$50 million funding for long COVID as inquiry report released

$50 million funding for long COVID as inquiry report released

The federal government has announced $50 million in funding for research into post-acute sequelae of COVID-19 (PASC) — commonly known as long COVID.

The funding follows the release of the final report from the House of Representatives’ Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport’s Inquiry into Long COVID and Repeated COVID Infections.

The report makes nine unanimous recommendations aimed at strengthening the Australian Government’s management of long COVID, an often debilitating condition possibly affecting hundreds of thousands of Australians.

A nationally coordinated research program, evidence-based living guidelines and a national database on Long COVID are among the key recommendations.

A poorly understood condition

The Chair of the Committee, Dr Mike Freelander MP, said, “It is clear that the emergence of long COVID has created challenges for patients and healthcare professionals alike. People with long COVID suffer from a lack of information and treatment options. Healthcare professionals, who worked tirelessly over the acute phase of the pandemic, are now in a difficult situation trying to support patients with this new and poorly understood condition.”

The Deputy Chair of the Committee, Melissa McIntosh MP, stated, “Throughout the inquiry, the Committee heard from hundreds of Australians about what it is like to live with long COVID and how the condition impacts their daily lives.”

“The Committee was particularly concerned to hear that long COVID is associated with poor mental health. The Committee heard that many individuals with long COVID feel isolated, disbelieved, anxious or depressed.”

The Committee made recommendations including: a definition of long COVID for use in Australia; evidence-based living guidelines for long COVID, co-designed with patients with lived experience; a nationally coordinated research program for long COVID and COVID-19; the COVID-19 vaccination communication strategy; access to antiviral treatments for COVID-19; support for primary healthcare providers; and indoor air quality and ventilation.

Over the course of the inquiry, the Committee held four public hearings and received almost 600 submissions from individuals, organisations and government bodies.

Neglected symptoms

Jon Wardle, Professor of Public Health and Foundation Director at the National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine at Southern Cross University, said the impact of long COVID not only necessitates a new way of thinking about addressing this emerging health priority, but also provides an opportunity to think about what other long-term syndromes have been largely overlooked, and how we might be able to work better with people who have these neglected symptoms.

“In infectious diseases we initially — for good reason — focus on the acute phase, but the chronic post-infection impacts of many diseases can be highly significant and persist long after this acute phase has gone,” Wardle said.

“We saw this in recent Ebola, SARS and Chikungunya outbreaks but for some reason, a lot of people had difficulty accepting this common post-viral phenomenon would also occur in COVID-19. Long-term sequelae are not only incredibly complex and highly individualised, but also require equally complex and individualised approaches that health systems are rarely set up to do well.”

Impacts on the brain

Professor Kevin Barnham, Head of the Neurotherapeutics Laboratory at The Florey Institute of Neuroscience & Mental Health, welcomed the Committee’s recommendations. “There is a pressing need to fully understand the impacts of this condition on the brain; we have concerns around the neurological symptoms being presented, including loss of smell and memory complaints.

“Approximately 80% of those infected with COVID-19 report neurological dysfunction, and 30% have persistent symptoms. The long-term implications of these neurological symptoms require careful consideration as many of them are known to be associated with increased risk of neurodegeneration or recognised as part of the early symptoms for disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.”

Image credit: iStockphoto.com/wildpixel

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