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News & Trends - Pharmaceuticals

Landmark report reveals Australians are dangerously ‘in the dark’ on this health priority

Health Industry Hub | November 30, 2022 |

Pharma News: Despite being one of our most prevalent and expensive diseases, impacting over 3.6 million Australians (1 in 7) and costing $14 billion per year, a new report launched in Parliament House yesterday identified major gaps in arthritis research, keeping Australia dangerously ‘in the dark’ on this health priority.

Arthritis Australia’s Impactful Arthritis Research report, developed in collaboration with Research Australia and guided by the arthritis community, calls for an urgent focus on arthritis research.

The report’s launch was attended by the Hon Ged Kearney, Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care and Senator the Hon Anne Ruston, Shadow Minister for Health and Aged Care.

Arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions account for 13% of the country’s total disease burden, on par with cardiovascular disease (13%), mental health (13%) and cancer (18%). But only 1% of the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) has been on arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions, while cardiovascular disease received 9% and cancer 16%.

“It’s very easy to slate older people with osteoarthritis and simply say it’s wear and tear or it’s one of those issues of ageing, which I don’t agree with,” said a roundtable participant.

Arthritis Australia CEO, Jonathan Smithers, said “Arthritis is set to become our next health crisis, impacting not only those with the condition, but their families, friends and the community. For every person living with arthritis or a musculoskeletal condition, the government spent less than $6 on research through the NHMRC in 2021, compared to $147 per person living with dementia, and $85 per person with a cardiovascular condition. This report confirms we urgently need to improve our focus and care– by bringing research investment up to the level of other diseases like heart disease and cancer, and listening to the voices of people living with arthritis.”

“Arthritis remains widely misunderstood and is a much bigger issue than most of us realise. It’s essentially a ‘whole’ body issue, affecting much more than joints, as inflammation caused by arthritis can lead to damage in many parts of the body – the skin, eyes, lungs, and heart,” added Arthritis Australia’s medical director Professor Susanna Proudman.

She added “We need a Medical Research Future Fund Mission for arthritis research to not only uncover more effective treatments and ways to improve care, but also unlock major health system savings that will benefit the wider community.”

The report outlines urgent research priorities with an emphasis on improved care, research across the multiple types of arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions, and the needs of communities and priority populations – including children, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, those living in rural and remote areas, and people with disabilities.

Research Australia CEO, Nadia Levin, said “Australia is home to world leading arthritis experts. In this report, we have identified a clear role for Arthritis Australia to bring these researchers together with consumers who have the lived experience to inform successful arthritis research.”

Arthritis Australia Chair, Kaylene Hubbard (48), was diagnosed with osteoarthritis two years ago and had two hip replacements as a result. She said “We need to take the huge burden of pain, disability and lost productivity from arthritis more seriously. It can impact every area of your life, from work or school, to finances and family. There is so much we still don’t know about how to best support the millions of Australians who live with arthritis.”

The significant impact of arthritis on all elements of Australians life needs prioritisation – notably in areas of emerging interest and research, including:

  • Productivity: In working-age Australians (15-64 years), knee osteoarthritis results in significant productivity loss, amounting to A$424 billion in lost GDP in 2019. For younger generations, 2 in 5 children (39%) with arthritis experience difficulties learning at school.
  • Mental health and cognitive impacts: 1 in 6 (17%) with arthritis experienced ‘brain fog’, including memory or cognitive issues.
  • Fertility: Partners of men with inflammatory arthritis experienced a higher rate of miscarriage than those without.

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