The World Health Organization (WHO) has launched a Commission on Social Connection, an initiative aimed at tackling the rising epidemic of loneliness as a critical health threat.
This initiative was revealed in a press statement shared on Thursday by the organisation.
The commission is Co-chaired by U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, and African Union Youth Envoy, Chido Mpemba. Together with 9 others, the Commission consists of 11 influential figures, including top policymakers, thought leaders, and advocates.
With a three-year mission, the Commission is set to dig deep into understanding the central role social connections play in overall health across all age groups. Their mission is to come up with practical solutions to foster widespread social connections.
The global health body states that the Commission will also consider how connection enhances the well-being of communities and societies and helps foster economic progress, social development, and innovation.
WHO highlights that social isolation and loneliness are widespread issues. One-quarter of older individuals deal with social isolation, a pattern seen globally.
The global health body said, “One in four older people experience social isolation and the rates are broadly similar in all regions. Among adolescents, between 5 – 15 percent experience loneliness, according to research findings. However, these figures are likely to be underestimated,”
Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, emphasizes the severe consequences of global loneliness on health and well-being.
“People without enough strong social connections are at higher risk of stroke, anxiety, dementia, depression, suicide, and more. This WHO Commission will help establish social connection as a global health priority and share the most promising interventions,” Dr Ghebreyesus said.
According to the organisation, lack of social connection can be as lethal as other better-known health risks like smoking, excessive drinking, physical inactivity, obesity and air pollution.
“It’s not just about mental health – studies reveal that social isolation can spike the risk of cardiovascular disease by a whopping 30 percent.” WHO states in the press statement.
Dr. Vivek Murthy, Co-chair of the commision, expresses his excitement about collaborating with the Commission members to promote social connection, as a crucial aspect of well-being.
“I am thrilled to work closely with an outstanding group of Commissioners on advancing social connection – a vital component of well-being. Together, we can build a world that is less lonely, healthier, and more resilient.
Dr. Vivek underlines the urgency of investing in rebuilding the social fabric of society, likening it to efforts addressing other global health concerns.
“Given the profound health and societal consequences of loneliness and isolation, we must make the same investments in rebuilding the social fabric of society that we have made in addressing other global health concerns, such as tobacco use, obesity, and the addiction crisis”, Dr. Vivek said.