SA Pathology helps create WHO’s first Fungal Pathogen Priority List

23 September 2022

Dr Sarah Kidd and the National Mycology Reference Centre have been busy contributing to The World Health Organization's (WHO) Fungal Pathogen Priority List.

Discussions about its creation began back in 2019, and this Fungal Disease Awareness Week marks the worldwide release of the comprehensive document.

WHO estimates that more than 150 million people have a life-threatening fungal disease globally and more than 1.5 million die each year from fungal disease. But Dr Sarah Kidd says “despite this, fungal disease has been neglected in terms of research and funding, development of diagnostics and of antifungal drugs”.

Many people are at risk of life-threatening fungal infection, for example those who have cancer, or have had a transplant, are diabetic or who take steroid treatment. The COVID-19 pandemic has also increased the number of people falling prey to fungal disease - when the Delta strain emerged in India, there were many reports from media outlets of patients surviving COVID-19 but then dying from “Black Fungus” infection.  While people who suffer from COVID-19 or even flu may survive those infections, the damage caused by these viruses to the lungs and other organs provides a perfect environment for fungi to thrive.

New fungal pathogens are also emerging, some with resistance to all available antifungal drugs, making them very difficult to treat. One example is Candida auris, which has emerged globally as an infection control problem, spreading easily in hospitals, resistant to many antifungal drugs, and difficult to identify.

Sarah says that ultimately the goal of the fungal pathogen priority list is to “increase awareness and promote the importance of research on fungal disease, and to align public health priorities with funding to develop better diagnostic tests and improved therapies. Hopefully we will start to see this happen now”   

Sought out by the WHO’s expert panel for her expertise in fungal diagnostic testing and antifungal resistance, Sarah is active in many of the large fungal research groups in Australia, reviewing a range of fungal pathogens to assist in creating the priority list.   

Congratulations Sarah, the positive impact this list will have on patient care and research will be felt across the globe and we commend you for your efforts.   

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