When commissioned to write this editorial, the Breathe Chief Editor suggested the title “What has the European Lung Foundation (ELF) ever done for you?” To avoid offence, he did go on to explain that it was an opportunity to let the Breathe readership understand how ELF has developed, the integral and important role it now plays in the life and work of the European Respiratory Society (ERS) and its members, and our vision for the future.
The ERS founded the ELF 12 years ago, with the initial aim of raising money through donations to fund research. This proved difficult for several reasons, not least because people in general prefer to support organisations and projects in their own countries and more closely related to their personal experience. Although fundraising is still a part of what ELF does today, it is certainly not the raison d’être.
ELF also began work on the first edition of the Small White Book, which was published in 2003. In a simple tone, accessible style and in multiple languages, the publication ensured that the wider public received key information on lung health.
The Small White Book was well received across Europe and really demonstrated to the ERS, the potential that the society had to better communicate with patients, the public and policy makers.
Following on from the success of the White Book, the ELF website was developed in which the content of the publication was showcased and made available to all. The website was developed in eight different languages: English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Russian and Greek.
It was clear that there was a greater need for specific patient information; materials that ERS members could use and direct their patients too. With this realisation, ELF factsheets were developed to give disease- and treatment-specific information. ELF continues to produce four such factsheets each year, which are published in Breathe and online on the ELF website (www.european-lung-foundation.org/1037).
In 2002, ELF had its first foray into public awareness campaigns when it was tasked with highlighting the importance of lung function testing and raising awareness of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in the host country and city of the ERS Annual Congress. Working with a range of key sponsors, ELF developed the concept of the “spirometry tent”. This ran for eight consecutive congresses and, on its last event in Vienna, 2009, saw more than 3,000 people have their lungs tested over a two-day period. Consistently, each year in different cities and countries, the ELF referred between 20 and 25% of those tested to their general practitioner for further assessment. This activity planted the seed for the World Spirometry Day campaign, which is now an international bi-annual event co-ordinated by ELF on behalf of all the international respiratory societies.