Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a long-term incapacitating respiratory condition, responsible for substantial ill health and is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide.

The main causes, including smoking and exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollution, are more common in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC). Disease burden disproportionately affects the most disadvantaged populations in LMICs.

However, awareness of COPD is very low. Over half of people who have COPD do not know they have the condition and are not receiving treatment which could help them. Local community healthcare systems are in development and limited treatment is available, especially in poorer areas. 

Global priorities

Services to help smokers quit are patchy, inhaler medications are often too expensive and other forms of effective treatment, eg education, support for physical activity and management of breathlessness are rarely available. Improving access to healthcare and identification of cost-effective approaches for earlier detection, smoking cessation and pulmonary rehabilitation for people with COPD are part of the WHO’s four global priorities for non-communicable diseases.

The University of Birmingham has secured £2 million from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)  to build a research group aimed at improving healthcare for patients with lung diseases around the world.

Early detection and management

The NIHR Global Health Research Group on Global COPD in Primary Care (Breathe Well) is co-directed by Dr Rachel Jordan and Professor Peymané Adab at the University’s Institute of Applied Health Research, working with leading primary care experts in China, Brazil, Georgia and FYR Macedonia.

They are undertaking several research projects over the next three years to find better ways of early detection and improving the management of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) in primary care and the community in each of the four global regions, with transferable lessons to other settings and countries.

Find out more about Breathe Well