Coronary Obstructive Pulmonary Disease was pushed into the spotlight last week after a report warned of its true cost to the economy and called for the uptake of national strategies in the working age population to better tackle the illness.

Far from being a ‘disease of old men’ the report, compiled by Education for Health and other leading specialists, has found that actually far more people in the 45-60 age group suffer from COPD than previously thought.

This age group represents the core of the global workforce, but one in five 45-68 year olds with COPD - a debilitating, life-threatening and progressive lung disease that interferes with normal breathing - taking part in the survey had been forced to retire prematurely, and the productivity of others was severely affected.

The economic burden of the disease is estimated to be £1.5 billion a year in the UK alone, including direct healthcare costs and other factors such as lost income tax, payment of benefits and the loss of productivity, and the report warns that as retirement age creeps up the impact of COPD will continue to rise.

“It’s an economic time-bomb”, said Monica Fletcher, Chief Executive of Education for Health. “The key generation driving the economy in most countries are people aged 40–65 years and in this harsh economic climate, we need to ensure they stay active and productive,” she stressed, and added that with the growing incidence of COPD and more women affected than previously thought “it can only mean that personal and societal cost will also increase”.

COPD is thought to affect around 210 million people around the globe but only half have of these been diagnosed, and the report calls for policymakers and the healthcare community to instil strategies to achieve earlier disease diagnosis and management, key factors in better treatment outcomes. 

The COPD drug market in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, the UK and the USA was worth nearly $8.4 billion last year, according to a study by market analyst Decision Resources, but it forecasts that the ageing population means that the number of drug-treated patients will increase by nearly six million over the next decade, again demonstrating the dramatic rise of incidence.