Neurological conditions have become the leading cause of illness and disability globally

According to the report released by WHO (World Health Organization) has unveiled a startling reality: “Neurological conditions have become the leading cause of illness and disability globally the conditions have surged by 18% since 1990, with over 80% of the associated health burden and fatalities concentrated in low- and middle-income nations. Shockingly, high-income countries boast up to 70 times more neurological professionals per 100,000 people compared to their less affluent counterparts, this exacerbating the healthcare divide”.

WHO has been conducted this study in collaboration with The Lancet Neurology and analyzing data from the Global Burden of Disease, Injuries, and Risk Factor Study (GBD) 2021.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO, underscored the urgent need for action, stating, “Neurological conditions cause great suffering… and rob communities and economies of human capital.” He emphasized the necessity to upscale interventions to ensure quality care, treatment, and rehabilitation for those affected, urging a comprehensive approach to “safeguard brain health from early stages of life”.

The report identifies stroke, neonatal encephalopathy, migraine, dementia, diabetic neuropathy, meningitis, epilepsy, neurological complications from preterm birth, autism spectrum disorder, and nervous system cancers as the top ten contributors to health loss in 2021. While men experience higher disability and health loss overall, certain conditions such as migraine and dementia disproportionately affect women.

Notably, since 1990, the absolute number of individuals grappling with neurological conditions has surged due to demographic shifts and increased longevity, while age-standardized disability-adjusted life year (DALY) rates have declined. Diabetic neuropathy emerged as the fastest-growing neurological condition, mirroring the global diabetes epidemic, with cases tripling to 206 million in 2021.

Moreover, the study sheds light on emerging concerns such as neurological complications from COVID-19, which now account for over 23 million cases. However, advancements in prevention, care, and research have led to a significant reduction in neurological burden from conditions like tetanus, meningitis, and stroke.

The report also identifies 20 modifiable risk factors for preventable neurological conditions, including high blood pressure, air pollution, and smoking. Eliminating these factors could potentially prevent up to 84% of stroke DALYs and significantly reduce the burden of other conditions like dementia and idiopathic intellectual disability.

In response to these findings, Member States adopted the Intersectoral Global Action Plan on Epilepsy and Other Neurological Disorders 2022–2031 (IGAP) during the 2022 World Health Assembly. Dévora Kestel, Director of the WHO Department of Mental Health and Substance Use, emphasized the need for increased investments in research, healthcare workforce support, and service provision to achieve IGAP’s ambitious objectives.

IGAP outlines strategic goals to enhance access to treatment, promote brain health and disease prevention, bolster research efforts, and adopt a public health approach to neurological disorders. As the world grapples with the escalating burden of neurological conditions, concerted global action is imperative to alleviate suffering, improve quality of life, and ensure equitable access to care for all.

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