A global project to help those suffering from chronic lung disease could help millions, say experts

Posted by: Jamie Sharp - Posted on:

Experts leading a global project to help patients with lung disease believe that millions of people could benefit from their research.

Over the past five years the RECHARGE project, led by the University of Leicester and University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust has developed, tested and delivered pulmonary rehabilitation programmes for patients living with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), post tuberculosis lung disease (PTLD) and other chronic lung conditions in low and middle-income countries (LMICs).

Pulmonary rehabilitation focuses on physical exercise and lifestyle support to help people better manage their condition.

The £2 million project, funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research, has built on existing expertise within the UK to address health issues affecting the poorest and most vulnerable people in countries including India, Sri Lanka, Uganda and Kyrgyzstan.

The University hosted an event last week to bring LMIC healthcare experts together to exchange learning and knowledge of the project as well as encourage further collaboration.  

Professor Sally Singh from the University’s Department of Respiratory Sciences and head of Pulmonary and Cardiac Rehabilitation at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, who has helped lead the project, said: “Pulmonary Rehabilitation is among the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) priorities. Millions of people worldwide live with debilitating symptoms caused by contracting Tuberculosis or living with COPD, a cause of severe breathlessness. 

“However, we know that pulmonary rehabilitation can make a real difference to the quality of people’s lives, helping to ease symptoms and lessen the health and economic burden. 

“Globally, an estimated 10.6 million people become ill each year with Tuberculosis and a significant number suffer from post TB lung disease. Our work has the potential to benefit these individuals who currently have limited access to care after initial management strategies to manage the infection.  COPD is the third leading cause of death worldwide.”

Results of randomised controlled trials in PTLD populations are soon to be published as part of the project are “hugely promising” says Professor Singh, projects that will see early career researchers from Uganda and Kyrgyzstan present their findings at the European Respiratory Society meeting in September this year.

Working alongside healthcare professionals in the LMICs, the team developed “culturally appropriate” rehabilitation programmes which include the traditional dance of Kyrgyzstan known as Kara Jorgo and Indian based Yoga to ensure higher levels of uptake and continued interest.

A web-based app has also been developed to help individuals with COPD manage symptoms, featuring elements of Yoga that complement the traditional western model of pulmonary rehabilitation. This was developed in response to the pandemic and proved to be particularly useful when medical care across the world was under huge strain and access to health professionals limited.

National pulmonary rehabilitation guidelines are now being developed in Kyrgzstan based on the RECHARGE project and neighbouring countries in Central Asia are also in discussions to develop similar services.

Dr Mark Orme, from the University’s Department of Respiratory Sciences, who has also worked on the project added: “The project has had a huge impact, resulting in clinical services and research centres being developed across the LMICs. 

“We are also working with the Ministry of Health in Sri Lanka to develop a training programme for health care professionals in pulmonary rehabilitation and have recruited four PhD students to further progress research. 

“Our work has the potential to help millions of people across the world, addressing a real need. Exercise based rehabilitation interventions which are culturally acceptable could make a big difference to recovery, quality of life and support individuals to return to work.”