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WHO launches ‘first global initiative to tackle the epidemic of loneliness,’ with U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy as co-chair

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The World Health Organization will launch a commission on social connection, “the first global initiative to tackle the epidemic of loneliness,” the group’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, announced Wednesday.

The group—to be led by co-chairs U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and Chido Mpemba, youth envoy at the African Union Commission—will work to understand the health risks of social isolation and effective solutions, Ghebreyesus said.

Loneliness “takes a toll not only on the quality of individuals’ lives, but has enormous economic consequences,” with depression and anxiety costing the global economy $1 trillion each year, Murthy said during a WHO press conference announcing the initiative.

“For too long loneliness has existed behind the shadows, unseen and under-appreciated,” draining communities of their wellbeing, Murthy said. “Now we have an opportunity to change that.”

This spring, Murthy released a surgeon general advisory on the “epidemic of loneliness and isolation” in the U.S., saying it was an “underappreciated public health crisis that has harmed individual and societal health.”

“Our relationships are a source of healing and well-being hiding in plain sight—one that can help us live healthier, more fulfilled, and more productive lives,” he said in a statement at the time.

“Given the significant health consequences of loneliness and isolation, we must prioritize building social connection the same way we have prioritized other critical health issues such as tobacco, obesity, and substance use disorders,” he added.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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