EU Health Research Must Prioritise Allergies


European public health experts are concerned because “allergic diseases” in all their different aspects - from hay fever to fatal attacks of asthma or reactions to peanuts - are not included in the health priorities of the EU research programme. While allergies are mentioned among the food research priorities, the absence of wider allergy problem as a top concern in health research agenda threatens to comprise overall progress in the understanding of this complex condition.

Paul van Cauwenberge, Coordinator of GA²LEN (Global Allergy and Asthma European Network), says that if the European Union does not make it a top concern in health research, researchers and practitioners may fail to contain the allergy epidemic. (1)

  “GA²LEN has helped to demonstrate the magnitude of this public health problem and begun to find the solutions,” says Prof. van Cauwenberge of the University of Ghent, Belgium. “But if allergic diseases are not included as a health priority in the next EU framework programme FP7 (2), we are much less likely to build the overall understanding we need to help control this epidemic through effective prevention and treatment.” (2)

  While allergy experts welcomed the fact that allergy was considered under the food safety programme in the FP6, they point out that only 8% of allergies in Europe are related to food. Allergic diseases represent a “global” problem in the sense that it has multiple presentations and causes, both genetic and environmental. All the different aspects of the condition and its triggers must be addressed to gain a comprehensive understanding of allergic diseases as a whole.

  Prof. van Cauwenberge believes that politicians and different authorities would want to be alerted to the absence of the overall allergy and asthma problem within the research agenda. “If Europe does not continue to make major investments into integrating and co-ordinating research for an overall vision, we are unlikely to get to grips with why the rapid increase in prevalence is occurring, nor to be able to identify and introduce into clinical practice the best ways to prevent and manage the problem,” he says. 

  Allergic diseases are taking lives daily and creating huge financial costs. According to the World Health Organization, asthma kills someone in Europe every hour. (3) One child in three is allergic today and by 2015, half of the European population may be suffering from one or more allergic condition. (4)

  Estimates have put the financial costs of allergic diseases in Europe at up to 100 billion Euros per year. (4) The personal costs fall particularly heavily on families. Parental fears of a serious attack create anxiety, and even with mild allergies family activities may be limited. Children miss days at school and abstain from sport and other recreational activities. Breathing problems and skin rashes can also harm the self-image of young children, adults and especially teenagers. (5)

  The GA²LEN network has successfully brought together 26 “centres of excellence” in allergies spread through different European countries with the aim to advance the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of allergic diseases. European researchers and doctors involved are now using standardised skin-prick allergy tests so that Europe-wide comparative analysis can take place. In the last few months, a huge European database of comparable longitudinal epidemiological studies, known as birth cohorts, has been finalised so that significantly more reliable analysis can now be made of the multiple genetic and environmental factors causing allergies.

  Working with partner organizations representing allergy specialists and patients' groups (1), GA²LEN is developing evidence-based guidelines for health professionals and the patients to help them preventing and managing the disease. GA²LEN urges policy makers to support the European Parliament proposal to include allergic diseases in the health priorities of the 7th research framework programme.

  1. GA²LEN - the Global Allergy and Asthma European Network is a “Network of Excellence” funded by the European Union 6th Research Framework Programme. It consists of 26 research centres spread throughout Europe, as well as the European Academy of Allergology and Clinical Immunology (EAACI) and the European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Patients Associations (EFA). More than 30 collaborating centres have joined the network since its launch in 2004.

2. The European Union's next research programme, known as the Seventh Framework Programme Seven (FP7), begins next year and will run for seven years until 2013.  

3. World Health Report 2003, “Shaping the Future”. World Health Organization.

4. “Allergy: An epidemic that must be stopped”, Position Paper, European Academy of Allergology and Clinical Immunology (EAACI).

5. “EU 7th Framework Programme for Research”, Position Paper, European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Patients Associations (EFA).

GA²LEN - the Global Allergy and Asthma European Network