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Dementia is a global health timebomb – global health expert Professor Peter Piot

Published 7 March 2012

Global health expert Professor Peter Piot will announce dementia is one of the largest global health challenges and call for the condition to become a top world health priority.

Professor Piot, Director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, former Under-Secretary General of the United Nations and former Executive Director of UNAIDS, will take to the world stage at the opening ceremony of the Alzheimer's Disease International (ADI) conference. He will challenge the World Health Organisation to declare dementia a health priority alongside cancer, diabetes, lung disease and heart disease. He will also call for a UN General Assembly special session on mental health and dementia, and ask world leaders to sign up to an action plan to transform millions of lives.

Professor Piot said:

'Dementia is one of the largest neglected global health challenges of our generation, with 36 million people living with the condition today. By 2050 115 million people - almost twice the current population of the UK - will be living with dementia worldwide. What we must learn from the AIDS movement is that by investing now, we will save later. Having a global action plan to defeat dementia is the first step to making a difference to millions of people.'

The action plan proposed by ADI will call on leaders of the world's nations to commit to the following:

  1. Invest in research and coordinate research efforts with other countries
  2. Educate the public and health practitioners to ensure they recognise the signs of dementia. Provide information, support and access to treatment to ensure people can live well with dementia
  3. Record diagnosis rates in their own countries to create an accurate picture of dementia
  4. Conduct coordinated studies on the economic and social impact of dementia
  5. Develop and share health strategies to help people reduce their risk of developing dementia.

Under Professor Piot's leadership of UNAIDS, the organisation put AIDS on the global agenda, mobilised resources, and helped provide prevention and treatment for HIV infection worldwide.

Jeremy Hughes, Chief Executive of Alzheimer's Society, said:

'In the UK the way we fail to deal with dementia is a recipe for disaster. Just 40 per cent of people have a diagnosis and the government invests eight times less in dementia research than cancer. Our health and social care system should be a model for other countries, rather than an embarrassment. Today is our chance to turn this around by leading the way in committing to this action plan and building a better future for people with dementia.'

There are 750,000 people living with dementia in the UK. This number is set to rise to a million by 2021. As the brain slowly shuts down, people with dementia struggle with everyday tasks including washing, eating and going to the toilet. Dementia costs the UK more than cancer, heart disease and stroke combined.

Author Sir Terry Pratchett will also speak at the opening ceremony of the ADI conference, which will be held at London's Excel Centre from Wednesday 7 March to Saturday 10 March. Record numbers of people with dementia will attend, alongside politicians, celebrities and scientists. The conference will feature presentations by leading scientists on groundbreaking research, and workshops led by people with dementia. For more information, visit adi2012.org