WHO: First Ministerial Conference on Dementia
By Emily Seibert
Dementia is a serious disease that affects an estimated 47 million people worldwide and is a leading cause of disability among adults. As much as sixty percent of these dementia cases are in low and middle income countries, and the numbers are expected to increase dramatically within the coming years and decades. In addition to the burden of disease caused by dementia, there are also significant socioeconomic costs associated with the disease. In 2010, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated the global cost of dementia to be 604 billion US Dollars. On 16 and 17 March 2015, the World Health Organization took the lead in creating dialogue about the issue by hosting the first ever Ministerial Conference on Global Action Against dementia. It was a monumental step for the World Health Organization because it started a movement for action to be taken against the growing problem. The goal of the conference was to raise awareness about the disease and to highlight the importance of including dementia into the agendas of high level meetings of the WHO and other national and international agencies. Speakers at the conference stressed the need to refute popular belief that dementia is a natural part of aging. Such a belief contributes to the lack of effort put into fighting the global burden of dementia and contributes to stigmatization of patients with the disease. The Conference consisted of many expert speakers from all over the world bringing perspectives of Governments of Member States, NGOs, Intergovernmental Organizations, and people living with the disease themselves.
Over the course both days of the Conference, the participants developed a Call for Action document, which was adopted by 80 countries and sponsored by the UK and OECD. The document called for accelerated action to be taken against dementia, as well as a better understanding of the disease by the general public and teaching people how to be involved in helping fight dementia. This issue raised a lot of discussion among experts because it became apparent that a lot of people are unaware of the risk factors and symptoms of dementia. The Call for Action also includes the need for better risk reduction, prevention, and diagnostics for the disease, more research into both pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical treatments for dementia, and strengthening the skills of the caregivers of people who have dementia. One of the biggest items that was stressed in the Call for Action was the protection of human rights of patients and rights-based care. Member states expressed the need for enforcement of restraint-free methods of care, and upholding the human rights of patients. Psychological and social help and support for both families, caregivers, and patients is also included in the Call for Action document. The Call for Action also affirms that the countries that adopt the document will support the WHO in its future mandates to combat dementia.
Director General, Margaret Chan, referred to dementia as “one of the health challenges of our generation”. The Ministerial Conference on Global Action Against Dementia was a great success and has brought significant attention to a prominent issue the WHO will surely have to face in the near future.