Parkinson’s Experts, WHO Meet to Tackle Disease’s Global Challenges

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by Mary Chapman |

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Parkinson’s disease experts worldwide, in a recent virtual meeting with the World Health Organization (WHO), discussed issues related to the neurodegenerative disease that will be the basis of a report to the United Nations detailing ways to improve life for patients and their families.

The two-day meeting was reportedly the first in more than two decades with a global Parkinson’s policy and research agenda. The WHO, a part of the United Nations (U.N.), works internationally to promote health, respond to medical emergencies, and guide healthcare policy.

Some 30 international Parkinson’s experts, including five members of The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF), attended the meeting. Larry Gifford, an MJFF Patient Council member, contributed a patient’s perspective. The council aims to ensure that patients help to inform and support efforts that affect them.

“It’s great to have the World Health Organization’s attention on the issues people with Parkinson’s face,” Gifford said in a press release. “We all need to work together — think global, act local — to find better treatments and a cure for Parkinson’s disease.”

Public health challenges, like chemicals linked to Parkinson’s, were part of the discussion. The MJFF and other advocates favor U.S. legislation — that stalled in Congress in 2020 — banning pesticides thought dangerous to health, including the herbicide paraquat that is associated with a heightened Parkinson’s risk.

Group discussions focused on low- and middle-income countries, and centered around disease prevention, diagnostics, treatment, and advocacy.

“It seems people with Parkinson’s face similar challenges around the world — such as stigma and lack of access to specialty care and treatments — but to a much different extent,” said Rachel Dolhun, MD, MJFF senior vice president of medical communications, after the meeting. “The Michael J. Fox Foundation’s work in addressing these needs includes the Edmond J. Safra Fellowship in Movement Disorders, which aims to grow the global base of expert Parkinson’s doctors and researchers.”

A report to the U.N. will follow, and is expected to recommend public education campaigns and other approaches that address the disease’s stigma in low- and middle-income countries.

It will also address ways to use public policy — such as banning toxic chemicals — to lower the number of new diagnosis, and provide suggestions for improving the diagnosis, care, and treatment of Parkinson’s patients worldwide.

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