Tackling the growing burden of neurological disease

New World Health Organization initiative aims to centre brain health around the globe

In May 2022, the World Health Organization adopted the Intersectoral global action plan on epilepsy and other neurological disorders 2022-2031 (IGAP), which aims to improve access to treatment and care and quality of life of people with neurological disorders and their caregivers. It addresses strategic issues such as policy and governance, better diagnosis, treatment and care, prevention, and research. 

The global burden of neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions is high, with approximately 70 per cent of the burden in low- and middle-income countries. Neurological conditions are the leading cause of disability adjusted life years (DALYs)* and account for about nine million deaths per year. 

Tarun Dua, Head of the Brain Health Unit at WHO's Department of Mental Health and Substance Use, spoke about IGAP and the need for a response to the growing impact of neurological disease on the human population.  

First of all, tell us about IGAP. What is it, and what is it trying to accomplish? 

The action plan is a governing body mandated by all the countries of the world. The vision is that brain health is promoted and protected, neurological disorders are prevented and treated, and that people with these conditions and their families have the highest possible level of health. It provides the objectives, the action areas, the targets, on what countries should be doing to achieve the vision that has been defined within the action plan. 

Why the specific focus on epilepsy?  

The initial agenda item was presented to the World Health Assembly was specific to epilepsy. Some other member states felt that this was a good opportunity to raise the priority for all neurological conditions. And therefore, the scope of the action plan was expanded from epilepsy to include other neurological conditions.  

What can a country like Canada do in regards to its role in IGAP?  

Canada, you know, is one of the member states. The first thing Canada can do is look at the strategic objectives and targets from the perspective of within Canada, not only at the national level but also at  provincial and regional levelss. For example, if you look at the targets of the action plan, it is about awareness raising, advocacy and prevention of neurological conditions, and research output, among other things. It is important we look at how these can be achieved within Canada. Secondly, Canada has been a leader in many health areas. It is about the global leadership Canada can take in supporting the low and middle income countries across the world to achieve these goals. 

This is a wide, overarching strategy for the world. How does it drill down to the experience of people with neurological disorders, when they go to a clinic or hospital?  

If you look at IGAP, one of the guiding principles is about empowerment of people living with neurological conditions and their caregivers and families. Whatever we do in terms of policy legislation, service delivery, research, there needs to be effective mechanisms of involving people with lived experience and their caregivers. Any strategy, anything that we do, the people have to be at the centre. 

*Disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) for a disease or health condition are the sum of the years of life lost to due to premature mortality and the years lived with a disability 



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