WHO chief urges countries to ramp up research into long Covid

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The head of the World Health Organization has urged world leaders to launch immediate and “sustained” efforts to tackle the crisis of long Covid.

Writing for the Guardian newspaper, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that although the pandemic has changed due to the development of lifesaving tools, the impact of long Covid for all countries is “very serious”: “[We] need immediate and sustained action equivalent to its scale,” Tedros said.

Countries must now “seriously ramp up” both research into the condition and access to care for those affected if they are to “minimise the suffering” of their populations and protect their health systems and workforces.

“Early in the pandemic, it was important for overwhelmed health systems to focus all of their life saving efforts on Covid-19 patients presenting with acute infection,” he said. “However, it is critical for governments to invest long-term in their health system and workers and make a plan now for dealing with long Covid.”

He said the plan should encompass research and sharing knowledge to prevent, detect and treat patients more effectively. It also means “supporting patients’ physical and mental health as well as providing financial support for those who are unable to work.”

Women are among the most affected by long Covid symptoms, says the ONS. Photograph: iStock

According to the latest ONS figures, and despite widespread vaccination, 832,000 (36%) of people with long Covid developed it during the recent Omicron period.

To date, more than £50 million of government funding has been invested into long Covid research projects.

There are currently 19 such projects, with studies looking at different aspects of treating the disease as well as to understand its nature – who gets it and why.

One study is looking at the impact of Covid-19 vaccination on preventing long Covid. According to a recent systematic review of evidence published by the Lancet, it found that vaccination was associated with reduced risks or odds of long-Covid. However, the six papers it reviewed were non-peer reviewed, and the review did not include evidence on the impact of boosters on long Covid.

Support group Long Covid SOS, says the government must increase funding for research as well as ‘ongoing data monitoring and risk management to understand and mitigate the impact of Long Covid.’

In a letter to Health and Social Care Secretary, Thérèse Coffey, Ondine Sherwood, co-founder of Long Covid SOS, said: “The Government needs to act now to fund research into an effective treatment, help the NHS manage the condition and work with the DWP to support and assist those affected so they are able to return to work.”


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