Singing, breathing, coping: holistic approaches to managing the breathlessness and anxiety of long COVID

Nils Fietje, research officer at World Health Organisation (WHO) Europe, discussed the organisation's partnership with Community Jameel and the Jameel Arts & Health Lab, saying, “Often, we intuitively understand how the arts can have an important health impact, whether it’s through singing to improve lung function for those living with long COVID, or dancing to support balance and well-being in people living with Parkinson disease. Together with academics worldwide, WHO is now growing the scientific evidence base to back up this intuition, and learning how best to implement arts and health interventions that work at scale in hospitals, community care settings, and health systems generally.”


At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the United Kingdom (UK) in lockdown, staff from the costume department of the London-based English National Opera (ENO) threw themselves into making scrubs for medical workers. Sparked by this contact with hospitals, an apparently unlikely collaboration began. It saw the ENO’s vocal leaders working with lung specialists at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust to develop a remarkable series of online workshops aimed at people with long COVID experiencing breathlessness and the associated anxiety.  

The programme is called ENO Breathe, and from small beginnings, it has grown into a nationwide programme that now takes referrals from 88 National Health Service (NHS) clinics, providing an online programme of medically grounded exercises that have already offered rehabilitation and relief to over 3000 participants. ENO Breathe has also inspired other initiatives across the European Region.

Dr Sarah Elkin is a consultant in respiratory medicine at Imperial College London. She worked with vocal leader and ENO Breathe’s Creative Director Suzi Zumpe to design the initial session content and resources.  

World Health Organisation

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