INTERASMA Through the Years, by Albert K. Oehling
1956 – 1996
It was in 1954 that some of the pioneers of European allergology, including Hansen, Quarles Van Ufford, Sangiorgi and Duchaine, decided to create the International Association of Asthmology after discussing the problems than bronchial asthma was raising in internal medicine, pediatrics, allergology and respiratory medicine. Prof. Sangiorgi in particular devoted himself with considerable energy to this project. The Association was registered in Milan in 1954, and a year later, on May 25, 1955, the first official founding meeting took place in Utrecht, organized by Dr. Quarles van Ufford. Also present at this meeting were Professors Hansen, Sangiorgi, Duchaine and Wolfer-Bianchi, among others. Later, at the first Congress (held in Lubeck) and at subsequent meetings, the following were admitted as founding members: Sánchez-Cuenca (Spain), Varela Fuertes (Uruguay), Spoujitch (Yugoslavia), Holler (Austria), Vera Walker (United Kingdom), Capuani (Italy), Gronemeyer (Germany), Fuchs (Germany) and Damas Mora (Portugal). I joined INTERASMA in 1957, when the Association did not have more than 50 members.
From the beginning, as my mentors Hansen and Gronemeyer clearly stated, the idea in founding INTERASMA was not to compete with the International Association of Allergology, or with the then recently created European Academy of Allergology, although many thought this at the time. I still remember critical comments from some very close friend of mine, pointing out that INTERASMA was trying to compete with these societies. But nothing could be further from the truth, since asthma is a “multidisciplinary” illness, and the aim of the Association was (and still is) to unite the efforts of internists, pediatricians, allergologists, and chest physicians, and so provide a better standard of care for asthmatic patients. By the late 1950s, the increase of bronchial asthma in health statistics was already beginning to worry us. It was a question of uniting diagnostic criteria and therapies in a way that would lead to effective means of treating and managing asthma, and of unifying methods of study and research so that the complex etiopathogenesis of this illness could be better understood. At no stage did the Association try to reduce the importance of any other society.
The initially small group of members gradually grew, the Association being joined by exceedingly active members such as Zerbib (France), Erikson- Lihr (Finland), Businco (Italy), Werner (Germany), Sugihara (Japan), Dias da Costa (Brazil), Ado (Russia), Berg (USA), Findeisen and Sylla (GDR), Hochli (Switzerland), Liska (Prague), Farrerons (Spain), and many others. It is truly difficult for me to remember now all the eminent asthma investigators who were involved in the initial phases of INTERASMA.
It was in Helsinki, in 1972, that I was appointed Secretary General, and a more active period in INTERASMA’s life began. This period lasted until 1981. During this time our statutes were renewed, and INTERASMA ‘s Chapters began to be active. Two Chapters were established for Europe, three for Africa, two for Asia, three for America and one for Australia. In this way the various Annual Meetings appeared, in order to increase interest in INTERASMA in the various regions. Surprisingly, these meetings were extremely successful in terms of the participation of pediatricians, internists, chest physicians, and allergologists. The first meeting took place in Havana (Cuba) in 1974. In honor of the occasion, the prestigious Cuban painter Portocarrero, a man of international renown, presented our Association with the logotype that we are still using today. It represents on the one hand the profile of a dyspneic situation on both sides, and on the other hand a bronchoconstriction in front view. I think that this Congress will stay in the minds of all of us who participated as a very pleasant memory.
These meetings have continued taking place subsequently, and the number of participants has increased steadily from one to the next. The INTERASMA World Congresses and Chapter meetings held to date are listed in Tables 1 and 2.
As the Association grew, the conclusion was reached that creating national societies of asthmology was not as important as creating INTERASMA Chapters, that in their different regions could interact and promote joint efforts among all the various specialties interested in asthma. This form of organization has also resulted in the annual regional meetings and Chapter meetings, held independently of the World Congress (which takes place every three years), thus giving strength to the philosophy of INTERASMA in the different regions of the world.
Finally, I would also like to highlight the excellent work that Prof. Godard has done as Secretary General during the past six years. His wonderful efforts have culminated in the creation of Asmanet, the international network based on the modern information superhighway that is helping to develop the asthma knowledge base through person-to-person communication.
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