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Glenis Willmott (UK)

MEPs speak out on dementia

During this time of economic crisis it is vital that we have a strong public health programme from the EU.  It's not just financial problems that we're facing, people's health is suffering too.  In Greece the suicide rate has increased by 40% over the last year.  In my own country we are seeing our National Health System pulled apart. 

And while the economic crisis loudly rumbles on, a much quieter crisis is happening around us, in every country in the European Union.  Our populations are ageing, and with that comes more and more people suffering from neurodegenerative diseases.  Already over 35 million people are living with Alzheimer's disease and other dementias worldwide.  The World Health Organisation estimate that this number will double by 2030, and triple by 2050. 

The Health for Growth Programme will be vital in helping EU countries face up to this huge challenge.  Of course each government has responsibility for their own healthcare system and how they care for their aging population.  But by working at EU level we can provide real added value.

The first step is something that seems really simple; we need to share data about dementia.  Because before you can really tackle a disease you need to know all the key facts about it; how many people are suffering from Alzheimer's and other dementias, at what stage in the disease they were diagnosed, what different types of treatment they are receiving, who is caring for them.  If this data is collected in a similar way, allowing EU countries to share and compare their results, it is a huge first step in understanding dementia in Europe.

Our next step is to co-ordinate our research into the disease, something that has already begun with the Joint Programming Initiative, the first of its kind in the EU.  Although research projects themselves will be funded with other EU money, the Health for Growth Programme can provide a framework to pull this research together and use it in the best interest of dementia patients.

And finally, with the data and the research behind us, we have to look at policies.  How can we make sure people are diagnosed early with the disease?  How do we ease the burden on the loved ones of the patient?  How do we remove the stigma from dementia?  While these decisions are made at a national level, the Health for Growth Programme can provide a forum for national experts to share their experiences of what works well, and what has gone wrong.  This work has begun under the ALCOVE Joint Action Programme, and should continue in the future, with funding from the Health for Growth Programme. Together, European countries can find the way to tackle the challenges posed by Alzheimer's and other dementias.

The Health for Growth Programme is not perfect as it stands.  The name alone is a big problem, because health should not be about growing our economies.  But that aside, we can achieve something with this Programme. Of course the modest funding cannot get very far on its own; we need commitment from governments, researchers, medical professionals, patient groups and NGOs. But this is an opportunity for us to come together to take on one of the biggest challenges we face. 



Last Updated: Tuesday 03 July 2012