The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a new action plan designed to tackle the growing number of people affected by musculoskeletal conditions across Europe.
The plan, which is being presented to WHO Europe’s regional committee this week, has been welcomed as a potential turning point in the fight against these painful conditions by leading health charities, including ArthritisResearch UK.
A bold plan of action
The ‘action plan for the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases in the WHO European Region’ calls for all European countries to develop musculoskeletal health systems that facilitate prompt access to personalised care, with a focus on early intervention and self-management.
It also highlights the need for countries to:
- encourage people of all ages to get active to reduce obesity and avoid injuries
- introduce musculoskeletal health programmes for older people
- promote bone, joint and muscle health from school age onwards, and
- integrate musculoskeletal health promotion into workplace occupational health schemes.
Many of these issues have been underrepresented in public health policy worldwide, and the report is an important acknowledgement that action is urgently needed.
Preventing disability and pain
Currently, musculoskeletal conditions are the single biggest cause of disability and painacross the UK, causing a fifth of the population to visit their GP, more than £5 billion in NHS spending and 30.6 million working days to be lost each year.
The launch of the WHO action plan has been warmly welcomed by bodies including the Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Alliance (ARMA), as well as the Global Alliance for Musculoskeletal Health.
Professor Anthony Woolf, chair of ARMA, said: “Now, with people living longer, it is time for priority to be placed on dealing with this enormous burden from neck and back pain, rheumatic, arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions, to prevent unnecessary pain and disability and keep people independent.”
Arthritis Research UK’s view
Olivia Belle, director of external affairs at Arthritis Research UK, said: “For too long the pain and impact of arthritis have been underestimated. This is why the WHO’s recognition is so important. We urge the UK government to ensure that the needs of people with arthritis are embedded in all future relevant policy, especially in areas such as tackling health inequalities and employment.