The Organisation for Respiratory Health in Finland traces its roots to the tuberculosis sanatoriums of the 1940s. Originally established as the Union of Tuberculosis Patients, the organisation has developed into a modern social welfare and health organisation over its 75-year history.

A fearsome disease

In 1940 Finland, tuberculosis was a common infectious disease that was the cause of much anxiety. Patients were treated in remote sanatoriums, often for long periods of time. The livelihoods of entire families could be jeopardised if just one member fell ill. Even the cured were thought to spread the disease, so finding study or employment opportunities, after a stint in the sanatorium, could be difficult. The roots of the Organisation for Respiratory Health in Finland lie in the tuberculosis sanatorium of Kiljavannummi, where the Tuberkuloosipotilaitten Liitto − Tuberkulospatienternas Förbund ry (Union of Tuberculosis Patients) was founded in 1941.

“In the freezing final days of January, this idea came to the expanses of Kiljava, no doubt borne on the crystals of snow glinting in the sunlight. It entered Jukola over the same hills where the immortal brothers of Jukola once struggled in the imagination of the great master, Kivi. The idea was contemplated with steady enthusiasm, man to man and all together. We all felt instinctively that this was something new and beautiful.” Terho Lassila, Chairman

The principles of the Union of Tuberculosis Patients were independence and initiative, Christian love for one’s neighbour, brotherhood, camaraderie, helpfulness and solidarity. The Union functioned as a liaison

between its members and Finland’s tuberculosis sanatoriums and their local patients’ associations and donors. It assisted in the founding of local chapters, steered their activities and engaged in educational work by organising meetings, lectures and galas. There were prejudices to conquer and jobs to be found for the recovered, and finally the Union was forced to establish its own institutions for providing employment to cured tuberculosis patients. The ill and recovered needed plenty of spiritual and material assistance.

The Koti ja Terveys (Home and Health) magazine was founded in January 1945. The following year, the name was changed to Jousi (Bow) and the contents were diversified, even including poems and short stories. At the same time, the name of the union was changed to Tuberkuloosiliitto ry (Tuberculosis Union).

People who contracted tuberculosis fell behind in knowledge and skills, since the treatment periods were so long. However, the law did not provide for the physical and mental rehabilitation required after sanatorium treatment. The vocational college of Liperi began giving vocational training to tuberculosis patients, in the metal and woodworking industries, in 1947. Later, activities were extended to include the electrical and automobile departments.

Sanatorium treatment for tuberculosis was ensured by the Tuberculosis Act of 1948; but, studies showed that former patients still had trouble finding employment. A way to employment was needed, so the Union instituted employment activities after education and vocational rehabilitation. The sheltered work activities were diverse and flexible, suitable for experimentation and finding new avenues.

New medications and goals

A turning point in the treatment of tuberculosis was reached in the 1950s, when the new medicines streptomycin, para-aminosalicylic acid and isoniazid replaced earlier therapies.

The Union opened an academy in Hoikka, in the autumn of 1952. The curriculum included social studies, history, geography, Finnish, pedagogy, religion and the natural sciences, along with various arts and crafts. The academy in Hoikka also served the Hoikka Education and Rehabilitation Centre.

The first semester of the Union’s vocational college in Merikoski opened on 7 October 1957. The college offered a two-year technical drawing programme, two-year mechanic programme and one-year office worker programme. The institution was also known as the Merikoski Vocational Rehabilitation Centre.

In 1961, the Union’s membership broke the 30,000 mark and the members’ newsletter Silmu (Bud) saw daylight. In 1969, the name of the Union was updated to Tuberkuloosi- ja Keuhkovammaisten Liitto – Tuberkulos- on Lunghandikappades Förbund ry (Union of Tuberculosis and Pulmonary Impairment Patients). The Union’s pioneering spirit manifested itself, again, in 1965: One of the first work clinics in Finland was established in Merikoski.

