President's Message

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UN Focuses on Chronic Disease

January 2013
Monica Kraft, MD

Monica Kraft, MD

In June 2014, the United Nations will gather in New York City to address noncommunicable diseases, which in the past have included cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. This meeting, however, marks a significant shift in global perception of the issues that are central to the American Thoracic Society’s mission.

For the first time ever during these discussions, chronic lung disease will have a seat at the table.

I’m thrilled about this opportunity because the world is finally recognizing chronic lung disease as a relevant medical problem.

Now, when it comes to researching and building awareness of the burden of lung disease globally, the Society is a leader because of the programs and partnerships we’ve established through the years.

The ATS has a committee solely dedicated to this effort—the ATS International Health Committee. This committee advises ATS leadership on activities and strategies to promote our global mission; recommends policies, guidelines, and programs; coordinates, facilitates, and oversees our interactions with organizations abroad; and much more.

Along with the World Health Organization, the ATS spearheaded the development of the first international standards for tuberculosis diagnosis, treatment, and control, and that we continue to take a leading role in the Stop TB Partnership, which identifies and treats patients in underdeveloped countries.

We’re also recognized for being outspoken when it comes to cleaner air worldwide, tobacco control, smoking cessation, and the effects of climate change on human health (as I noted in my last column). And we’ve built an extensive network of globally minded researchers through our Methods in Epidemiologic, Clinical, and Operations Research (MECOR) program, which has provided physicians and other health care professionals in Latin America, Africa, India, and Turkey with the tools to conduct research that will ultimately improve respiratory health in their communities and countries.

The international reach of our Society is also evident at the International Conference. Nearly half of our conference attendees each year are from outside the United States.

Our membership reflects the high regard for ATS internationally. In recent years, we’ve expanded our relationships with other societies in Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East so that our members can present and bring them the latest scientific research and clinical findings.

For example, the ATS teamed up with the Shanghai Respiratory Research Institute, Chinese Alliance Against Lung Cancer, and the Chinese Society of Respiratory Diseases to present the 8th International Symposium on Respiratory Diseases in Shanghai in November. Certainly in China, our plans not only include presenting at these conferences, but also increasing the number of ATS members who present their work, visiting their hospitals, listening to cases, and interacting hands-on with the clinicians.

For the UN meeting in 2014, preparations are already under way by the ATS and its partners in the Forum of International Respiratory Societies (FIRS) to provide the UN member states with the most relevant research to help inform and guide their discussions in the area of lung health. FIRS includes our colleagues at the Asociacion Latinoamericana del Thorax, American College of Chest Physicians, Asia Pacific Society of Respirology, European Respiratory Society, International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, and Pan African Thoracic Society.

As I write, a preliminary FIRS meeting is being held at the 17th Congress of the APSR in December in Hong Kong before the formal FIRS meeting in Miami in January. Our goal is to produce a document to help world leaders understand chronic lung disease, the impacts of their policies on respiratory health, and the need for further research.

Our contributions to this document owe much to the international programs and partnerships already established by the Society, which will continue to strive to keep its members, the public, and elected and civic leaders informed of the burden of lung disease.

Last Reviewed: September 2017