WHO backs call to reinstate dementia plan

An international report has been published, praising the Australian Government’s Dementia Initiative (DI), which has been cancelled in the time it took to be published. Now Australian dementia advocates want the disease’s priority status re-established.

By Yasmin Noone

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) have thrown their weight behind the Alzheimer’s Australia call to the federal government to restore dementia as a national public and social care priority.

The international bodies have pinpointed Australia’s own ‘Dementia Initiative’ as one of the best dementia plans in the world in their report, Dementia: A public health priority, released yesterday.

Yet WHO and ADI’s commendation could not have come at a worse time – the plan is no longer and the government has failed to guarantee funding for dementia beyond 2013. 

The director of the WHO Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse and one of the international experts who worked on the report, Dr Shekhar Saxena, was recently interviewed about the eight of 194 WHO member states which have a national dementia plan in place – one of which was Australia.

“Our hope is that other countries will follow suit, using this report as a starting point for planning and implementation,” Dr Saxena said. 

“WHO recognises the size and complexity of the dementia challenge and urges countries to view dementia as a critical public health priority.”

Alzheimer’s Australia has confirmed that, at the time of the report was written (2011), Australia was included in the count and therefore nominated as a country with one of the best dementia plans in the developed world, along with Denmark, France, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom.

CEO of Alzheimer’s Australia Vic, Maree McCabe, said the Australian Government must recognise the international report and its recommendation for governments worldwide to commit to a dementia plan

“In 2005, we became an international leader in dementia policy when the then government funded the $320 million Dementia Initiative – making dementia a national health priority,” Ms McCabe said. 

“Since then other countries, including France and the United Kingdom, have implemented funded dementia strategies that acknowledge the need to combat the growing international epidemic.

“But the confidence of people living with dementia was shattered when the Commonwealth Government took a step backwards by terminating the Dementia Initiative in the 2011-12 Federal Budget.

“The consequence is that Australia has lost the capacity to plan for the future and the funding is no longer guaranteed for programs assisting people with dementia.”

The federal government has replied to similar calls from Alzheimer’s Australia and the media about the need to recommit to funding a dementia plan beyond 2013. 

A spokesperson has previously responded by saying that the government has not cancelled but simply reorganised the way it will fund health programs in the future. It plans to condense all funding streams into one major pool of funding.

Beyond 2013, Alzheimer’s Australia will therefore have to compete for funding with other health causes in the same pool, like cancer and heart disease.

Alzheimer’s Australia NSW CEO, John Watkins, believes the federal government must use the upcoming opportunity for aged care reform in the 2012/13 budget to reinstate a dementia-specific funding plan. 

“I am willing to give them the time until this budget in May but it really is a major test for this government,” Mr Watkins said.  

“They said that aged care is a high priority for this term of government. That means they have to address dementia in this budget. They owe it not to Alzheimer’s Australia but to the hundreds of thousands of Australians that live with dementia and their carers that live with these decisions. 

“You can’t have aged care reform without specifically dealing with the problem of dementia…as dementia is driving the aged care crisis in Australia. 

“We know what we need. The government knows what we need…The time has come now to outline a funding plan for it – not for the next year or five years but for over the next decade to 20 years.”

The WHO and ADI report is the first of its kind and provides hard new evidence of the dementia problem facing both developing and western societies and also stresses the need for governments to act to address the chronic health, social and fiscal issue.

According to the report, the prevalence of dementia is set to increase from 35 million now to more than 115 million by 2050. 

“Countries must include dementia on their public health agendas,” the report states. 

“Sustained action and coordination is required across multiple levels and with all stakeholders – at international, national, regional and local levels…The time to act is now.”

Currently there are 1.2 million people who care for someone with dementia in some way and it is the third leading cause of death in Australia. 

The WHO/ADI report says there are an estimated 1,600 new cases of dementia in Australia each week; one person every six minutes. That is expected to grow to 7,400 cases each week by 2050.

Tags: alzheimers-australia, dementia, dementia-initiative, international, world-health-organisation,

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