France Has Not Invested Enough to Prepare for the Threat Posed by Alzheimer’s Disease

 The president of France Alzheimer, Joël Jaouen, and the director of the Global Coalition on Aging, Mike Hodin, warn in an op-ed for ‘Le Monde’ about the government’s disengagement in terms of financing disease prevention and access to care. This piece originally appeared in French.

 France, like almost every developed country in the world, is aging – a demographic fact that will lead to new public health challenges as significant as the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, more than 20% of the population is 65 years or older. By 2050, that number will rise to nearly 30%.

The aging of France all but guarantees a continuous rise in diseases that target the elderly. And perhaps the most devastating is Alzheimer’s – a disease that robs people of their memories, their independence, and their right to age with dignity. 

The big question is: Is France taking the actions needed to prepare for the looming Alzheimer’s pandemic? 

Unfortunately, the answer is a disappointing “no” – the current government is not investing adequately to prepare for the coming Alzheimer’s crisis. In fact, the country has taken several steps backward. And, in many ways, the crisis is already here. 

Today, more than 1.2 million people in France are living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias – a figure that will inevitably rise with the aging population. This devastating disease became the fourth leading cause of death in France in 2018, before the COVID-19 pandemic.

 To help stakeholders gauge France’s ability to meet this challenge, the Global Coalition on Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease International released the 2021 Alzheimer’s Innovation Readiness Index. The Index examines progress against several important measures of readiness, including a country’s policy and political commitment, early detection and diagnosis efforts, access to care and other factors. 

Overall, France currently ranks in the middle of the pack among European countries. Yet there are troubling signs that France risks falling behind. 

Most importantly, France’s political leaders have reneged on previous funding commitments to Alzheimer’s, signaling a lack of political will to address this slow-moving pandemic. 

Overall federal funding is down considerably compared to the €1.6 billion commitment of the Sarkozy years. In the Hollande administration, investment fell to €470 million and was spread over multiple diseases.

Restoring funding to previous levels is desperately needed to improve France’s diagnostic infrastructure, which is critical to ensuring early detection of the disease and putting people on the right care pathways before it’s too late. 

France also needs to make sizable investments to boost the country’s supply of trained caregivers. This is essential not simply to create enough supply to meet coming demand, but also to provide relief to family members and loved ones often shoulder this responsibility. As of 2015, these informal caregivers were already providing about €14 billion worth of care – a figure that is surely higher today and completely unsustainable.

According to the Index, France also ranks near the bottom in terms of access to care. This is also because prescriptions for Alzheimer’s therapies have plunged following the health ministry’s 2018 decision to cut all reimbursements.

Reimbursement strategies for Alzheimer’s drugs should also be revisited. This will produce better health outcomes for people who rely on current therapies and boost incentives for investments in new breakthroughs that can slow disease progression. 

President Macron’s new government — and the soon-to-be-elected French parliamentarians — have a unique opportunity to change course, by boosting funding in these key areas. In doing so, they can help France reassume the leadership position it held during the implementation of the 2008-2012 Alzheimer Plan and reduce the long-term economic and social burden of Alzheimer’s. At the same time, they can dramatically improve the lives of millions of its older citizens, their family members and loved ones who will be impacted by this devastating disease. 

Source: Le Monde

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