COVID-19 has drawn global attention to the sorry state of funding and R&D investment in vaccine development and pandemic prevention, but other previously neglected areas of health research are also now entering the spotlight. One of these underfunded areas is mental health and neurological disorders, leading a global group of stakeholders to band together and establish the Healthy Brains Global Initiative (HBGI) in the same vein as the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
Global mental healthcare costs are expected to balloon from USD 823 billion in 2010 to USD two trillion in 2030, with an additional whopping USD 16.3 trillion in cumulative lost productivity costs
The official launch is expected for early 2021 but an interim management board has already been convened, led for now by interim chief executive Brad Herbert, who was involved in the creation of the Global Fund and prior to that had worked at the World Bank for 27 years. US National Academy of Medicine president Victor Dzau and Californian entrepreneur and One Mind charity founder Garen Staglin have been appointed co-chairs of the interim board of directors.
According to statistics collected by HBGI, the needs in this space are urgent and significant; 25 percent of people in the world struggle with mental illness, and mental, neurological, and substance use disorders account for 11 percent of the total global disease burden. Global mental healthcare costs are expected to balloon from USD 823 billion in 2010 to USD two trillion in 2030, with an additional whopping USD 16.3 trillion in cumulative lost productivity costs. They also expect COVID-19 to exacerbate the approaching mental health crisis, warning that the pandemic has increased rates of depression and anxiety in people of all ages but especially the young.
To start, HBGI aims to raise USD ten billion from various public and private sources, including the International Finance Facility of the World Bank. According to an interview with Devex, interim CEO Herbert said he planned to leverage his experience at the World Bank and the Global Fund, with policies such as performance-based funding and other innovative financing models in order to fund both the Initiative’s shorter- and longer-term goals. He acknowledged that while fundraising is particularly challenging in this present climate, where most economies have shrunk considerably following cascading waves of lockdown measures, he believed it was possible to raise at least USD 100 million within a year to start the ball rolling.
HBGI has already outlined two initial lines of research: fund basic and translational research towards prevention, diagnostics and treatment for brain health conditions without existing effective treatments; and fund implementation research to scale delivery for conditions where treatments have not achieved their potential impact. In addition, HBGI will focus initially on six areas deemed to have the highest disease burden, the greatest degree of underfunding, and the largest opportunity to make a difference:
- depressive disorders
- anxiety disorders
- bipolar disorder
- epilepsy (particularly in low- and middle-income countries), and
- traumatic brain injuries
HBGI has already brought onboard key industry players like Johnson & Johnson and Otsuka Pharmaceuticals, as well as other global institutions like the World Health Organization, the World Economic Forum and UNICEF.