By Charlene Porter
U.S. and European medical societies are speaking with one voice about the need to address health disparities between socioeconomic groups.
The American Thoracic Society (ATS) and the European Respiratory Society (ERS) are pledging mutual commitment to reducing differences in the health conditions of people at varying economic levels, particularly in view of a well-documented gap between respiratory conditions in people across the range of socioeconomic groups.
Trying to close these health gaps through better science, training and public information about respiratory health is a “core mission” for these societies, they say, in a policy statement issued jointly and published in the October edition of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
Health disparities “are more common for diseases of the respiratory system than for those of other organ systems because of the environmental influence on breathing and the variation of the environment among different segments of the population,” according to Dr. Patricia Finn, president of ATS, and a member of the team that drafted the joint policy statement.
The medical groups are concerned about health conditions such as asthma, lung cancer, sleep apnea and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorders.
“Extensive data document substantial disparities across populations in the frequency and outcomes of major respiratory diseases in Europe and the USA,” according to the policy statement. “Generally, certain racial and ethnic minorities and those with less education and lower incomes have the highest rates” of death and disease, it said.
“The effects of health disparities in Europe on respiratory disease are very pronounced,” according to Dr. Klaus Rabe, a past president of ERS. “Individuals in lower social groups are not only more likely to have respiratory diseases, but compared with other disorders, social inequality is associated with a larger proportion of deaths from these diseases,” Rabe said in a joint press release issued by the two groups.
The two professional societies make a number of commitments to address the health disparities across socioeconomic groups, including these:
• Bring more people from disadvantaged groups into these medical professions and education specialities.
• Support programs to broaden lifestyle education and tobacco control programs that can help prevent respiratory illnesses.
• Support greater access to specialty care for patients.
• Advocate clean air policies and research into climate change and health.
• Work with the World Health Organization and other groups to eliminate disparities in respiratory health and other noncommunicable diseases.
The action from these U.S. and European medical societies affirms and reinforces a number of actions the U.S. government has been taking internationally to address respiratory health among poor populations. The Obama administration’s Global Health Initiative (GHI) aims to improve health for people lacking medical resources, but also helps developing world governments strengthen and expand their own systems for delivering health care and services.
A report to Congress on 2012 activities of the GHI shows a decline in pneumonia deaths among young children in 24 low-income countries targeted by USAID maternal and child health programs.
The United States is also a founding nation of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, a compact among 66 member nations to reduce short-lived climate pollutants and soot from the air. Actions to achieve these goals are expected to prevent as many as 2 million premature deaths each year, with the additional benefit of slowing down the pace of climate change.