By the time the next GOFAD's Blog is written, there should be indications or the possible results of what has been referred to as the most consequential elections in the USA. Based on the trends in the polls and assessment of the data, it appears that former Vice President Biden should emerge as the 46th President. The state of a post American world would however extend beyond the Presidency to Democratic control of both the Congress and Senate.
What Polls and Data indicate
Evaluation of President Trump's overall performance is reflected in his 43% approval rating compared with 54% for Joe Biden. While on the major issues, the President's best approval rating of 54% for the economy exceeds Biden's at 45% they are below Biden's for Health care 43% to 57%; for COVID 41% to 57% and race relations 38%- 68%.
Among the issues with the greatest impact on voter appeal is the President's mishandling the coronavirus pandemic. The data released today show approximately 80,000 new infections per day that have persisted over the past week, the highest level since April. This is to be measured alongside the news that GDP growth has risen by 33%. While this is good news for President Trump, it has to be compared with 31% negative GDP growth in the third quarter, which still leaves the economy in a deep hole and its recovery, in reality, benefiting those at the top of the income scale. There is overwhelming evidence that the Trump administration provided multi-tax cuts to the richest Americans and corporations; and before COVID-19, cut food stamps and welfare programmes, and failed to provide financial support to low income households and small businesses during the pandemic.
Issues that Determine Choices
In the equation to affect the final outcome of the elections are the performances of the candidates in pivotal states such as Pennsylvania and Florida and battleground states including Texas, Ohio, Georgia, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan some of which Trump flipped from Democrats in 2016. There are also demographic trends among special groups including urban women, black males, the elderly and Hispanic subgroups (Latinos, Cubans, Puerto Ricans), all of which can tilt the balance.
The emerging choices except for the Hispanic group, favour the platform being promoted by Biden-Harris that the economic trajectory need to follow the management of the health crisis. This is in contradiction to the Trump-Pence posture, intentionally denying the great risk of COVID-19, failure to implement a coherent pandemic strategy and touting the incredible view unsupported by the scientific data that the US is turning the bend in curbing the disease.
Much more than choices highlighting the coronavirus are the dangers of white supremacy, climate change, criminal justice, education, overturning the Affordable Care Act and immigration including the separation of the over 500 Hispanic children from their parents. In response, Biden has announced that one of his first acts as President would be to establish a Task Force to advise on the immediate strategies to unite these children with their parents.
Despite these trends, generally favorable to the Democrats, the elections are far from sealed and delivered. Pronouncements from the Trump campaign seem designed to foster voter intimidation, undermine the integrity of mail-in ballots which favour Democrats, blatant attempts to use the Supreme Court to subtract the votes from Democratic leaning states.
The Interregnum in Foreign Policy
What is important to note is that foreign policy and national security, issues of importance to developing countries like Latin America and the Caribbean, have been residuals in the campaign. This is no doubt due to the fact that Jihadist terrorism, for example, has not been a dominant concern for the first time since 2000. The President benefited from voters’ fear of terrorists in 2016. This year, threats - chief among which are the coronavirus pandemic, the racial justice movement and “Donald Trump's leadership -- are closer home. This is also due to the fact that under President Donald Trump, the infrastructure of diplomacy is crumbling. According to Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro in an interview with the Foreign Policy Magazine (October 28, 2020) the barrage of attacks from the president on appointees has torpedoed morale and thinned the ranks of seasoned foreign policy professionals. Applications to join the U.S. Foreign Service have plummeted since Trump took office, starving the State Department of new talent". The call is to 'bring American diplomacy back from the brink' which is fundamental to a post elections reconstruction of America's global image.
Character and a Just Future are on the Ballot
The final statements of the second Presidential debate on October 23, 2020 were perhaps a microcosm of each candidate's overall campaign. The responses encapsulated perhaps the most crucial difference between the two presidential candidates The host, Kristen Welker asked each what they would say to Americans who didn't vote for them in their inaugural address.
