Does the UK comparatively underinvest in meningitis research?


Recent research by the UK’s Wellcome Trust 1 suggests that when it comes to infectious disease, the UK is not proportionately investing public funds in meningitis research as much as it should. And it hasn’t been for a long time.

In the Research Investments (ResIn) in Global Health report, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, meningitis is shown to be the 5th largest communicable disease killer (303,500 deaths globally in 2013), but only ranks 17th for public investments proportionate to the number of deaths caused by the disease2 in that same year.

The UK’s average spend per infectious disease death is over 10 times higher across all causes than it is for meningitis. We spend only £29 on meningitis compared to an average of £337 for all causes combined.

Total UK research investments from public bodies and research charities into infectious diseases between 1997 and 2013 totalled over £3.7 billion.

Of this, meningitis received just £91m – or 2.4% of the total.

This 2.4% is for a disease that consistently ranks in the UK as the condition parents most want their children vaccinated against.

Of course, this study is only part of the picture. It does not include investments from the private sector – most notably pharmaceutical companies. A total picture would be very useful. But it is a good window into where public and charity money is going now.

Meningitis Research Foundation and our incredible supporters do everything possible to make sure meningitis research is a priority in this country. With their support, we have invested nearly £20 million in research over the past 30 years. But elsewhere in the public domain, I am increasingly worried that meningitis is somehow slipping into the ‘job done’ category in the UK and nothing could be further from the truth.

Some of my fears will be tested next week as we await news from the Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisation (JCVI) about whether they have recommended the MenB vaccine for extension to under 2 year olds. If it isn’t it will be interesting to hear on what grounds.

At the same time we still await detailed plans for the teenage evaluation of the MenB vaccine despite the JCVI recommending this two years ago. And we want to know when the cost effectiveness working party recommendations will be made public so everyone can see and question whether these are fair.

So we’re a long way from eradicating this dreadful disease and this is no time for the UK to take its foot off the gas. It’s time to put the money, and action, where the facts indicate they should go.


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