President's Message

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Helping the World Breathe

October 2014
Thomas Ferkol, MD, MD

Thomas Ferkol, MD

I have a confession: I did not fully grasp how global the American Thoracic Society is until I joined the leadership. Despite our name, nearly a third of our members are from outside of North America, representing more than 120 countries from around the globe. Indeed, it should come as no surprise that we are an international organization, since lung diseases are a worldwide threat.

Respiratory diseases do not respect geographical borders. The morbidity and mortality of lung diseases is staggering, and they place an enormous drain on resources and create a massive health burden worldwide. Hundreds of millions of people are burdened with chronic respiratory conditions, and over four million people die prematurely from chronic respiratory diseases each year. Lung infections are the leading cause of death in developing countries, and young children are especially susceptible—more than three million infants and children die of pneumonia and lower respiratory tract infections annually.

Tuberculosis still infects millions, so the ATS continues to coordinate international efforts to battle this disease. I commend ATS Past President Philip Hopewell, MD, and Fran Du Melle, the ATS senior director of international programs and activities, who have made significant progress on behalf of the Society. This includes Dr. Hopewell’s leading the charge to update and publish the third edition of the International Standards for Tuberculosis Care, which received funding from the United States Agency for International Development and provides strategies for universal high-quality tuberculosis care and prevention.

The ATS has long recognized the importance and benefit of regional and country-based clinical and scientific organizations, and we have supported the creation of respiratory societies around the world. We are convinced that many voices speak louder, command greater attention, and deliver far superior results than does one speaking for all, regardless of its size and location. It is this environment—where many organizations located throughout the world cultivate and pursue different perspectives, skills, research, and care priorities that meet their “local” needs—that best ensures maximum benefits to the respiratory community and patients we all serve.

This partnership is evidenced by the Forum of International Respiratory Societies (FIRS), of which the ATS is a founding member. FIRS comprises the leading international respiratory societies, and together unify the voices of 70,000 professional members worldwide who devote their lives to the respiratory health of the millions of patients they treat. Last year, FIRS published a report on global respiratory diseases titled Respiratory Disease in the World: Realities of Today – Opportunities for Tomorrow, which served as a platform for our activities with the Non-Communicable Disease Alliance (NCDA) at the United Nations High-Level Review on the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases, ensuring that political attention and resources are committed to respiratory diseases.

Engagement with our global partners is more important than ever, and it is why the Society, nearing its 110th anniversary, remains dedicated to strengthening them as well as the level of exchange between our organizations. Indeed, it is the essence of our International Conference, where thousands of attendees from around the world come together to communicate ideas and learn about today’s science and how it is being translated into tomorrow’s care. This shared knowledge returns to attendees’ laboratories, clinical practices, and communities, improving the health and well-being of patients in every country.

Last Reviewed: September 2017