In the early 1970s, the annual number of tuberculosis cases in Finland still exceeded 5,000. Thankfully, the disease was, nevertheless, on the decline. A physical rehabilitation institute, soon named the Kaprakka Rehabilitation Service Centre, was established in connection with the vocational college in Liperi, in 1973.

In 1975, the name of the union was abbreviated to Keuhkovammaliitto ry – Lungskadeförbundet rf (Organisation for People with Pulmonary Impairment). Plans were laid for founding a rehabilitation centre in Anttolanhovi. A physical therapy institute was opened in Hoikka, in 1977 and continued operating until 2009, under the name of the Hoikka Training and Rehabilitation Centre. The need for and popularity of

employment centres grew over the decades, until their number peaked in 1975, with 12 centres open across Finland.

The Organisation started setting new targets in 1977, when the campaign for clean air took off. The bill for the Air Protection Act was presented to Parliament in 1981. The Organisation’s membership kept growing, with 40,000 members, in 81 associations, involved in its activities in 1984.

In 1981, the Organisation began offering rehabilitation services at the Anttolanhovi Rehabilitation and Research Centre, which also housed the Anttolanhovi hotel and restaurant. The promotion of a non-smoking lifestyle was begun in 1984, with the “Day Without Tobacco” campaign.

In 1987, the Organisation opened a rehabilitation centre in Merikoski. The centre’s activities expanded steadily and it was merged with the work clinic in 1989. In the 1990s, the Organisation offered rehabilitation services in four rehabilitation and research centres: Merikoski (Oulu), Kaprakka (Liperi), Anttolanhovi (Anttola) and Hoikka (Karkku). The Organisation became Finland’s leading provider of diverse employment-oriented rehabilitation services. In the 1990s, the Organisation was also the largest provider of rehabilitation services, of any type, in Finland.

Time of renewal

In the 2000s, the time was once again ripe for change: the name of the Organisation was changed to Hengitysliitto Heli ry – Andningsförbundet Heli rf. (Organisation for Respiratory Health in Finland Heli) and the name of the magazine to Hyvä Hengitys (Breathe Easy). In 2010, the magazine changed its name to its current form, Hengitys (Respiration).

In 2007, the vocational colleges in Merikoski and Kaprakka were merged with the academy in Hoikka to form the Luovi Vocational College. In the same year, the rehabilitation and research centre in Merikoski adopted the name Verve. Anttolanhovi and Kaprakka were merged with Verve in 2010.

In 2012, the name of the Organisation was shortened to Hengitysliitto ry. (The Organisation for Respiratory Health in Finland). The Organisation currently comprises 84 associations, two of which operate at the national level. Memberships are now over 24,000 strong. Nearly half of the members suffer from asthma, with sleep apnoea and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease constituting the other major disorders. The Organisation’s memberships also include people with rare respiratory diseases and persons with indoor-air-induced disorders. Former tuberculosis patients still remain as active members. Approximately 20 per cent of the members of the Organisation for Respiratory Health in Finland do not suffer from respiratory disease, as membership is open to the families of patients as well as anyone interested in respiratory health.

In recent years, the Organisation has focused its efforts on organisational activities, the development of competencies and socially responsible business operations at the employment centres. The Organisation sold Verve and its rehabilitation operations in 2015 and the properties and business operations based in Anttolanhovi, in 2017. The building health specialist, Suomen Sisäilmakeskus Oy, sold its business operations to Rambol Finland Oy, at the end of 2017. The social enterprise Kovak Oy and employment centre Lovak ceased operations at the end of 2019.

At present, the Organisation for Respiratory Health in Finland operates Vocational College Luovi, employment centre Sytyke specialising in rehabilitation and finding employment and the hotel and catering company TaitoReitti Oy (Lasaretti).

Looking ahead

The ability to adapt to changes in the operating environment has carried the Organisation for Respiratory Health in Finland for 75 years. The future is full of potential, and the traditions of the Organisation obligate it to maintain a high standard of operations. The Organisation will continue its pioneering work in the field of respiratory health and participation in public discussion. Tuberculosis has been eclipsed in importance by the universal right to healthy air – both inside and outside.