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Former Health CS appointed to new WHO commission tackling human loneliness

Dr Cleopa Mailu also served as CEO of The Nairobi Hospital and has been Kenya's permanent representative to the UN in Geneva since 2018.

Former Health CS Dr Cleopa Mailu appointed to WHO Commission to Foster Social Connection

Former Health Cabinet Secretary Dr Cleopa Mailu has been appointed as one of the 11 commissioners in the World Health Organisation's new commission to foster social connection.

In an announcement made on Wednesday, the Commission on Social Connection will have a three-year mandate to address loneliness as a pressing health threat and to promote social connection as a priority.

“High rates of social isolation and loneliness around the world have serious consequences for health and wellbeing. People without enough strong social connections are at higher risk of stroke, anxiety, dementia, depression, suicide and more,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “This WHO Commission will help establish social connection as a global health priority and share the most promising interventions.”

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The commission will be co-chaired by U.S. Surgeon General, Dr Vivek Murthy, and African Union Youth Envoy, Chido Mpemba. In addition to Dr Mailu and the co-chairs, the other commissioners are:-

  1. Ayuko Kato, Minister in charge of measures for Loneliness and Isolation, Japan
  2. Khalid Ait Taleb, Minister of Health and Social Protection, Morocco
  3. Jakob Forssmed, Minister for Health and Social Affairs, Sweden
  4. Ximena Aguilera Sanhueza, Minister of Health, Chile
  5. Ralph Regenvanu, Minister of Climate Change, Vanuatu
  6. Haben Girma, Deaf-Blind Advocate and Activist, United States
  7. Hina Jilani, Elder and Human Rights Lawyer, Pakistan
  8. Karen Desalvo, Chief Health Officer, Google, United States

Social isolation is defined as having an insufficient number of social connections, and loneliness.

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Lack of social connection has been shown to increase the risk of early death and has a serious impact on physical and mental health; studies show that it has been linked to anxiety and depression and can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease by 30%.

Social disconnection can also lead to poorer education outcomes. Young people experiencing loneliness in high school are more likely to drop out of university.

It can also lead to poorer economic outcomes; feeling disconnected and unsupported at work can lead to poorer job satisfaction and performance.

Current estimates indicate that one in four older people experience social isolation and among adolescents, between 5­­–15% experience loneliness. Figures WHO says are likely to be underestimations.

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