.

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