Right now we are at the mid-way stage of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Global action plan on the public health response to dementia 2017 – 2025, which should ultimately result in 146 out of 194 Member States with National Dementia Plans by 2025. Every year since the launch of this action plan, Alzheimer’s Disease International have tracked its progress through the annual report ‘From Plan to Impact’. This year marks the fourth iteration of the series and unfortunately, we still have a mountain to climb. Currently, there are only 40 national dementia plans globally, of which only 32 are in WHO Member States. To reach the target, we need 28 new plans every year until 2025. We continue to advocate for national dementia plans as the best way to address dementia related issues in each country, however it is undeniable that the odds are stacked against us, unless there are swift and concerted efforts from all Member States who unanimously adopted the plan in 2017.
Tangible progress has been made. Our members, consisting of Alzheimer’s and Dementia associations across 5 continents, have worked tirelessly, innovatively and collaboratively in ways we have never seen before. Iceland, Germany, Dominican Republic and China have all launched brand new dementia strategies, and Italy was finally able to provide funding for its plan. Momentum is growing in this space and Ministries of Health from around the world are starting to take note. A number of Ministries of Health took part in the virtual launch of ‘From Plan to Impact’ as a side event to the WHO’s 74th World Health Assembly and we were incredibly fortunate to be joined by panellists such as, Dr Tarun Dua, Head of the Brain Health Unit at the WHO; The Honorable Minister of Health Sadikin, Indonesia; Dr Mercy Mwangangi, Chief Administrative Secretary, Ministry of Health, Kenya; Dr Luis Miguel Gutiérrez Robledo of the National Institute of Health, Mexico; Gill Livingstone of University College London and Kate Swaffer, CEO & Co-founder of Dementia Alliance International.
While there is certainly momentum growing, we mustn’t forget the widespread ageism that was evident during the Covid-19 pandemic. Many lives of older people and in particular, of people living with dementia, were lost all over the world due to governments ignoring the clear and present danger the virus posed to them in a number of different and chilling ways.
Over 25% of deaths from Covid-19 were people living with dementia, who have been therefore disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
- Many people living with dementia have experienced cognitive deterioration from lack of social engagement due to isolation, shielding, distancing and lack of social services.
- Many carers and people living with dementia have seen the onset of depression and anxiety as a consequence of social distancing and lack of respite and care support.
- More recently, we have started to look at the impact of long Covid on the brain and there is a genuine concern we may be facing more onset of dementia as a consequence of Covid-19.
Throughout the pandemic I have become increasingly concerned that Covid-19 could become a distraction for governments to do less for people living with dementia right at a time when poignantly Covid-19 appears to be making the dementia crisis even bigger globally.
There are over 50 million people living with dementia in the world and at least 200 million people are likely to be impacted as family and friends. This crisis looks set to increase those numbers even more.
Now more than ever, the work of Alzheimers Disease International, of the World Dementia Council and of many other dementia organisations has never been so important. We need strong and unwavering leadership to challenge but also support Governments world-wide, if we are to achieve the goals of the WHO Global action plan on Dementia and at last break the stigma and discrimination that so many people living with dementia experience on a daily basis.
Paola Barbarino is CEO of Alzheimer’s Disease International and a WDC council member