UK funding for infectious diseases research is neglecting some of the diseases that result in the highest rates of death and disability, according to an Article published Online First in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.
The research undertaken by researchers at University College, Imperial College, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine is the first ever detailed assessment of infectious diseases investments made by funding organisations to UK institutions. The study shows that gastrointestinal infections, antimicrobial resistance, and some neglected tropical diseases such as trachoma, the commonest infectious cause of blindness globally, receive particularly low levels of investment from UK funders, relative to the disability and death that they cause.
The UK is the second largest investor in global health worldwide. Between 1997 and 2010, non-commercial funders such as the Wellcome Trust and Medical Research Council (MRC) invested £2.6 billion in research into infectious diseases. Gastrointestinal diseases received just 9.7% (£254 million) of overall funding, despite being estimated to account for 22.2% of deaths due to infectious disease in 2004. By contrast, HIV, which causes a comparable number of deaths to gastrointestinal disease, received almost twice the amount of funding (£460 million or 17.7% of the overall amount) between 1997 and 2010.
HIV, blood infections (such as malaria), and respiratory infections (such as tuberculosis) received the highest proportion of funding overall, with these three areas together receiving almost half (49.4%) of the total money invested in infectious diseases research during this period. HIV, respiratory infections, and blood infections are estimated to have contributed to 71.7% of the total deaths due to infectious disease in 2004, with the highest number of deaths due to respiratory infections, responsible for 43.5% of the total deaths in 2004, but receiving just 15.8% (£410 million) of the total UK research funding.
Antimicrobial resistance, described by WHO as “a global public health emergency affecting all countries”, received just 3.7% (£96 million) of funding, although this is a rapidly growing problem globally. The researchers also identified low levels of investment in research specifically relating to infections in children and elderly people, with research covering infections in children receiving only 3.3% (£87.1 million) of total funding, and research into infections in elderly people receiving just 0.3% (£7.2 million) of total funding.
According to lead author Michael Head, at University College London, UK, “Infectious diseases account for 15 million deaths per year worldwide, and disproportionately affect young people, elderly people, and the poorest sections of society. The investments in research for these diseases must be allocated appropriately. Our data can help inform the decisions behind the allocations of funding and provide evidence for possible areas of under-investment that warrant further attention.”