As we embrace the festive spirit and come together with loved ones, it is also essential to reflect upon a pressing global issue that has gained prominence amid the challenges of the past year - the epidemic of loneliness. The World Health Organization (WHO) has taken a groundbreaking step by establishing a commission comprising 11 experts and policy-makers to address the critical issue of social isolation.
The WHO's initiative couldn't have come at a more crucial time, given the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, which brought social interactions to a standstill due to widespread restrictions. Loneliness is not merely a personal inconvenience; it poses severe consequences for health and well-being. Studies indicate that in older adults, loneliness is associated with a 50% increased risk of developing dementia and a 30% increased risk of incidents like coronary artery disease or stroke. The impact on mental health is equally concerning, with a higher risk of depression and suicide in individuals lacking social connections.
WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stressed the importance of governments recognizing the societal repercussions of loneliness, likening it to the seriousness with which issues like tobacco use, obesity, and addiction are addressed. The WHO Commission aims to guide global policy by identifying high-risk areas of social isolation and encouraging governments worldwide to develop innovative mental health solutions.
As we revel in the festive season, let us not forget that loneliness knows no boundaries of age or geography. Chido Mpemba, the co-chair of the commission and the African Union youth envoy, aptly emphasizes that social isolation should be treated as an international concern rather than a challenge limited to developed countries. Loneliness affects between 5% and 15% of adolescents, leading to poorer educational outcomes and an increased likelihood of dropping out of university.
Mpemba urges a paradigm shift in the narrative surrounding loneliness, asserting that investments in social connections are critical for creating productive, resilient, and stable economies. This resonates with the spirit of the festive season, which emphasizes unity, compassion, and the joy of shared moments. Our celebrations should extend beyond our immediate circles, fostering a sense of community that reaches across borders.
As we exchange gifts and gather around tables laden with festive delights, let us also take a moment to reflect on those who may be experiencing loneliness. The WHO Commission's work provides a beacon of hope, offering a chance to redefine global priorities and share interventions that promote social connection. This December, let us commit to building a world where no one feels alone, where the warmth of human connection transcends geographical and cultural boundaries. In doing so, we not only honor the festive spirit but also contribute to the well-being of current and future generations.
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