Annual loss in human capital arising from mental health conditions in children aged 0-19 is $387.2 billion

An astonishing 99 per cent of all people worldwide breathe polluted air and it severely affects the health and development of the human brain, alerted the World Health Organization (WHO) in its new position paper.

Brain health should be optimised to improve the lives of people and communities across the world, WHO further added in its position paper Optimising brain health across the life course, launched August 9, 2022.

The organisation also called for establishing brain health as a global policy priority.

Brain health is defined as the state of brain functioning across cognitive, sensory, socio-emotional, behavioural and motor domains, allowing a person to realise their full potential, irrespective of the presence or absence of disorders.

Children who miss their developmental potential are projected to earn about 26 per cent less annually as adults, the paper added.

In 2017, 43 per cent of children under five years in low and middle-income countries were at risk of not reaching their developmental potential due to extreme poverty and stunting, stated WHO.

A child’s brain creates over one million new neuronal connections each second in the first few years of life, the organisation estimated.

The annual loss in human capital arising from mental health conditions in children aged 0-19 is $387.2 billion, another analysis by the United Nations Children’s Fund stated.

The paper presents a framework for understanding and optimising brain health across the course of life.

It is a technical complement to the recently-adopted Intersectoral Global Action Plan on epilepsy and other neurological disorders 2022–2031.

Only 15 countries have family-friendly policy protections to safeguard child brain development, such as — tuition-free pre-primary school education, legislation that supports breastfeeding and paid maternity and paternity leave.

Cuba, France, Portugal, Russia and Sweden are among the countries that guarantee all the three policies.

Global action on brain health is grossly insufficient, stated WHO. Despite growing threats to brain health, there is a limited policy response to address brain health comprehensively and there are inadequate services to promote and optimise brain health for people with lived experience.

Numerous barriers for accessing timely and responsive services for neurological disorders exist globally, including the limited number of health workers with neurology-specific training and lower-resource allocations.

Brain health can be optimised through five major determinants — physical health, healthy environments, safety and security, learning and social connection and access to quality services.

Optimising brain health improves mental and physical health and also creates positive social and economic impacts, all of which contribute to greater well-being and help advance society, irrespective of the presence or absence of disorders.

Efforts to optimise brain health require multi-stakeholder collaboration and must be integrated across all sectors of society. Multisectoral engagement and collaboration are urgently needed in order to move the brain health agenda forward.

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