Trump: "I am cutting taxes, and he wants to raise everybody’s taxes, and he wants to put new regulations on everything.. He will kill it. If he gets in, you will have a depression the likes of which you have never seen. Your 401(k)s will go to hell and it will be a very, very sad day for this country.”
Biden: “Character is on the ballot ... As America’s President, I will represent all of you, whether you voted for me or against me. And I’m going to make sure that you’re represented. I’m going to give you hope… Decency, honor, respect, treating people with dignity, making sure that everyone has an even chance. And I’m going to make sure you get that.”
It is however an article in the The Lancet (October 19), that best summarizes why and how we vote: "In the 2020 US election, we can choose a just future"
As Guyana prepares to chair the meeting of the Group of 77 at the UN’s Virtual session on October 29-30 2020, it is clear from a statement by Hon Hugh Todd, Guyana’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and international Business that the forum will provide the opportunity for discourse on some of the most important global issues, the SDGs, Climate Change, the COVID-19 pandemic and the restructuring of Financing for Development .
Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley at the Virtual Pivot Event coordinated by the IDB, October 16, aptly frames the aspirational goal for Guyana’s role at the G77: “Time to Pivot the Caribbean as a Global leader.” (For those who may not have seen it, this brilliant YouTube presentation is attached at the end of the blog).
The context for Guyana’s agenda at the G77 has also been established at the 75th Anniversary of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) September 22-29, 2020 and the IMF-World Bank annual meetings October 12-18, 2020. First is the call for a Marshall Plan for the most affected COVID-19 developing countries by Jamaican Prime Minster Andrew Holness, joint chair with Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of the UNGA Conference “The Future we want, the United Nations we need: reaffirming our collective commitment – confronting COVID-19 —through effective multilateral action ( September 22-29, 2020). This position was generally endorsed at both the IMF-World Bank Annual Meetings following the UNGA and the UN ECLAC Meetings which preceded it. The case was made for Latin American and Caribbean economies, particular the latter with high dependence on tourism for international support to prioritize critical spending for health, transfers to the poor to ensure maximum efficiency. These require international grants, concessional financing, and debt relief in some cases. Where debt is unsustainable, there has been strong advocacy for forgiveness rather than restructuring to free up finances to deal with the crisis.
GOFAD’s Reflection on the Issues from its blog on January 10, 2020
The decade of 2020 began with St Vincent and the Grenadines and Guyana headlining the Caribbean at the helm of global leadership at the United Nations. On January 2, St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) signified the magnitude of its international status, the smallest country ever to sit on the Security Council, the highest UN organization. It is one of 10 non-permanent members of the Security Council, which also comprises 5 permanent members. At the UWI Vice Chancellor’s Forum on November 7, 2019, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves aptly described this moment as “St. Vincent and the Grenadines representing the World but with geographic interests of the Caribbean civilization". It is important to note that St. Vincent and the Grenadines continues its year as Chair of the Caribbean ACP Forum (CARIFORUM) and assumed the Chair of CARICOM in July, 2020.
At the same time, Guyana succeeded Palestine as Chair of the Group of Group of 77 (G-77). A formal handover on January 15, was significant. G-77 is the largest intergovernmental organization of developing countries in the United Nations. It provides the means for advancing South-South Cooperation and for the countries of the South to articulate and promote their collective economic interests and enhance their joint negotiating capacity on all major international economic issues within the United Nations system.
For The Record
This is not the first time that Caribbean countries have held prestigious positions in the UN system. In 1993, H. E. Mr. Samuel R. Insanally, Permanent Representative of Guyana to the United Nations, had the distinction of being the first CARICOM representative to be elected to the Presidency of the General Assembly. At the 58th General Assembly, in 2003, Ambassador Julian Hunte of St Lucia assumed the Presidency. Previous CARCOM non-permanent members of the Security Council include Guyana (1976 and 1983); Jamaica (1980 and 2000); and Trinidad and Tobago (1986). In the case of Chairs of G-77 the record shows: Jamaica 1977 and 2005; Guyana 1999 and Antigua and Barbuda 2008 .
