A new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that neurological disorders, ranging from epilepsy to Alzheimer disease, from stroke to headache, affect up to one billion people worldwide. Neurological disorders also include brain injuries, neuroinfections, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson disease.
The report, Neurological disorders: Public health challenges, reveals that of the one billion people affected worldwide, 50 million suffer from epilepsy and 24 million from Alzheimer and other dementias. Neurological disorders affect people in all countries, irrespective of age, sex, education or income.
An estimated 6.8 million people die every year as a result of neurological disorders. In Europe, the economic cost of neurological diseases was estimated at about 139 billion euros in 2004.* Access to appropriate care is difficult for many people with neurological disorders, their families and caregivers. WHO advocates for the integration of neurological care into primary health care. For many people, primary health care is the only access to medical care they have. In these settings, doctors can use low-technology interventions. Community-based rehabilitation is also an option.
"Despite the fact that highly effective, low-cost treatments are available, as many as nine out of 10 people suffering from epilepsy in Africa go untreated. Health systems need to be strengthened to deliver better care for people with neurological disorders," said Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General.
The reasons for the non-availability of treatment include inadequate health delivery systems, lack of trained personnel, the absence of essential drugs and prevalence of traditional beliefs and practices. "In order to reduce the impact of neurological disorders, innovative approaches involving strong partnerships must be put in place," said Professor Johan Aarli, President of the World Federation of Neurology and member of the group that wrote the report.
As the global population ages, the impact of neurological disorders will be felt both in developed and developing countries. Rita Levi-Montalcini, winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine, commented: "The burden of neurological disorders is reaching a significant proportion in countries with a growing percentage of the population over 65 years."
The report recommends a series of simple but effective actions. It argues for greater commitment from decision makers, increased social and professional awareness, strategies that address stigma and discrimination, national capacity building and international collaboration.
The use of helmets by motorcyclists and of seat-belts in motor vehicles can prevent traumatic brain injury. Immunization against meningitis and the early identification and treatment of malaria are additional examples of concrete actions to reduce the burden of neurological disorders.
The new report was developed by WHO in partnership with key nongovernmental organizations in the field of neurological disorders and organizations caring for people affected by these conditions. It benefited from contributions of experts and reviewers from all regions of the world.
* According to a study published in the European Journal of Neurology, June 2005.
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