WHO Declares Loneliness a Global Public Health Concern; Urges Action to Address the Growing Threat

Rozana Spokesman  | Amanat Thaper

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The World Health Organization (WHO) launches an international commission to tackle loneliness as a pressing health threat

WHO News

WHO News: In a significant move highlighting the impact of loneliness on public health, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared it a pressing global concern. The announcement comes as the organization launches an international commission, led by the US surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, and the African Union youth envoy, Chido Mpemba, to address the multifaceted challenges posed by loneliness.

The effects of loneliness, as underscored by Dr. Murthy, are comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, surpassing even the health risks associated with obesity and physical inactivity. As the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted economic and social activities globally, levels of loneliness have surged, prompting a new awareness of the issue's importance.

The WHO commission on social connection, featuring 11 advocates and government ministers from around the world, including Ralph Regenvanu of Vanuatu and Ayuko Kato of Japan, aims to tackle the widespread impact of loneliness on health, wellbeing, and development. This initiative recognizes loneliness as a pervasive issue transcending borders and affecting individuals across age groups and regions.

According to Dr. Murthy, one in four older people worldwide experiences social isolation, with risks including a 50% increased likelihood of developing dementia and a 30% increased risk of incident coronary artery disease or stroke. Contrary to common perception, loneliness is not limited to developed countries; it is a global challenge requiring collective attention.

The WHO commission on social connection is set to run for three years, emphasizing the urgency and long-term commitment needed to address the complex issue of loneliness. Mpemba highlights the need to redefine the narrative surrounding loneliness, particularly for vulnerable populations excluded by the digital divide. She notes that challenges such as peace, security, the climate crisis, and high levels of unemployment contribute to social isolation, particularly among young people in Africa.

Dr. Murthy concludes, "These issues don't affect one country... [Loneliness] is an underappreciated public health threat." The global initiative aims to foster a deeper understanding of the impact of loneliness and implement strategies to mitigate its effects on individuals across diverse demographics.