Academy launches international review of multimorbidity

The UK Academy of Medical Sciences today launches an international project that will improve our understanding of multimorbidity – the coexistance within any one individual of multiple diseases.

More and more people are suffering from multiple long-term medical conditions. These can be chronic conditions such as diabetes or depression, as well as persisting infectious diseases such as HIV.

Most approaches to disease management focus on single diseases, not multiple ones, so there is uncertainty as to how appropriate current approaches are for the care of people with more than one condition.

To better understand the challenges posed by multimorbidity, the Academy of Medical Sciences has established a working group of experts to analyse the burden of multimorbidity around the world, to look into what is currently being done in terms of prevention and treatment, and to determine how effective these strategies are.

The working group will identify areas where there are gaps in knowledge and make recommendations about priorities for research designed to fill these gaps.

Professor Stephen MacMahon FMedSci, Chair of the working group and Principal Director of The George Institute of Global Health, Professor of Medicine at the University of Oxford said:

“Multimorbidity is already well-established in high income countries such as the UK and is expanding rapidly in others with fewer healthcare resources. We cannot afford to ignore it and continue to focus solely on single diseases in isolation.

"We need quality research evidence on multimorbidity across a global landscape, taking account of both physical and psychological conditions using more consistent definitions and approaches.”

Multimorbidity places a major burden on patients and their families and carers. It is also places a major burden on health systems.

Estimates of impact vary but the scale of the problem appears large, with some estimates suggesting that at least a fifth of the world's adult population is affected by multimorbidity, and that multimorbidity is even more common in older people and those from less privileged socio-economic groups.

Professor MacMahon added, “We need a much more coherent body of evidence about multimorbidity if we are to develop effective strategies to address this medical phenomenon, which appears increasingly likely to be the norm rather than the exception.”

The Academy Working Group is expected to report back in late 2017.

For more information about the project or to respond to our call for evidence, please visit our dedicated policy page.

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