Nearly 1 in 6 of world’s population suffer from neurological disorders – UN report

27 February 2007

Up to 1 billion people, nearly one in six of the world’s population, suffer from neurological disorders, from Alzheimer and Parkinson disease, strokes, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy to migraine, brain injuries and neuroinfections, with some 6.8 million dying of the maladies each year, according to a new United Nations report issued today.

Up to 1 billion people, nearly one in six of the world’s population, suffer from neurological disorders, from Alzheimer and Parkinson disease, strokes, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy to migraine, brain injuries and neuroinfections, with some 6.8 million dying of the maladies each year, according to a new United Nations report issued today.

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) study – Neurological disorders: Public health challenges – shows that people in all countries, irrespective of age, sex, education or income are affected, that the economic cost of such diseases in Europe reached some €139 billion in 2004, and that access to appropriate care is lacking in many parts of the world.

“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,” WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said.

“Health systems need to be strengthened to deliver better care for people with neurological disorders,” she added, recommending that neurological care be integrated into primary health care since for many people, primary care is the only access to medical treatment that they have and doctors can use low-technology interventions. Community-based rehabilitation is also an option.

Reasons for non-availability of care include inadequate health delivery systems, lack of trained personnel, 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 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, reaching a significant proportion in countries with a growing percentage of the population over 65 years. The disorders include diseases of the central and peripheral nervous system, such as brain, spinal cord, cranial nerves, the autonomic nervous system, neuromuscular junction and muscles.

The report recommends a series of simple but effective actions, calling 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.

Global statistics show that 50 million people suffer from epilepsy, 62 million from cerebrovascular disease, 326 million from migraine, and 24 million from Alzheimer disease and other dementias.

The report was developed by WHO in partnership with key non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the field of neurological disorders and organizations caring for people affected by them.

 

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