WHO, Alzheimer's group focus on global dementia burden

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The World Health Organization (WHO) and Alzheimer's Disease International (ADI) released a report April 11 calling for governments and policymakers to make dementia a global public health priority. The report provides an overview of the impact of dementia worldwide, in addition to global best practices and practical case studies.

Also, the report seeks to present a collection of data, including hard-to-get statistics from low- and middle-income countries, thereby underscoring the global nature of the problem.

To prepare the report, titled "Dementia: A Public Health Priority," WHO and ADI commissioned reports from four working groups of experts led by researchers from Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London and the Institute of Neurological Sciences in India.

"WHO recognizes the size and complexity of the dementia challenge and urges countries to view dementia as a critical public health priority," said Shekhar Saxena, MD, director of the department of mental health and substance abuse at WHO. "Right now, only eight of 194 WHO member states have a national dementia plan in place, and a few more are in development. Our hope is that other countries will follow suit, using this report as a starting point for planning and implementation."

Marc Wortmann, executive director of ADI, said: "Around the world a new case of dementia arises every four seconds. Our current health systems simply cannot cope with the explosion of the dementia crisis as we all live longer. This report shows that there is a lot that can be done to improve the lives of people with dementia and their carers."

Publication of the WHO/ADI report comes on the heels of an impassioned plea for action by global public health expert Peter Piot, MD, PhD, who, as former UNAIDS executive director, helped lead the world in turning HIV/AIDS from a certain death sentence into a manageable illness. In a recent speech, Piot described dementia, and Alzheimer's disease in particular, as a "ticking time bomb" given the rapid growth in aging populations worldwide.

According to ADI research, the number of people living with dementia worldwide, estimated at 35.6 million in 2010, is set to nearly double every 20 years, reaching 65.7 million in 2030 and 115.4 million in 2050. Drawing parallels between dementia today and HIV/AIDS in the 1980s, Piot argued that the world must tackle dementia with a similar level of urgency and concerted resources. 

"Dementia: A Public Health Priority" now is available for download.