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Home » Alzheimer's disease, EU Health, Focus, Health

Malta’s proactive approach against Dementia

Submitted by on 13 Nov 2017 – 15:27

Malta recently collaborated with the European Commission to convene the EU Governmental Experts Group on Dementia to discuss current and future developments in dementia treatment and care. Hon. Dr Justyne Caruana MP, Minister for Gozo discusses the country’s policy challenges in managing the mind-robbing disease and offers policy recommendations for fellow EU member states

Malta is the smallest country in the European Union and as with the rest of other European countries, it has a growing elderly population. With this comes the challenge of dementia which will inevitably place an enormous burden on our health and social care systems. There are over 6,000 individuals with dementia in Malta, equivalent to 1.5% of the Maltese population.

This figure will increase to 3.5% by the year 2050. There is little doubt that dementia is seriously undermining the social and economic development globally as highlighted in the first WHO Ministerial Conference on Global Action Against Dementia in 2015. People with dementia, their caregivers and family members face a significant financial burden in terms of health and social care as well as loss of income.

One of the biggest priorities for Europe in its fight against dementia should be to shrink the gap between the need for prevention, treatment and care and the actual provision of services that are needed for people with dementia and their caregivers. Dementia is under-diagnosed and long-term pathways are often fragmented or non-existent. Lack of understanding and awareness of dementia are often to blame leading to stigmatisation and barriers to diagnosis and care.  People with dementia are frequently denied their human rights in both the community and long-term care settings.

Malta took a proactive approach to tackle the challenge of dementia. In 2015, we launched our dementia strategy that focuses on a number of interventions aimed at improving the quality of life of individuals with dementia, their caregivers and family members. A number of initiatives have been launched including training programmes to formal staff, the opening of a new dementia activity centre in the sister island of Gozo, extension of the dementia helpline, the launch of the dementia intervention team and the piloting of a dementia-friendly village, amongst others.

During our Presidency, Malta together with the Netherlands and Slovakia who held the preceding Presidencies for the Council of the European Union in 2016 signed a joint statement calling upon the European Commission to:

– Promote and support international cooperation in dementia research and improve the coordination of existing European research programmes

– Promote and support the exchange and implementation of best practices in dementia care, diagnosis and prevention

– Promote and stimulate the development of a society that supports and accepts people with dementia as worthy members of society.

We also urged our fellow EU-member states to:

– Promote, participate and support international cooperation in dementia research

– Work together in the exchange and implementation of good practices in the field of dementia

– Support individuals with dementia to have the best possible quality of life, to live with dignity, participate in society in accordance with their human rights and accept them as worthy members of society

– Support patient advocacy by national and international Alzheimer organisations.

As part of its programme of its Presidency of the European Union, Malta also collaborated with DG SANTE of the European Commission to convene the EU Governmental Experts Group on Dementia in Malta in May to discuss current and future developments in dementia including the fostering of further collaboration in dementia across all EU-member states in order to be better prepared to face the dementia challenge.

This meeting included a tour de table of national health ministry representatives from twenty European countries presenting their latest national initiatives in the dementia field. The meeting was also an opportunity for the national representatives to be updated about the progress of the European Union Joint Action on Dementia and its focus on timely diagnosis and post-diagnostic support, care coordination, residential care and dementia-friendly communities, as well as about other international efforts by the World Health Organisation and its global action plan on dementia and global dementia observatory and by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and its work on care indicators in dementia.

A side event of the Experts’ Group meeting was a visit by the EU Presidency Trio representatives to Gozo to demonstrate the effective and holistic approach towards dementia friendly communities.

Apart from the European dimension, Malta believes in a coordinated global approach to dementia. We co-sponsored a side event about dementia in Geneva in 2016 during the 69th World Health Assembly organised by the World Health Organisation. Furthermore, we have actively encouraged and supported the drafting of the WHO Global Action on Dementia that aims to encourage nations to truly commit themselves towards working out a comprehensive and holistic approach to dementia.