Public Release: 

Global Plan Launched To Cut Childhood Asthma Deaths By 50%

NIH/National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

In Barcelona, Spain today at the World Asthma Meeting, international experts in asthma management called for global action to reduce childhood asthma deaths by 50%. The five-year effort, announced on the eve of the first ever World Asthma Day (December 11), aims to significantly reduce the mortality and morbidity associated with this disease. World Asthma Day is coordinated by GINA (Global Initiative for Asthma - established by the World Health Organization, and the NHLBI or US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health) and the European Respiratory Society. In addition to the NHLBI, official supporting organizations of World Asthma Day from the US are the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP) and the American Thoracic Society (ATS). Other international supporting organizations include the European Academy of Allergology and Clinical Immunology (EAACI) and the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (IUATLD).

Asthma is a chronic condition characterized by a narrowing of the bronchial tubes, swelling of the bronchial tube lining, and mucus secretion that can block the airway, making breathing difficult. The prevalence of asthma can be as high as 30 percent among certain populations, and internationally, cases have more than tripled in the last ten years. In the U.S. between 1990 and 1994, the number of people reported to suffer from asthma increased from 10.4 million to 14.6 million with approximately 5.0 million of them children.

The theme of the inaugural World Asthma Day is Help Our Children Breathe. Globally, asthma is reported to be the single most common chronic disease causing absence from school, and 35% of children with asthma experience significant pain or discomfort as a result.

The Agenda for Action, announced today by Professor Romain Pauwels, chairman of GINA, calls for parents, physicians, public authorities and national organizations to work together to address childhood asthma and the following specified international targets by the year 2005:

  • Reduce childhood asthma deaths by at least 50 percent.

  • Cut the number of childhood hospitalizations due to asthma by at least 25 percent.

  • Reduce the number of school days lost due to asthma by 50 percent.

Key short-term strategies to achieve the targets of the Agenda for Action include:

  • Inform and educate health authorities, physicians and families about effective management of childhood asthma. Health authorities should be aware that they need to make sure access to a physician and/or specialist and appropriate treatment is available to all patients, regardless of socioeconomic status. Physicians need professional guidelines to properly diagnose and treat asthma. Families need to be educated on asthma treatments so that they are administered properly.

  • Increase the availability and accessibility of effective anti-asthma therapy for children. There is ample evidence that effective anti-inflammatory therapy in asthma leads to an improvement in the quality of life for patients, a cost-effective reduction in morbidity, and reduction in the loss of school and work time, hospitalizations and deaths.

  • Support research into the understanding of the prevalence, causes and treatment of childhood asthma. Epidemiological studies should be implemented to establish the prevalence and social impact of asthma in children. Research should concentrate on identifying the role of environmental factors; developing methodology for identifying asthma in children; studying the long-term effects of different therapies; assessing strategies to prevent asthma; and identifying the basic mechanisms underlying the development of allergic sensitization and chronic airway inflammation.

The NHLBI's National Asthma Education and Prevention Program (NAEPP) is the lead agency for US activities related to World Asthma Day. In recognition of World Asthma Day, the NAEPP is launching a new website ( that provides a science-based decision-making tool, as well as an educational and communications resource, for health care professionals, researchers, public health planners, and others concerned about asthma.

The AAAAI web site provides an update on its national Pediatric Asthma: Promoting Best Practice initiative ( Information about asthma and other pulmonary diseases, as well as a link to the Chicago Asthma Consortium, is available on the ACCP website at

In the US, many grassroots organizations dedicated to the support of asthma patients and their families will be hosting activities in commemoration of World Asthma Day. For information about local groups and activities, please call Lori Atkins at the ATS, or Abby Nash at the American Lung Association (212-315-6622) .

Asthma Statistics

Global Figures:

  • It is estimated that internationally, the prevalence of asthma has increased approximately 50 percent over the last ten to 15 years.

  • The highest prevalence rates are found in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia and Ireland; and the lowest are found in Indonesia, Albania, Romania and Georgia.

  • Death rates vary in different countries. Death rates are decreasing in countries where anti-inflammatory medications are available and used effectively. Death rates are increasing in areas lacking proper medical care and access to treatments. Asthma in the United States:

  • According to 1995 data, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that there are nearly 15 million Americans with asthma. Of these, between five and six million are children.

  • Prevalence by age group:
    0-4 years old:1,280,000
    15-34 4,050,000
    35-64 4,090,000

  • The rate of asthma among children five to 14 years of age increased 74% between 1980 and 1994; the rate of asthma among preschool children increased 160%.

  • Asthma is the most common chronic illness leading to school absenteeism - it accounts for more than 10 million missed school days annually.

  • An estimated $1 billion is lost annually in productivity by working parents caring for children who miss school due to asthma.

  • Asthma is the third leading-cause of hospitalization in children under age 15.

  • Asthma is 26 percent more prevalent in black children than in white children.

  • There are over 5,000 deaths annually due to asthma, and asthma-related deaths among children five to 14 years of age more than doubled from 1979 to 1995.

  • Direct and indirect monetary costs related to asthma will total approximately $11.3 billion in 1998.

The NHLBI is a part of the National Institutes of Health, and agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Its major mission is to foster research investigations, train research scientists, and translate research results to impact on public health.

The AAAAI is the largest professional medical specialty organization in the United States, representing allergists, medical specialists, clinical immunologists, allied health professionals and others with a special interest in the research and treatment of allergic disease.

The ACCP is the leading resource for the improvement of cardiopulmonary health and critical care worldwide. Its 15,000 members encompass all the disciplines of chest medicine, including pulmonology, cardiology, thoracic surgery, asthma, immunology, critical care and pediatrics.

The ATS is an international professional and scientific society focussing on respiratory and critical care medicine. The Society has 12,500 members who help prevent and fight respiratory disease through research, education, patient care and advocacy. The American Thoracic Society also serves as the medical section of the American Lung Association, a voluntary health agency devoted to preventing lung disease and promoting lung health.



Ellen Sommer, NHLBI tel: 301/496-4236 e-mail:
Sarah Cox, AAAAI tel: 414-272-6071 e-mail:
Sydney Parker, ACCP tel: 847-498-1400 e-mail:
Lori Atkins, ATS tel: 212-315-6442 e-mail:

NOTE: B-roll with animation of the airways constriction that occurs in asthma and footage of people from around the world undergoing examinations for asthma, taking asthma medications and other situations related to asthma is available from the NHLBI.

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