What is at Stake?
At the start of the new Decade of 2020, and prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the international arena was consumed by mandates to achieve the comprehensive targets of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Within this framework for action, the most prominent for both the Security Council and the G77 are peace and security, climate change, equality and inclusiveness and financing for development. In recent years, the Security Council has found the Syrian conflict particularly difficult to manage, with Russia using its veto powers to bloc resolutions aimed at making the Assad regime accountable for atrocities documented by UN sources. St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) will no doubt be involved in the debates on (a) institutional change resulting from the outsized power of veto wielding member states; (b) the issue of aspirants to permanent status including Brazil, Germany and India; (c) the peace keeping mandates including the scope, cost and abuses of peacekeepers; and (d) the case of protection of civilians and migrants, especially grave violations against children in conflict situations. It is reasonable to assume that the Caribbean interests in the Security Council will, in addition, revolve around achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change; the priorities of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), upholding international humanitarian law, UN reform, the Convention on land degradation and comprehensive agreement on biodiversity and deforestation.
Within the G-77, Guyana as Chair may have greater leverage than SVG as a non-permanent member of the Security council. This has more to do with the structure of the G-77 and the more flexible scope of its programme than with the competence of the diplomats involved. The First Ministerial meeting of the G-77 held in Algeria in October 1967, and the adoption of the Charter of Algiers, the Group of 77 laid down the institutional mechanisms and structures that have contributed to shaping the international development agenda and changing the landscape of the global South for the past five decades. Over the years, the Group has gained an increasing role in the determination and conduct of international relations through global negotiations on major North-South and development issues. Today, the G-77 remains the only viable and operational mechanism in multilateral economic diplomacy within the U.N. system. The growing membership to 135 members is proof of its enduring strength. Based on a public opinion survey by the Pew Research Center among G-77 Leaders 2018-2019, the emerging priorities include global financial stability, global economic stability, climate change, energy and the environment, technological innovation and cybersecurity, trade and investment and women empowerment. In addition, the sectoral meetings of G-77 in areas such as food and agriculture, energy, trade and finance, science and technology, industrialization and sustainable development, allows for increased participation by and in a variety of member states. The overarching issue of China and the global South will offer special challenges which is highlighted in a lecture in the GOFAD Resource page by Prof Heine Jorge, China and the Global South: From Debt Diplomacy to Dependency
Grasping Opportunities to enhance Profile and Influence Pivoting to Caribbean to Global Leadership
On the basis of lessons learned, success arising from leadership positions for the Caribbean depends on a number of factors. Among them: the international environment, whether stable or volatile; cooperation among developed and developing country partners; technical and negotiating capability required to broker patterns of conflict and conflict management; financial sustainability to support administration and diplomacy and the backing of CARICOM Member states.
There are other success factors that must be considered to enhance the roles of SVG and Guyana in the leadership structures of the UN. Among them are adherence to a coordinated regional foreign policy, one of the pillars of CARICOM; recognition that the purpose of foreign policy is to utilize sovereignty to engage in multilateral/bilateral arrangements; sustaining and promoting the Caribbean as a zone of peace; standing firm on the AOSIS agenda for Climate action and building coalitions of the willing. COVID 19 has dramatized the essence of these factors around which to pivot
See Barbados Prime Minister, Mia Mottley: "Time To Pivot: The Caribbean As A Global Leader" https://youtu.be/Dxb6tH4slqI
As we embark on this week’s theme, the plenary addresses by the IMF Managing Director, Kristalina Georgieva and the World Bank Group President, David Malpass at the IMF-World Bank Annual Meeting this morning (October 15) sounded the dire warning that the world faces a new Bretton Woods moment. This is a recognition of two major factors. The first is that a durable global economy is possible only if the COVID-19 pandemic can be defeated. The second, that sustainable recovery depends on staving off a combined health, economic and hunger crisis by protecting nature, helping the poorest and increasing jobs. The base line message is that a resilient global recovery requires global solidarity. This has been reinforced in the IMF-World Bank sessions at this 2020 Annual Meeting through policies for debt forgiveness, placing emphasis on emergency aid to bolster health systems, boasting human capital with special reference to strengthening education and training, closing the gender gap, investing in young people and digitization with equity. These are vital conditions for University leaders in the Caribbean and elsewhere to balance priorities, invest in the current generation now to meet the needs of the future, thereby achieving a better normal.
