Mental health

Neurology and public health

Launch of the report "Dementia: a public health priority"

The report “Dementia: a public health priority” has been jointly developed by WHO and Alzheimer's Disease International. The purpose of this report is to raise awareness of dementia as a public health priority, to articulate a public health approach and to advocate for action at international and national levels.

  • Epilepsy Management at Primary Health Level in rural China
    pdf, 1.65Mb

    This report is based on the demonstration project “Epilepsy Management at a Primary Health Level”, implemented in rural People's Republic of China, under the aegis of WHO and the Ministry of Health, within the framework of ILAE/IBE/WHO Global Campaign Against Epilepsy. It documents the success achieved in reducing the epilepsy treatment gap by managing epilepsy at a primary health-care level. It also presents the lessons derived for the development of effective and sustainable epilepsy scaling up strategy in resource-poor settings.
  • Chinese version
    pdf, 4.17Mb

This new publication from WHO and the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation (MSIF) presents evidence on the global epidemiology of multiple sclerosis and the resources to diagnose, treat, rehabilitate, support and provide services to people with MS. Atlas-MS summarizes information from 112 countries, representing 88% of the global population, thus can be considered as the leading global assessment on multiple sclerosis. The results of the survey reveal a lack of services and resources allocated to the care of people with MS. The situation is of particular concern in most low and middle income countries.


Mental and neurological disorders are highly prevalent worldwide. The Global Burden of Disease report drew the attention of the international health community to the fact that the burden of mental and neurological disorders has been seriously underestimated by traditional epidemiological methods that took into account only mortality, but not disability rates. This report specifically showed that while the mental and neurological disorders are responsible for about one per cent of deaths, they account for almost 11 per cent of disease burden the world over. The Study has demonstrated that magnitude and burden of neurological disorders are huge and that they are priority health problems globally. The extension of life expectancy and the ageing of the general populations in both developed and developing countries are likely to increase the prevalence of many chronic and progressive physical and mental conditions including neurological disorders. The proportionate share of the total global burden of disease due to neuropsychiatric disorders is projected to rise to 14.7% by 2020.

Over the years, WHO programmes, projects and activities in the areas of mental and neurological disorders have been closely linked. To address the large and increasing burden, many activities are being undertaken by the Programme on Neurological Disorders and Neuroscience. These are focused on prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of neurological disorders which are of public health importance as they occur frequently, cause substantial disability, create a burden on individuals, families, communities and societies all over the world. These comprise epilepsy, headache, dementias (including Alzheimer's disease), multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease and other hyperkinetic disorders, stroke, pain syndromes, and brain injury. The programme's main goal is to ensure that an appropriate range of care is made available to all people with neurological disorders in every country of the world. To achieve this, the programme emphasizes that neurological services should be provided at all levels of health care systems and especially in primary care settings where most patients with neurological disorders receive their treatment and care.

The strategies adopted to decrease the public health impact of neurological disorders include collection of epidemiological data; assessment of neurological resources including deficiencies and impediments to adequate health care delivery; estimation of human resources; evaluation of costs and health needs; organization of services; research on risk and other public health factors relevant to the prevention and treatment of neurological disorders; education and training of health care workers dealing with patients with neurological disorders; planning of programmes and policies for the control of neurological disorders; and formulation and implementation of specific strategies for prevention of neurological disorders. In carrying out these activities, WHO has been closely collaborating with the national and international, professional, and non-governmental organizations concerned with prevention and treatment of specific neurological disorders or in general.

For more information, please click the core projects and activities listed in the right column.

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