Brain health must be at heart of Europe 2020 strategy

A healthy brain is Europe's platform for national wealth, argues David Nutt.

By David Nutt

03 Dec 2015

We do not have to search the far reaches of space or the depths of the Earth to find the whereabouts of the most complex structure in the universe. It is the human brain and it lies inside every one of us. It controls our bodies and is the home of our personalities, thoughts and feelings. The brain is a true wonder that needs to be nurtured, protected and cared for.

The human brain is also the origin of many chronic, disabling disorders, including developmental, psychiatric, neurodegenerative and pain-related diseases that represent an enormous burden in terms of both human suffering and economic cost. Brain disorders affect at least one in three people during their lifetime.

I have the privilege of being the President of the European Brain Council- a non-profit organisation that brings together scientists, clinicians, patients and industry from the field of the brain. We have published a report demonstrating that brain disorders cost Europe €800bn in 2010. That's more than cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes combined. 


The World Health Organisation echoes our concerns and has concluded that brain disorders account for 35 per cent of the burden of all diseases in Europe and will become the major medical need of this century.

We consider that improved cooperation and coordination are absolutely critical to address in an efficient manner both the challenges and opportunities posed by our brains. 

With this in mind, we recently launched a call to foster a dialogue on developing national brain plans, which would be brought under the umbrella of an EU-wide plan addressing brain health in a comprehensive and collaborative way. Successful examples of strategies in other disease areas already exist in Europe. 

These efforts will focus on implementing evidence based strategies for research, prevention, early detection and diagnosis, and adequate treatment. The aim is to meet the needs of patients, carers, doctors, researchers and industry.

Timely and cost effective interventions lie at the heart of our thinking. Against this backdrop, we are now developing a study looking at the value of treatment. 

Its objective is to assess the socio-economic impact of medical interventions, or the lack of thereof, and to provide evidence and tools that can assist policy-makers and all health actors in shaping effective policy responses to some of the most prevalent brain disorders.

As professor of clinical neurology and Year of the Brain in Europe ambassador Martin Rossor, says, "It is only with a healthy brain that we will solve so many of the challenges that face modern societies. Brain Health equals National Wealth." Healthy brains need to be put right at the heart of Europe and its 2020 strategy if indeed we are to increase Europe's economic competitiveness.


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