Dementia could become a fiscal nightmare, says WHO

Michael Cook
13 Apr 2012
Reproduced with Permission

The World Health Organization says that dementia could be an even greater challenge than HIV/AIDS in the 21st century. A report released this week by WHO and Alzheimer's Disease International (ADI) calls upon governments, policymakers and other stakeholders to make it a global public health priority.

"WHO recognises the size and complexity of the dementia challenge and urges countries to view dementia as a critical public health priority," said Dr. Shekhar Saxena, of WHO. Since "the prevalence of the disease will explode in this century as we all live longer - the risk of dementia is 1 in 8 for those over 65 and a shocking 1 in 2.5 for those over 85 - its impact will become greater as the decades go by."

Marc Wortmann, of ADI, spoke in apocalyptic terms: "Around the world a new case of dementia arises every four seconds. That's a staggering growth rate, equivalent to 7.7 million new cases of dementia every year - the same size as the populations of Switzerland and Israel. Our current health systems simply cannot cope with the explosion of the dementia crisis as we all live longer; this is as much an economic and fiscal disaster waiting to happen as it is a social and health challenge of the highest order."

Michael Hodin, of the Council on Foreign Relations, agreed. He says that Alzheimer's "demands our urgent and serious focus… Absent this level and scope of attention, Alzheimer's will surely become the fiscal nightmare of the 21st century, quite apart from the personal, family and community devastation it causes in its wake."

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, former UNAIDS Executive Director, Peter Piot, says that the world must tackle dementia with a similar level of urgency and concerted resources.