11 Dec 2017   |   News

WHO launches Global Dementia Observatory

Web-based platform will track provision of services and national policies as the number of people living with dementia is set to spiral

The World Health Organisation has launched the Global Dementia Observatory, a web-based platform to track progress on the provision of services for people with dementia and for those who care for them, both within countries and globally.

The Observatory will monitor national policies and plans, risk reduction measures, infrastructure for providing care and treatment, surveillance systems and disease burden data.

“This is the first global monitoring system for dementia that includes such a comprehensive range of data,” said Tarun Dua, of WHO’s department of mental health. “The system will not only enable us to track progress, but just as importantly, to identify areas where future efforts are most needed.”

WHO said information collected to date highlights the need for rapid scale-up of research. There have been some encouraging signs of increased funding in dementia research in recent years, but much more needs to be done. The number of articles on dementia in peer reviewed journals in 2016 was close to 7,000. This compares with more than 15,000 for diabetes, and more than 99,000 for cancer.

At the launch of the Observatory, WHO has collected dementia data from 21 countries of all income levels. By the end of 2018, it is expected that 50 countries will be contributing data.

Initial results indicate that a high proportion of countries are taking action in areas such as planning, dementia awareness and dementia-friendliness - including facilitating participation in community activities and tackling the stigmatisation of people living with dementia - and provision of support and training for carers, who are very often family members.

As the global population ages, the number of people living with dementia is expected to triple from 50 million to 152 million by 2050.

“Nearly 10 million people develop dementia each year, six million of them in low- and middle-income countries,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO when the Observatory was launched last week. “This is an alarm call: we must pay greater attention to this growing challenge and ensure that all people living with dementia, wherever they live, get the care that they need.”

The estimated annual global cost of dementia is US$ 818 billion, equivalent to more than 1 per cent of global gross domestic product. That includes direct medical costs, social care and informal care (loss of income of carers). By 2030, the cost is expected to have more than doubled, to US$ 2 trillion, a cost that could undermine social and economic development and overwhelm health and social services, including long-term care systems.

Of the countries reporting data so far:

  • 81 per cent have carried out a dementia awareness or risk reduction campaign
  • 71 per cent have a plan for dementia
  • 71 per cent provide support and training for carers
  • 66 per cent have a dementia-friendly initiative.

WHO has set out a global action plan on the public health response to dementia 2017-2025, providing a blueprint for action, in areas including: dementia awareness and dementia-friendliness; reducing the risk of dementia; diagnosis, treatment and care; research and innovation; and support for dementia carers.

Only 14 per cent of countries that have reported data knew how many people are being diagnosed with dementia. Previous studies suggest that as many as 90 per cent of people with dementia in low- and middle-income countries are unaware of their status.

Research is needed not only to find a cure for dementia, but also in the areas of prevention, risk reduction, diagnosis, treatment and care.

WHO’s work on the Global Dementia Observatory is supported by the governments of Canada, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the UK and the European Union.