G8 leaders urge governments to band together against Alzheimer’s and dementia

The world needs to fight the spread of dementia in the same way it mobilized against AIDS, a British government minister told a special summit on the disease on Wednesday, saying failure to tackle it would wreck state health budgets.

Global cases of dementia are expected to triple by 2050, yet scientists are still struggling to understand the basic biology of the memory-robbing brain condition, and the medicine cupboard is bare.

“In terms of a cure, or even a treatment that can modify the disease, we are empty-handed,” World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan told ministers, campaigners, scientists and drug industry executives from the Group of Eight leading economies at the summit in London.

British Health Minister Jeremy Hunt said there were lessons to be learned from the fight against AIDS, where a 2005 G8 summit played a key role in pushing for better and more widely available drugs.

“We have turned the global tide in the battle against AIDS. Now we need to do it again. We will bankrupt our healthcare systems if we don’t,” he said.

Dementia — of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form — already affects 44 million people worldwide and this is set to reach 135 million by 2050, according to new estimates this month from Alzheimer’s Disease International, a non-profit campaign group.

More than 70 percent of them will be living in poorer countries with scant access to healthcare.

Experts say many people could avoid dementia by adopting healthier diets, exercising more and giving up smoking, but that what the world badly needs is effective drugs.

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