Health

Lung research 'needs more money'

Image of respiratory syncytial virus
Image caption Respiratory syncytial virus is a leading cause of infection

Millions of lives could be saved if more was spent on studying and tackling common lung infections, say experts.

Respiratory infections such as pneumonia and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) claim 4.25 million lives a year, mostly in developing countries.

The World Lung Foundation said despite causing 6% of deaths, research efforts attract only 1% of pharmaceutical research funding.

The British Lung Foundation said there was great need in the UK too.

BLF chief executive Dame Helena Shovelton said: "Pneumonia kills more women than breast, ovarian and cervical cancer combined, however receives only a fraction of the funding compared to cancer research.

"The UK currently has the highest mortality rate from pneumonia in the whole of Europe.

"By ensuring more money is spent on research into acute respiratory illnesses, the UK will be able to prevent some of the 34,000 deaths caused by pneumonia each year."

Global toll

The World Lung Foundation has released a global "atlas" which, it says, details "hotspots" for respiratory infections.

In at least half the countries of the world, it says, the overall death rate from all causes is only a 10th of the death rate from respiratory infections in countries such as Mali, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and Niger.

Although the report groups respiratory infections together to show their collective impact, there are still a wide variety of contributing causes.

Malnutrition, indoor and outdoor air pollution from cooking and industry, overcrowding and tobacco all raise the risk of a killer infection.

Pneumonia is one of the biggest killers, with the death rate 215 times higher in low-income countries compared with high-income countries.

Children are particularly vulnerable, with an estimated 1.6 million deaths in the under-fives each year.

Another killer disease in children is RSV, with 33 million new cases each year, and almost 200,000 deaths.

According to the report, approximately £19.4m is spent per year on research into new drugs, compared with £68m on HIV and related illnesses.

Lung health researcher, Dr Neil Schluger, who wrote the report, said that while introducing new stoves and heaters was a massive task, simpler, cheaper initiatives could yield significant results.

He said: "A project in Malawi simply taught parents to recognise the signs of pneumonia in their children, and got the government to have sustainable supplies of antibiotics.

"Death rates decreased by 50% - so it shows that you can have relatively inexpensive programmes which have a big impact."

He said that pharmaceutical companies might need to be offered incentives to come up with new treatments for lung infections.

Peter Baldini, the World Lung Foundation's chief executive, called for more vaccination campaigns, healthcare workers and diagnostic tests.

He said: "With relatively modest resources, the means are available to save millions of lives.

"We simply need commitment, sound policy and strategic investment."

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