The Australian government has announced that $50 million will go towards the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) for the research of ‘Long COVID’.
Previously, the Australian government has funded the research of Long COVID, with $13 million going towards the MRFF, $1.6 million to the National Health and Medical Research Council and $5 million for the Australian Partnership for Preparedness Research on Infectious Disease Emergencies to investigate the illness, which is onset as a side-effect of COVID-19.
Long COVID is an uncommon but nevertheless persistent illness that affects people after contracting COVID-19. Symptoms of Long COVID include fatigue, shortness of breath and cognitive dysfunction, although the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that over 200 symptoms have been reported, including heart palpitations, coughing, changes in taste or smell, joint or muscle pain and insomnia. A report from the U.S. National Centre for Health Statistics found that within the first two and a half years of the COVID pandemic, 3,500 Americans died of Long COVID-related illnesses, so it’s something the Australian government is taking very seriously.
The announcement comes as the final report on Long COVID from the House Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport was tabled in Federal Parliament. The Committee recommends that the Australian government establishes a “single COVID-19 database to be administered by the soon-to-be developed Centre for Disease Control”. This database would keep records on COVID infections, Long COVID diagnoses and vaccination rates.
The Committee also recommends that the definition of Long COVID employed by the WHO be used clinically, though this definition should be reviewed readily as more information becomes available. Additionally, the Committee recommends the establishment of a national Long COVID research program.
The WHO definition of Long COVID is as follows: “It is defined as the continuation or development of new symptoms three months after the initial SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) infection, with these symptoms lasting for at least 2 months with no other explanation.”
According to the report tabled by the House Standing Committee, 3.7 per cent of cases of COVID-19 were later reported to develop into Long COVID, though this number goes up to 6.2 per cent of cases when symptoms of fatigue, cognitive problems or shortness of breath were counted.
“It is clear that the emergence of long COVID has created challenges for patients and health care professionals alike. People with long COVID suffer from a lack of information and treatment options. Health care 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,” Committee chair Doctor Mike Freelander said.
“I have tasked my department with developing a national plan to respond to Long COVID, taking into consideration the Committee’s findings,” Federal Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler said.
Long COVID is more likely to occur in people that are unvaccinated, had severe illness onset from COVID 19 or had underlying health conditions prior to COVID-19.
If you think you’re suffering from Long COVID, it is recommended that you contact your GP. If you are suffering from severe shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, severe chest pain or pressure, a new or returning fever, worsening ability to concentrate and increased confusion or difficulty waking up, it is recommended that you contact 000 immediately.