U.S. government awards $45 million for long COVID clinics

By Ahmed Aboulenein

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. government is awarding $45 million in grants to help clinics treating long COVID develop new models of care and expand access, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said on Wednesday.

Nine clinics will receive $1 million grants annually over the next five years through the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) within HHS, the department said.

President Joe Biden had tasked HHS last year with developing a national action plan to tackle long COVID, a complex, multi-symptom condition that arises months after a COVID-19 infection and leaves many of its sufferers unable to work.

“The Biden-Harris Administration is supporting patients, doctors and caregivers by providing science-based best practices for treating long COVID, maintaining access to insurance coverage, and protecting the rights of workers as they return to jobs while coping with the uncertainties of their illness,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra.

The funding will be used for increasing in-person and virtual visits, establishing new satellite clinics, and an education initiative aimed at growing referrals. Limited knowledge and acceptance among clinicians has contributed to delays in diagnoses and referrals.

It will also go towards social services, hiring interpreters, group patient programs, and behavioral health support. The grants prioritize access for underserved, rural, vulnerable, and minority populations that are disproportionately impacted by long COVID.

The condition affects nearly 7% of all U.S. adults and 2.3% of the overall population and has cost an estimated $386 billion in lost wages, savings and medical bills, according to an analysis in April by the Solve Long Covid Initiative, a non-profit research and advocacy group.

More than 200 symptoms have been linked to the syndrome – including extreme fatigue, difficulty thinking, headaches, dizziness when standing, sleep problems, chest pain, blood clots, immune dysregulation, and even diabetes.

No proven treatments are available but research is underway. The National Institute of Health (NIH) is conducting a $1.15 billion effort, the RECOVER program, which launched two clinical trials in July that will evaluate at least four potential treatments.

(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Richard Chang)