Funding for Long Covid research in Netherlands on shaky ground
The Netherlands’ already few studies into Long Covid are in danger of delays or even cancellation due to poorly arranged funding, scientists told NOS. Researchers only get short-term contracts, resulting in some with knowledge about Long Covid switching to other, more secure projects.
“We can miss great opportunities if the situation remains the same,” Judith Rosmalen, professor of psychosomatics at UMC Groningen and project leader of one of the most extensive studies into Long Covid in the Netherlands, said to the broadcaster. “Because so many had Covid, we have collected detailed data from people before and after the infection on a large scale. That is unique. So there is momentum to learn a lot.”
But funding is running out. In the Netherlands, scientific research depends on subsidies from the Ministry of Public Health awarded through the government organization ZonMw. These are usually enough for four years of study and the salary of the scientists who work on it. But the Long Covid projects only have funding for up to 15 months.
Therefore, researchers are hired on short-term contracts, which is a real problem, scientists Chahinda Ghossein and Sander van Kuijk said. They lead the Maastricht UMC+ study that combines and analyzes the data of over 10,000 former Covid patients. According to them, they have lost several team members who found more secure opportunities elsewhere.
And the research is far from done. Until now, researchers have spent a lot of time on administration, guaranteeing patient privacy, and legally arranging that they can access so many patients’ data. “We are forced to answer only the most relevant questions,” Ghossein said to NOS. “But when the subsidy runs out, we still have a mountain of data with which you can answer a lot of other questions.”
ZonMw told the broadcaster that it would submit a proposal for longer-term funding for this research on March 1. Minister Henk Kuipers of Public Health previously said that he first wants to investigate what research is already happening abroad to avoid duplication of effort. The Netherlands asked the EU Health Council to discuss this on March 13. So it is unclear whether the ZonMw proposal will lead to more funding soon.
The scientists involved in Long Covid studies don’t expect extra funding this year, meaning they will have to bridge a period without money. They worry that valuable knowledge will be lost in the meantime.