Eighty countries adopt call to action at first UN conference on dementia

Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO). UN Photo/Loey Felipe

17 March 2015 – A two-day ministerial conference on dementia hosted by the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) ended in Geneva today with 80 countries calling for action to address “a tidal wave” of new cases of the disease projected to cost the world $1.2 trillion by 2050.

“You are starting a very important movement,” WHO’s Director-General, Dr. Margaret Chan, told a packed room of more than 400 delegates following the adoption of the Call for Action.

Saying it is “one of the major health challenges for our generation,” the Call for Action noted that dementia currently affects more than 47 million people worldwide, with more than 75 million people estimated to be living with dementia by 2030. The number is expected to triple by 2050.

Dr. Chan said the cost of dementia can bankrupt health systems “even in the richest countries,” referring to the worldwide cost of caring for patients with dementia climbing from some $607 billion in 2010 to an estimated $1.2 trillion in 2050.

“There is a tidal wave of dementia coming our way worldwide,” she stated. “We need to see greater investments in research to develop a cure, but also to improve the quality of life of people living with dementia and the support given to their caregivers.”

She welcomed the announcement by the United Kingdom that more than $100 million will be invested in a pioneering new global Dementia Discovery Fund. WHO said major pharmaceutical companies have committed in principle to investing in promising research efforts for dementia through the “innovative mechanism” that could bring about a breakthrough in treatment.

Eighty countries joined the two-day conference with experts from the research, clinical and advocacy communities discussing how, collectively, they could move forward action on dementia at the global level.

WHO said it committed to leading and coordinating efforts on dementia. It also pledged to establish a Global Dementia Observatory that will monitor disease prevalence and dementia care resources in Member States and track the establishment of national dementia policies and plans.

The agency said there was clear consensus on the need for coordinated efforts to track evolution of the disease burden, create policies to address the impact of dementia, and conduct research for treatment and improved, cost-effective care.

“We have been running behind the curve with dementia for a long time,” said Dr. Chan, “but several recent events tell us that we are catching up. We must weave these multiple new initiatives into a comprehensive plan that can work in all countries. Government commitment will be key.”

The Call for Action for people living with dementia, their caregivers, families and community included raising awareness of the condition and its risk factors, building capacity for timely diagnosis, commitment to good quality continuing care and services, caregiver support, workforce training, and research.

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