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Europe's leading rheumatologists: Europe should invest more in rheumatology research

High-level rheumatology conference reveals major research needs

At a high-level scientific conference under the heading "Rheumatism A European Research Challenge which took place in the European Parliament on 21 September, leading rheumatology researchers, patients and industry representatives emphasized the need for Europe to invest more in research of rheumatic diseases which currently affect over 100 million individuals in Europe and cause severe damage to the EU economies. In her opening speech, Ursula Stenzel MEP pointed to the fact that almost a half of the EU parliamentarians have already recognized the urgent need for combating musculoskeletal diseases by signing the "Written declaration on Rheumatic Diseases". Stenzel urged the Commission and the Council to listen to the calls of rheumatologists and patients in Europe, now strengthened by the massive support of the MEPs, and make rheumatic diseases a visible priority in the future Research Framework Programme. According to Prof. Tore Kvien, President of the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR), rheumatic diseases pose the largest burden of disease in the EU when combining prevalence, costs and mortality. No single group of diseases elicits more costs to the health care and social systems of the EU than rheumatic diseases. Approximately one third of Europe's population, or over 100 million people, suffer from a rheumatic disease at some point in their lives. This proportion is set to rise in the next decades in an ageing society causing enormous costs to European health and social systems. But rheumatic diseases can affect anyone from the newborn to the aged and strike very frequently middle aged people, often women more frequently than men, becoming the No. 1 cause of work loss due to disabilities. Rheumatic diseases are the single major cause of early retirement due to disability and sick-leaves in many EU-countries accounting for about 450 million days of sick leave in Europe. Their overall impact leads to losses of 0.5 to 2 per cent of GNP each year. Conference contributions revealed that in the last years European rheumatology research has made considerable progress and several effective therapies have been developed. Yet considerably bigger research efforts are needed to tackle the challenges in front of rheumatology research and reinforce European excellence in this field as compared to the USA. Cooperation at cross-national level and the corresponding funding support are crucial for understanding the causes of the diseases, finding new and better remedies and replacing existing costly medicines. Speaking on behalf of EULAR, Prof Josef Smolen, Past President said: "The current 6th EU Research Framework Programme does not include any specific funding for rheumatology research which is the case with other diseases regarded as major diseases. This is totally unacceptable given the enormous burden of rheumatic diseases on the individuals and the European societies as a whole." EULAR urges the Commission to repair this discrimination of research in an area with the largest proportion of population affected when finalizing the 7th FP.EULAR - the European League Against Rheumatism represents the patient, health professional and scientific societies of rheumatology of all European nations. The organisation aims to foster excellence in science and education, to translate research advances into practice and to reduce the burden of rheumatic diseases on the individual and society. It is equally committed to improving the treatment, prevention and rehabilitation of musculoskeletal diseases.