This is the context in which to place the International Association of Universities (IAU) webinar, Leading Universities in an Age of Uncertainty, October 6, moderated by Andreas Cocoran, IAU Secretary General and panelists: Manokgethi Phakeng, Vice Chancellor University of Cape Town; Andrew Deeks, President, University of Dublin; and Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice Chancellor, University of the West Indies. The panelists agreed that the current pandemic has accelerated the future of higher education for enhanced relevance, survival and revising business models while maintaining the mission for research, teaching and innovation. This means that the planning process must be responsive to national policy and embrace collegiate dimensions based on a team approach of collective leadership. These are essential elements on which to base logistical arrangements, unambiguous communications and decision making. The key principles include commitment to the students’ journey within rapidly changing government public health guidelines and an eye on long term ambitions for telegraphing the high value of the University to national, regional and global economic sustainability.
It is clear that the Vice Chancellors of the Universities of Cape Town and UWI were required to take into consideration the importance of poverty and inequality affecting their student populations, resulting in the fact that not all students are able to move online because of lack of resources. The most basic of these are unavailability of laptops, unstable network connections and difficulties to undertake social distancing because of crowded living conditions. At the University of Cape Town, its Center for Innovation and Learning was charged with the responsibility for communicating with key stakeholders including alumni and other donors. It also involved readjusting modules, technical services and getting learning material to students with no or inadequate digital access. But there was another aspect involving both academic and non- academic, administrative and support staff requiring moving offices from campus to people’s homes. Most of these activities require mobilizing resources, compassionate responses and reprogramming budgets within the University, including establishing COVID-19 Emergency Funds.
For UWI the greatest challenge was keeping the University focused on retention of students, supporting continuing students and motivating potential students. To sustain a vibrant student population was another challenge. This is due to the pain and suffering that afflicted many of their of families caused by curfews and economic dislocations compounded by primary/secondary students now doing online learning, competing for the use of the scarce technical resources and physical space. In addition, is the urging of young people, especially girls, not to retreat from education. Notwithstanding these challenges, enrollment at UWI in 2020-2021 is 5 percent higher than in 2019-2020.
In the case of Dublin University, the proactive policy for moving business online created tensions with the faction that supported keeping students on campus. It meant that the efforts of the leadership team needed to placate the gulf between the low and high risk aversions within the system. This resulted in a nuanced approach due to a diversity of responses. These differences between University leadership at Dublin and those at Cape Town and UWI tended to mirror the tensions in the wider society.
Among the most critical factors common to all universities in this discussion, include cohesive and decisive leadership from which emerge lessons learned are as follows:
Sir Hilary Beckles and the New Paradigm
Over and above these lessons Sir Hilary Beckles provided a key refrain by promoting a new paradigm based on "never let a recession go to waste". It is his view that Universities have pivoted within the knowledge economy and therefore constructed their missions to produce students within the prisms of knowledge, science and technology and economic development models. This was predicated on the assumption that the University's role is to stimulate movement from underdevelopment to sustainable development. COVID-19 has upended this. It has laid bare the social inequalities due to the fact that the majority of its community maybe described as marginalized and disenfranchised students. Consequently, the University faces an ethical crisis. Its response must therefore change. The UWI Task Force on the COVID-19 response, for example, became the authentic source for disseminating scientific information, engaging the public and winning their trust. Its membership was drawn from the faculties of medicine, social sciences, business, gender and law among others in a transdisciplinary discourse. This is likely to even usher more multidisciplinary approaches to learning and building a better future.
