Brain Health as a Global and EU Priority
By Anna Dé, February 2020
The Time to Act is Now!
On 18 February 2020, the Women’s Brain Project (WBP) attended the European Parliament event in Brussels on “Brain Health as a Global Priority – time for the EU to act now.” Given WBP’s commitment to stimulating a global discussion on gender and sex determinants of female vulnerability to brain and mental disease, it was very important for us to attend this event. Moreover, it demonstrates our commitment to making brain health a Global and EU priority.
The event was organised by the European Academy of Neurology (EAN), the European Brain Council (EBC), and the European Federation of Neurological Associations (EFNA). It brought together leading brain health stakeholders from across Europe, including not just the neurological societies, but also Members of the European Parliament, patient representatives, clinicians, Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) Global and European advocacy groups, country representatives, as well as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Commission.
Jarosław Duda MEP (EPP, Poland) introduced the event by stating that: “The brain, this most amazing structure in the human body, is responsible for our thoughts and feelings, it is the engine of progress of civilisation on all areas: science, art, culture, respect for other people’s rights, social solidarity and building of democratic societies. Brain’s health is crucial for progress.”
Ewa Kopacz MEP (EPP, Poland) highlighted: “The flipside of this wonderful complexity is that many things in our brains can go wrong, and this is why we have so many brain disorders that span several hundred conditions, from neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, to mental health disorders such as depression and schizophrenia.”
We know from studies that at least 1 in 3 people will experience a brain disorder in their lifetime, with a total cost of brain ill-health in Europe alone estimated to be €800 billion each year – more than the cost of all major disease areas combined, such as, cancer, cardiovascular diseases (CVD), and diabetes combined.
Evidence also shows that brain research has the highest potential in terms of return on investment, far exceeding the return in any other area. Therefore, it is important that brain health is made a Global and EU priority.
Brain health has risen further on the global policy agenda through the following milestones:
- In the Political Declaration on NCDs, which arose from the United Nations (UN) High-Level Meeting on NCDs in 2018, all Governments recognised that ‘mental disorders and other mental health conditions, as well as neurological disorders, contribute to the global burden of NCDs.’
- It resulted in adding mental and neurological health as the ‘5th NCD’, complementing global efforts to combat cancer, CVD, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases.
- This has been reinforced in the recent 2019 UN Declaration on the Universal Health Coverage, where ‘mental disorders and other mental health conditions as well as neurological disorders’ have been identified as an ‘essential component of UHC.’
The event highlighted these milestones and then put the spotlight on how the European Institutions and EU Member States can further integrate brain health within their portfolio of work on NCDs. John Ryan, Director for Public Health, Country Knowledge and Crisis Management, Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE), European Commission, highlighted EU opportunities and stressed the importance of both the health and research domains. The recent launch of ‘Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan’ was also highlighted as an inspirational template for all NCDs, including brain health, and indeed developing an ‘EU Brain Health Plan.’
Stakeholders at the event urged for further global, EU, and national efforts in brain health directed at promoting best practices regarding targeted prevention, health promotion, timely diagnosis, post-diagnostic support and therapy, research, training and further education of health professionals.
You can read a full summary of the event here.
The WBP is excited to be part of this collective effort to accelerate efforts on brain health. We will continue to work in close partnership with other brain health stakeholders to ensure policy momentum. The time to act is now!