The World Health Organization and the Global Alzheimer’s Movement

I came across a short article on the US Against Alzheimer’s website, where they pose the question:

Can WHO Lead the Global Alzheimer’s Movement?

And I was relieved they asked it! I had also been thinking about this over the past week but had been hesitant to post about it. I guess I didn’t want to seem jaded since my internship with the WHO on the Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities was a bit on the disappointing side. But, I am glad to see I am not the only one who is skeptical about the WHO leading a global Alzheimer’s movement. Wait…

…I am going to call it a dementia movement. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. But, around 50% of people who meet a dementia diagnosis criteria don’t ever get a diagnosis, so we can really only say that Alzheimer’s is the most diagnosed type of dementia. There are many people who do not have Alzheimer’s disease and will benefit from this movement…

Back to the WHO. They are certainly a global leader in addressing health issues and health promotion, and that the work they do is challenging and important. But large scale, challenging, and important work occurs over a long-term of research, planning, and implementation. Shaping policy and all the work that goes behind that takes a long time. This will be a great help – large scale, challenging, and important work that will affect MILLIONS of people. They can affect the movement in their own way, but I hesitate to call them THE leaders.

In addition to the long-term project cycles, and to the criticisms in the article below, I also wonder:  Isn’t there already a global dementia movement?

I think it is the people who are on the front lines who lead this movement. The people with dementia, the spouses, children, loved ones, care partners, etc. are leading the movement. We look at their needs in order to know what to move! There are organizations, groups, research centers, cities, companies, individuals, and more from all over the world who have already been fighting Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. They educate others, they change policy, they raise money, they look for a cure, they look at the best practices in care, they lead activities, they start campaigns, they form support groups – there already IS a global dementia movement, and the World Health Organization has not been leading it. Since 2012, September has been World Alzheimer’s Month, and this was not initiated by the WHO, but by Alzheimer’s Disease International.

Since it is my blog and I get to give my opinion, I find that Alzheimer’s Disease International,Alzheimer’s Association, and Alzheimer’s Society are leading the global dementia movement. They provide leadership in organizing individuals to take a stand, raise awareness, and make a difference. And there are many other organizations who are making a big impact as well.

  • You can find a global list of associations for Alzheimer’s through the ADI website.
  •  You can read the goals, objectives, and expected outcomes of the Conference on Global Action Against Dementia here.
  • You can read more information from the WHO on the global effort here.

And here is the article from the US Against Alzheimer’s website:

Can WHO Lead the Global Alzheimer’s Movement?

The World Health Organization (WHO) convened its First Ministerial Conference on Global Action Against Dementia on March 16-17 in Geneva. The goal was to ‘move from commitment to action’ by building on the global momentum achieved by the UK, G7, and World Dementia Council throughout 2014.

We are optimistic that dementia is now on the WHO agenda. The WHO holds considerable influence over global public health policy and priorities, and it is an important step for raising global awareness. Further, this was part of Cameron’s vision when he launched the G8 Dementia Challenge.

Yet we must also ask whether the WHO succeeded in Geneva in ‘mov[ing] from commitment to action.’ The signs are not good.

While it is encouraging that 80 countries and hundreds of national government representatives attended the meeting and called for a global response, the WHO, at the outset of the meeting, cited its governance rules and stated explicitly that nothing discussed could be viewed as a commitment to action.

In addition, two other observations from the proceedings make it clear that no action of consequence would unfold:

First, the right players were not at the table. The United States is a case in point. While the U.S. funds roughly two-thirds of global dementia research, it did not send its top person. The WHO also overlooked the finance ministers – those who control the purse strings for health matters. What’s worse is that industry was not even permitted to speak at the Ministerial. Industry is spending more than any single government on research, and industry is leading the charge to transform how we think about the disease and how we deliver care. Yet, again, WHO governance rules restrict industry in any official WHO collaborative mechanism. To its credit, the WHO is rethinking how it engages non-state actors, but at this juncture we do not know if these engagement rules will get more or less restrictive.

Second, the WHO and national governments did not articulate a collaborative mechanism to transfer leadership from the G7’s UK Presidency and World Dementia Council to a more inclusive multi-lateral public and private global leadership structure – perhaps in part because it currently cannot engage the private sector in this way.

If the WHO is to be the global sustaining mechanism, it will need to change. The global effort to fight HIV/AIDS moved out of the WHO because it lacked inclusive and action-oriented leadership. It’s time to ask ourselves a controversial, but critical question: Are we going to lose steam in the global fight-back against dementia by relying on the WHO?

Update BONUS! 3 April, 2015 – Check out Dementia Alliance International’s great keynote speech at this event. You can find it here.
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