The International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC) is the only global study of paediatric asthma and allergy currently in existence. It was formed in 1991 to facilitate research into asthma, rhinitis and eczema in children, due to considerable concern that these conditions were increasing not only in high-income countries, but in low-and middle-income countries as well. ISAAC aimed to investigate variations in the prevalence of these conditions at the population level and their potential causes by promoting a standardised methodology that could be used in diverse locations around the world.

In successfully developing a surveillance tool that can be replicated in most places in the world, the ISAAC Steering Committee enhanced research capacity into asthma and allergies throughout the world. The study attracted significant worldwide interest and large scale participation, becoming the largest worldwide collaborative research project ever undertaken in children.

In the 21 years it has been running, the ISAAC programme has completed three phases involving 306 research centres in 105 countries with nearly two million children. Before ISAAC Phase Three, only five centres in the world had previously studied time trends in all three conditions. ISAAC Phase Three has provided time trend data in two age groups from 110 centres in 56 countries.

ISAAC has been acknowledged for these roles and has established worldwide networks with organisations concerned with health in developing countries, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Union against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union) – the leading bodies for respiratory health in low- and middle- income countries.

ISAAC has demonstrated that asthma and allergies are a global health problem, and environmental factors are key. ISAAC findings have been the subject of many editorials in journals such as the Lancet, the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, Thorax and the International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease. The major effect of the findings has been to stimulate debate concerning the causes of the global variations in asthma, rhinitis and eczema, aided by hypotheses suggested by the findings of ecological analyses of ISAAC data.

ISAAC findings are cited by world organisations involved in monitoring and preventing chronic respiratory diseases (CRDs) and are used to inform global health initiatives. ISAAC findings have been used by the WHO, the Global Alliance against Chronic Respiratory Diseases, the Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA) and the Global Burden of Disease project.

Many international health organisations have stated there is a need for greater emphasis on non-communicable diseases (NCDs), particularly among poor and disadvantaged populations. The Union has joined this call for greater recognition of non-communicable respiratory diseases. ISAAC is uniquely positioned as a global research programme to address the lack of data regarding CRDs in low- and middle-income countries through its existing network of collaborating investigators.

Learn more about ISAAC at http://isaac.auckland.ac.nz/