UN health agency highlights lifestyle choices that can prevent onset of dementia, as millions more succumb each year

Key lifestyle choices such as getting regular exercise, not smoking or drinking too much, can reduce the risk of dementia and cognitive decline, the UN health agency said on Tuesday.

In recommendations to counter an expected tripling in the number of people with the degenerative condition in the next 30 years, the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines are designed to help medical professionals and governments to develop national policies.

Today, around 50 million people globally suffer from dementia and there are nearly 10 million new cases every year.

“We need to do everything we can to reduce our risk of dementia,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “The scientific evidence gathered for these guidelines confirm what we have suspected for some time: that what is good for our heart, is also good for our brain.”

According to WHO’s new guidelines, other lifestyle choices that people can make to reduce the risk of dementia include controlling their weight, eating healthily and maintaining healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

Last year, WHO provided support to countries such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Qatar, Slovenia and Sri Lanka to develop a comprehensive, multi-sectoral public health response to dementia, it said in a statement.

Reducing the risk of lifestyle choices linked to dementia is one of several areas of action included in WHO’s Global action plan for the public health response to the illness.

Other areas include strengthening diagnosis, treatment and care, with a particular emphasis on online support for carers of people with dementia.

“Dementia carers are very often family members who need to make considerable adjustments to their family and professional lives to care for their loved ones,” said Dr Dévora Kestel, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO. “This is why WHO created iSupport…an online training programme providing carers of people with dementia with advice on overall management of care, dealing with behaviour changes and how to look after their own health.”

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UN monitoring team in Yemen verifies pullout of armed forces from crucial port zones

 The UN team set up to monitor the ceasefire agreement between warring parties in Yemen has formally verified the pullout of armed Ansar Allah, or Houthi forces, from port zones in the country that are crucial to the flow of humanitarian aid, describing cooperation they have received so far as “very good.”

The Chair of the UN support mission (UNMHA), Lieutenant General Michael Lollesgaard, released a statement on Tuesday, confirming that the redeployment of forces from Hudaydah, Salif and Ras Issa ports, part of the deal struck between Houthi leaders and the Yemeni Government, went ahead as agreed, albeit with some exceptions: security of the ports was handed over to the coast guard, but, he said, “a lot of work needs to be done” to remove  military hardware.

The Lt. Gen. reiterated that the actions of the Houthis forces are the first moves in the broader redeployments in Hudaydah, part of the UN-backed Agreement that both parties signed up to in December 2018.

The next steps in the UN’s implementation of the Hudaydah Agreement are expected to include a strengthened UN presence to support the management of Hudaydah, Salif and Ras Issa, and to strengthen UNVIM, the UN body responsible for monitoring ships attempting to dock in the ports.

Full implementation of the agreement is critical for returning peace and stability to Yemen, said Lt. Gen. Lollesgaard, and “ensuring effective humanitarian access into the country where millions continue to be in need of life-saving assistance.”

On Tuesday, Martin Griffiths, the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, met the warring parties in the Jordanian capital of Amman, to begin discussing the implementation of the economic provisions of the Hudaydah Agreement.

Issues to be discussed included the management of revenues from the ports of Hudaydah, Ras Issa and Salif, and their use for the payment of public sector salaries throughout the country.

In Christchurch, UN chief calls for tolerance, solidarity to extinguish ‘wildfire’ of hate speech

Calling for solidarity to  counter the recent upsurge in hate speech, the UN chief visited both Linwood Mosque, where he laid a wreath, and Al Noor mosque. On 15 March, a lone gunman killed 51 people at the two places of worship while livestreaming the attacks on social media.

At Al Noor mosque on Tuesday, Mr. Guterres told the Muslim community that while there were no words to relieve the hurt and sorrow and pain, “I wanted to come here personally to transmit love, support and total and complete admiration.”

He said that like so many around the world, he had been moved by the poignant stories of compassion and grace from Christchurch.

“But in many ways, I was not surprised. This community reflected a spirit that I have always known to be deeply embedded in Islam – a faith of love, compassion, forgiveness and mercy,” he said.

He recalled that as UN High Commissioner for Refugees, he had witnessed the generosity of Muslim countries opening their borders to people in distress in a world where so many other borders are closed.

“This is in line with what I regard as the most beautiful prescription for refugee protection in world history. It is found in the Surah Al-Tawbah of the Holy Quran: ‘And if anyone seeks your protection, then grant him protection so that he can hear the words of Allah. Then escort him where he can be secure,’” quoted Mr. Guterres.

He also recalled that, during a visit to Cairo last month, he had been honoured to meet the Grand Imam, Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, and had thanked him for his recent interfaith meeting with Pope Francis in the United Arab Emirates. The declaration signed by the two leaders calls on people of faith to recognize and respect one another and work together for the good of humanity.

“We must stand together in this period of difficulties,” said the UN chief, adding that: “Hate speech is spreading and public discourse is being coarsened. Social media is being exploited as a platform for bigotry. We must all show solidarity in response to this dangerous upsurge in hatred.”

There is no room for hate speech

The Secretary-General spotlighted two recent initiatives he has set in motion, respectively to protect holy sites and to address hate speech.

He has asked the High Representative for the UN Alliance of Civilizations, Miguel Moratinos, to develop an Action Plan for the UN to be fully engaged in support of safeguarding religious sites.

Meanwhile, Mr. Guterres has also asked his Special Advisor for the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, to bring together a UN team to scale up our response to hate speech and present a global plan of action.

“Hate speech is spreading like wildfire in social media. We must extinguish it,” said the Secretary-General, declaring: “There is no room for hate speech – online or offline.”

UN Photo/Mark Garten
The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, lays a wreath in Christchurch memory of the victims of a mass shooting in the New Zealand city in March 2019. (May 2019)

Again quoting the Holy Quran, he said: ‘We … made you into races and tribes so that you may know one another.’

Thanking the Christchurch Muslim community “for doing what you’re doing to help us better know each other – and see our shared humanity,” Mr. Guterres said: “In these trying times, I am here to say with a full heart: You are not alone. The world is with you. The United Nations is with you. I am with you.”

The Secretary-General’s visit to New Zealand is part of a tour of the Pacific Island States in which the urgent issue of climate change figures strongly. On Wednesday, he will address the Pacific Islands Forum, being held this year in Fiji, before moving on to stops in Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Mr. Guterres is convening a major UN Climate Summit to be held at UN Headquarters in New York in September.