The brain is the human body’s most complex organ. When something in the brain goes wrong, its complexity makes it very di¬ cult to identify the nature of the problem and fix it. Unfortunately, disorders of the brain are highly prevalent and account for 23 per cent of the global disease burden.
In comparison, cardiovascular disease accounts for five per cent of the global disease burden while cancer’s share is 10 per cent. Brain disorders will affect an estimated 38 per cent of the European Union’s population and will cost European health services more than all the other disease sectors put together. Many brain disorders are highly disabling and chronic, and are leading non-communicable (NCD) diseases.
The World Economic Forum and the Harvard School of Public Health predict that NCDs will result in a cumulative loss in global economic output of $47 trillion, or five per cent of GDP, by 2030.
Principally, this will arise through heart disease, stroke, alcohol misuse and depression in high and upper-middle income countries. Three out of four of these diseases are brain disorders.
This creates an enormous burden on those affected, their caregivers, their social environment, on health care systems and on society in general. Brain ill-health leads to enormous human suffering and restricts the independence of those living with a brain disease, not least as a result of disability and the need for care.
Without significant decisions and investments, the burden of NCDs - and in particular brain disorders - will become unbearable. It is likely to lead to a further increase in suffering of those affected, as well as threatening the sustainability of health care systems.
It is only through cross-border efforts and other bold decisions that we can properly address these challenges, as well as meet the commitments made by the United Nations through the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly in reducing premature mortality linked to NCDs through better prevention and treatment as well as promoting mental health and wellbeing. This could prevent millions of premature deaths, avoid untold suffering and improved financial stability at the level of individuals, their household and families or their country as a whole.
The timing for addressing these challenges could not be better, as Europe is now in the midst of shaping its next EU framework programme for research and innovation: Horizon Europe. In light of this, it is clear that brain science must have a substantial place within it.
In particular, it is my strong hope that promoting brain research and brain health becomes one of the large-scale European ‘missions’ currently being devised. I could not imagine a better and more fascinating mission than to truly understand the brain and consequently better understand ourselves.
The era of empty rhetoric and inaction is over. We have a collective responsible towards future generations for our ability to face and reverse the challenges posed by brain disorders and to improve the lives of all people at risk, affected by or living with brain disorders.