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19 November 2018
Asthma , COPD, Allergy, Food Allergy, Other Diseases
- Healthcare

This October, the World Health Organisation held the first global air pollution conference. With 7 million people dying from air pollution each year, including 600 000 children, putting COPD, asthma and allergies patients at great risks, we sure were present!

We attended the First WHO conference on air pollution and health

As allergy, asthma and COPD patients’ representatives, EFA was invited by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to a milestone event towards the reduction of air pollution in our planet. This first conference on air pollution and health gathered UN countries under the push of the WHO together with UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the United Nations Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the World Bank (WB).


Air pollution is a public health emergency. Only in 2015, the dirty air we breathe killed 422,000 in Europe, on which around 391,000 were in the EU-28. Not only it kills, it is also responsible for the onset and worsened symptoms of many chronic diseases, including respiratory and allergic diseases such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or eczema. EFA was represented by EFA Director of Policy and Strategy Isabel Proaño who physically attended the conference in Geneva from the 30 October to the 1st November, thanks to the support of the Health and Environmental Alliance (HEAL) of which EFA is Member.

While the organisation of this conference at such an international level is the confirmation that UN states need to act to reduce air pollution, only few Member states sent their Ministers to represent them and pledge for better air quality. The European Union Commissioners for Health, Environment and Climate Action were not present either. It was therefore not a decision-making conference, but it served to flag that air pollution requires a health in all policy approach. 

Gratefully, the WHO and civil society organisations managed to clearly convey that air pollution is not an isolated issue of urban areas, but that instead it affects us indoors and outdoors, in all settings, and especially in areas with a high human fuel-based activities. EFA actively participated in a side event on indoor air pollution, a session to address household air pollutants beyond particulate matter and that counted with a presentation from HEAL. We mentioned our efforts to get an Indoor Air Quality certificate as an EU compulsory requirement for new and renovated buildings. To see our statement please select the indoor air pollution side event, minute 48.

Unfortunately, only one patient was invited to the plenary session, Isabel Saraiva, from EFA Portuguese Member RESPIRA, had the chance to convey the patient perspective within the conference, as Chair of the European Lung Foundation (ELF). To listen to her presentation please select the IV plenary session, starts at 25 min.

As allergy patient representatives, we were impressed by the presentations of intellectuals and researchers who managed to link in lay presentations how air pollution is affecting our health. In special we recommend the following 10 minutes presentations:

On the Parallel session, What we know about the health effects of air pollution

  • Evidence on health effects of acute air pollution exposure and the groups that are sensitive, Joel Schwartz, Harvard University, USA. [Starting minute 5]
  • Air pollution and Allergy, Claudia Traidl-Hoffmann, Technical University Munich, Germany [Starting minute 16]

On Plenary session V, Communication, advocacy, partnership

  • Doctors as active advocates for clean air, Arvind Kumar, Lung Care Foundation, India

On Parallel session, Reducing air pollution – Improving children’s health

  • Amalia Laborde from the University of the Republic, Uruguay [Starting minute 34]

Our voice was also heard during the pledge session, where ELF Director Pippa Powell read a statement on behalf of 28 medical societies and patient associations, including EFA, on what patients’ associations can do to reduce and mobilise efforts to reduce our exposure to air pollution. To see the joint statement please select the plenary session X, 1h03. HEAL’s statement on our commitment to reinforce the health sector and the WHO Air Quality standards starts afterwards at 1h11.

You can watch the full conference online following this link.