No Words for Dementia: Alzheimer’s Disease International highlights dementia epidemic in Africa

No Words for Dementia: Alzheimer’s Disease International highlights dementia epidemic in Africa

Thursday 28 September 2017

Alzheimers Disease International (ADI) reports a lack of awareness of dementia across Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), with local languages not even containing a word for the condition. Symptoms of dementia are incorrectly attributed to normal ageing or even to witchcraft, leading to people being excluded from their community.

Sarah (not her real name) cares for her older sister who lives with advanced dementia in South Africa. The sister’s family believes the elder sister is cursed, rather than having a health condition. Sarah is now believed to also be cursed due to her close relationship with her sister and has been rejected by her wider family.

ADI’s new report shows that more needs to be done to challenge stigma and increase awareness of dementia in Africa:

  • Dementia will affect 3.4 million people in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030 countries in the region have the fastest growing older population in the world
  • Striking lack of awareness and limited availability health services
  • Governments must acknowledge dementia at national and regional levels

ADI has published its first report on the impact of dementia in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), at its 4th Sub-Saharan African Regional Conference. The report, co-authored by researchers from the Global Observatory for Ageing and Dementia Care at King’s College London, calls for a transformation in the response to dementia, citing a 63% increase in the number of people expected to be living with dementia in the region by 2030 – and an increase of 257% by 2050.

Launched during World Alzheimer’s Month, the report highlights new data on the impact of dementia in SSA, the experiences of those living with dementia in the region and the urgent need for governments to act to encourage improved understanding, access to health services and social protection.

The total costs of dementia in SSA are estimated to be over US$ 6.2 billion – more than the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 19 of the 49 countries in the region. Almost three-quarters of this is made up of the cost of informal care, predominantly provided by family members, most often women. Healthcare systems must be strengthened to provide support for people with dementia and their care partners, including public campaigns that challenge discrimination and by increasing access to social protection, including pension schemes.

Paola Barbarino, CEO of Alzheimer’s Disease International, says: “This report provides important evidence of the huge scale of the challenge we face on multiple fronts in sub-Saharan Africa. Not only is dementia hidden socially, but governments must to do more to enhance the infrastructure needed to support those affected. We are calling on governments in the region to take the issue up urgently and to follow the recommendations of the World Health Organizations Global Plan of Action.

The Global Dementia Action Plan, unanimously adopted by World Health Organization (WHO) member states in May 2017, includes targets for every government to prioritise dementia awareness, diagnosis, care and research. ADI urges governments to work with people with dementia and Alzheimer associations to achieve the best possible response to the plan.

We now have a Global Dementia Action Plan, but international civil society needs to play its part to address stigma and deliver change for people living with dementia. We need as many voices as possible to spread the word that dementia is a global health, social care and rights issue that can no longer be ignored. Find out how to get involved.