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Mortality high yet funding low: lung disease deserves more investment say global health experts

Gillian smiling at camera


Jessica Nelson
15 March 2023

Southern Cross University Professor Gillian Gould is leading an international call for chronic lung disease to be made a global research priority with more funding allocated.

Professor Gould and an international group of health experts recently published a paper in Respiratory Research, titled Recognising the importance of chronic lung disease: a consensus statement from the Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases (Lung Diseases group), advocating for lung disease as the ‘neglected cousin’ of the quintet of non-communicable diseases (NCD), cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and mental illness.

“Despite lung disease having such broad impact on people, it just receives two per cent of grant funding for research worldwide – coming in at 13th on the list, even though chronic obstructive pulmonary disease by itself is the sixth-leading cause of disability and death,” said Professor Gould, who is co-chair of the Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases Lung Diseases group.

Professor Gould is well-known in Australia as the leader of the quit smoking program iSISTAQUIT along with other research about smoking among Indigenous peoples.

Chronic respiratory disease includes chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, bronchiectasis, interstitial lung diseases, occupational lung diseases and pulmonary hypertension.

While smoking, indoor and outdoor air pollution, occupational exposures, and poverty are recognised risk factors, emerging threats include increasing frequency and intensity of climate events such as bushfires and popular products such as vapes and e-cigarettes.

“Whether we’re talking about chronic respiratory disease in developing nations or in wealthy countries like Australia, the UK and USA, disadvantaged populations such as the homeless, Indigenous Peoples, the elderly, migrant populations, and refugees may be disproportionately impacted by these risk factors for lung health,” Professor Gould said.

“These days people also tend to get more than one chronic disease, and the common denominator is often tobacco, which can cause heart disease, diabetes, cancer, as well as lung disease.

“In our paper we’ve suggested some areas of improvement in lung disease research, such as better diagnosis and management; and looking at health inequities, such as how people in low socio-economic groups often bear that burden more than other people, and how rehabilitation options aren’t open to many people worldwide.

“And taking it a step further, in cases where it is non-remediable, we know that palliative care is not very often available to people with lung disease, when compared to say those with non-curable cancer – even in high-income countries, and even though symptoms can be just as distressing.

“This paper is about picking up the things that need to be said that haven’t been, and pointing them out, about how extra funding and investment in this area of chronic lung diseases would be really beneficial.”

The Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases (GACD) brings together major international research funding agencies specifically to address the growing burden of NCDs not only in low- and middle-income countries but also vulnerable populations in high-income countries (like Australia).

In 2016 the GACD announced a call for grants focusing on Lung Diseases, and allocated $60 million to this research.

It was a portion of this funding that enabled Professor Gould, herself a qualified General Practitioner and Tobacco Treatment Specialist, to establish the successful iSISTAQUIT (Supporting Indigenous Smokers To Assist Quitting) program aimed at closing the gap on tobacco use in pregnancy, with a tailored program designed for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. The iSISTAQUIT project received a further round of funding from the GACD Cancer Prevention call in 2021 for scale-up.

“While these grants give the respiratory disease the opportunity for some funding, it still lags well behind when you look at what’s available for other diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and so on,” Professor Gould said.

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Jessica Nelson, +61 417288794 or