Trust doctor joins researchers to highlight the problem of fungal diseases


Fungal diseases which are killing 150 people every hour across the world have become a worldwide catastrophe, according to researchers at Queen’s University Belfast.

They join researchers from several countries across the world in an effort led from University of Manchester in a global call for policy makers and health agencies to address the problem of fungal diseases which result in the death of 300 million people worldwide every year.

Dr Ronan McMullan from Queen’s University Belfast and Dr Eileen Dorgan from Belfast Health and Social Care Trust have been collaborating with GAFFI (Global Action Fund for Fungal Infections); an international organisation set up last year to highlight what doctors believe is a worldwide catastrophe that is growing year on year. Researchers believe that the problem could be halted with widespread access to diagnostics, antifungal medicines, medical training and better patient awareness.

Dr Ronan McMullan from the Centre for Infection and Immunity in the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen’s, said: “Among Ireland’s population fungal infections are estimated to affect around 117,000 people every year. The majority of these infections are recurrent vaginal candidiasis (‘thrush’) with an estimated 95,000 episodes per year. Although life-threatening infections among patients in ICU, as well as patients who have undergone transplantation or had leukaemia, are less common with just over 1,000 infections per year these are an important problem.”

“The challenge in Ireland is mostly related to increasing awareness among both the public and doctors as well as developing and implementing cutting-edge diagnostic tests to enable these infections to be diagnosed and treated more promptly.”

GAFFI’s founding President is Dr David Denning, Professor of Infectious Disease in Global Health at the University of Manchester. He said: “Fungal disease is the Trojan horse – the silent, unappreciated global catastrophe on an scale no one has grasped until recently. For example, after TB as many as 20 per cent of patients develop lung fungal infection, which slowly progresses to death over five years, unless arrested with treatment, an estimated burden of 1.2 million people worldwide. Severe asthma with fungal allergy could account for half of the 350,000 deaths from asthma each year, yet it is treatable with antifungal drugs. Blindness caused by fungal infection of the eye affects over 1 million adults and children globally yet the tools are not available for rapid diagnosis and treatment for millions of people.

“Skin fungal infections affect a billion people worldwide. Fungal meningitis and pneumonia kills in excess of 1 million patients with AIDS every year, including many children, before treatment for HIV can begin to work. In its first year, GAFFI has drawn a roadmap for fighting fungal infections globally, for the first time.”

In the last 12 months GAFFI has identified and estimated the burden of fungal disease in almost 40 countries, including both NI and RoI, successfully lobbied the World Health Organisation to include two life-saving drugs on the Essential Medicines List and convinced the World Medical Association to address governments across the world to improve diagnostics and treatments of fungal disease.

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