Damien Peelo is the Executive Director of COPD Support Ireland, a patient organisation that was newly established last year. We talked to Damien about how the organisation was formed and what their main aims are for the year ahead.
Can you tell us a bit about COPD Support Ireland?
COPD Support Ireland was established in 2013 and was formally launched as a patient advocacy group on 21st October 2013. The organisation was set up to support all those living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and is Ireland’s first national support and advocacy body for people living with COPD. It is estimated that there are currently over 400,000 people with COPD in Ireland, yet despite its high prevalence many people don’t understand the disease.
How did you become involved in the organisation?
My background is in human rights and access to justice work. I was attracted to the role with COPD Support Ireland for a number of reasons. Primarily, I believe that people affected by COPD need to be central to responding and finding solutions to addressing the issues affecting their lives. COPD Ireland is a membership or patient led organisation that puts those living with COPD at the core of the work. This is a key principle that informs our work and is key to what I believe in and am excited about developing.
What are your main aims for your first year?
Our initial focus in the first year is to develop a vibrant membership -led support organisation for those living with COPD so they can engage and raise their voices to address health inequality issues facing them in their daily lives. We will also seek to raise awareness of COPD within the Irish population, to improve early diagnosis and to provide information and guidance to local support groups and individuals/carers around the country living with the condition.
Are you holding any events or campaigns you can tell us about?
Last year, we organised a week of screening events to mark World COPD Day, which was met with enormous success. We also held our inaugural national membership meeting in Sligo to look at the key issues affecting people living with COPD.
In 2014 we will be actively involved in the Healthy Lungs for Life Campaign and of course World COPD Day. We will use both events to highlight the need for early diagnoses and to promote good lung health. We will also be working to support the introduction of plain packaging on cigarettes which we believe will be in a key factor in preventing young people from taking up smoking. We will also be seeking to have COPD recognised as a long term illness by the health service so that people on lower incomes can access medical supports through the social services.
What are the challenges you face?
Like most new organisations, we need resources to do our work and finding donors will be a major challenge. But we will not let that stop us ensuring that we get our message out there. We need to have a strong collective voice to influence policy and decision makers and one of the big challenges will be to ensure we are a credible voice for change.
We are looking forward to the challenge and to work in solidarity from our many supporters in the voluntary, health and private sectors. Our challenge is to use this good will to the best effect and have some early impact so that we can build a strong organisation going forward.
What changes would you like to see in the future regarding support for COPD patients?
I would hope that into the future we can provide those people with immediate support that puts them in control of their own situation and provides them with the best information available to ensure that they have the knowledge to insist on the best care possible. No one with COPD should be in a situation where they cannot access supports, medicines and treatments because of a lack of money, or where they live.
What are you most proud of in your organisation?
The commitment of the member groups and those living with COPD to establishing this organisation has been tremendous. Alongside the board of management that have worked in the background to bring this organisation to where it is today, they have been inspirational and I get the sense from them that anything is possible. I have been very fortunate to meet and work with such great people and I am proud of the way they have worked together to develop a common vision for COPD Support Ireland that is rooted in the belief that everyone should be given the support to live the life they want to live regardless of health, ethnicity, sexuality etc.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
We need to work together at a national, European and International level to combat COPD and support those living with the illness. Sharing best practice, collective lobbying for policy change and collaborating on research and data collection at EU level are key to addressing COPD and we are delighted in Ireland to be part of a wider network. We look forward to working with our colleagues across Europe in the coming years ahead.
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