More research funds needed for arthritis

November 25, 2022 11:50 AM AEDT | By AAPNEWS
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A disease costing the healthcare system $14 billion a year and affecting one in seven Australians receives only one per cent of medical research funding.

Arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions account for 13 per cent of the country's total disease burden, on par with cardiovascular disease (13 per cent), mental health (13 per cent), and cancer (18 per cent). 

But the common inflammatory joint disease receives just a sliver of the Medical Research Future Fund compared with other diseases, according to a new report by Arthritis Australia.

Arthritis Australia's medical director Professor Susanna Proudman says there's an obvious disparity in government commitment to funding research compared with the prevalence and cost of the disease.

"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," she said.

For patients with rheumatoid arthritis, Dr Proudman says the lack of research funding means there is a shortage of specialists for them to see.

"The workforce shortage of rheumatologists in most places around the country is reaching a critical level," she said.

Almost no publicly funded paediatric rheumatology services are available outside capital cities, including no specialists in Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory.

For every person living with arthritis or a musculoskeletal condition, the government spent less than $6 on research, compared to $147 per person living with dementia, and $85 per person with a cardiovascular condition, the report found.

No stranger to the debilitating effects of the disease, Kaylene Hubbard went from being a cross-country runner to needing a double hip replacement - before she'd hit her 40s.

"I was in constant pain for 10 years, I'd seen physios, I'd seen doctors all of whom had pointed to a number of different things and various treatments, none of which really seem to make any difference," she told AAP.

However, one day the mother of three met a physio who suggested she could have arthritis.

After several X-rays and specialist visits, Ms Hubbard was diagnosed with advanced osteoarthritis and went under the knife a year later for two new hips.

"By the time I had my surgery my daughter had to dress me, I couldn't walk around the block and I was unable to do my grocery shopping," she said.

Ms Hubbard said more research is needed into the disease to not only see if a cure can be found but to also receive better treatment for managing the disease.

The report was developed in collaboration with Research Australia, the national peak body for Australian health and medical research.


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