To vision this better future calls into question a series of issues such as: how to re-arrange, re-programme and re-align activities? Is it a logistical exercise only? What are the implications for financial security? Where to get the required funding? Why must there be a weighting of the allocation of funding that disadvantages tertiary education? Who are the viable partners?
Responses to these questions are important. They hark back to the context of this blog. Besides dealing with the scientific basis of overcoming COVID-19, the primary concerns centre on investing in human capital: education and training, closing the gender gap, young people, digitization with equity. The financing of public universities such as UWI is based on contributions from government, student fees and sponsorships and endowments. Therefore, when higher education is seen as an expenditure, it is among the first items to be cut in a budget crunch. This is contrary to the perspectives of the new paradigm proposed by Sir Hilary, which like the IMF-World Bank sees it as an investment.
It is important to note that Sir Hilary champions an activist University. And it is heartening that Professor Paloma Mohamed Martin, recently appointed University of Guyana’s Vice Chancellor in her inaugural presentation to Council, "Imperatives Now", is in sync with Sir Hilary. The COVID vision in the new paradigm is one of hope, a preparation for the future based on 'a holistic theory of development', 'imagining 2025' and 'going global toward a globalized university'. Indeed, the excitement of Sir Hilary's optimism resonates: "Let's get through this and get to the future"
This week's blog focuses on the effects of COVID-19 on Universities generally; their responses and lessons learned in building a better future. It is a prelude to a discussion on Universities in the Caribbean subregion that have been greatly affected by the global economic picture with differential outcomes. These include slow economic recovery, increasing public debt burdens, negative effects on emerging markets and increasing bankruptcies. Placing emphasis on digital platforms to redirect social measures and reduce poverty shocks are particularly relevant for the welfare of the Universities and their communities. The case for a better future revolves around viewing higher education as an investment in human capital.
Approximately a year ago, while preparing for my Inaugural address as Chancellor of the University of Guyana, I was extremely excited by the Report on the Global Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education adopted by UNESCO’s General Conference in November 2019. The novelty of the Global Convention is that it is designed to facilitate academic mobility between regions and predicated on the assumption that students studying outside their home country will be increased from 4 million to an estimated 8 million by 2020-2021 academic year. This seemed such an opportunity to be grasped in expanding the geography of learning for students not only at UG but also in the CARICOM Community and the wider Caribbean. The Coronavirus pandemic has upended the roll out of the grand design of the Global Convention. While its concept remains, the narrative has drastically shifted. University leaders around the world now have to take decisions based on rapidly changing variables that make meaningful predictions difficult.
Pivoting in two Directions
During this week two virtual consultations have placed the challenges to the Global Convention in context. First, the London School of Economics (LSE), as part of its 125 year celebration hosted a curtain raiser of the 2020 IMF-World Bank Annual Meetings in which Kristalina Georgieva IMF Managing Director highlighted policy priorities in the difficult climb faced by the global economy. It was determined to be long, uneven, uncertain and prone to setbacks Overcoming the Crisis and Building a More Resilient Economy .
The second, a panel sponsored by the International Association of Universities on which a follow up blog will be grounded focused on the principles of leadership that help mitigate the present challenges and shape the future of universities. The panelists including Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice Chancellor of UWI, focused on the financial, systemic and educational ramifications of the pandemic and shared their experiences and decision-making process during these times.
Sample of University Responses
Having to write recommendations for students' applications to graduate programmes in Europe and the USA brought me in direct contact with the reality that the coronavirus pandemic has forced virtually every country on Earth to ration physical social contact. The Times Higher Educational Supplement (September 2020) provides a sample of responses of higher educational institutions. Most striking is its reference to registrations at Universities across European being actually more than 7 per cent up on last year. Besides, universities in many jurisdictions have had to comply with national regulations. For example, Universities-UK, a national collective is coordinating responses to the challenges facing universities in the UK. These challenges include student and staff health and welfare, admission issues, and longer term impact. In Germany, its academic year was delayed by a month, to the beginning of November. Universities in that country have generally agreed to keep an estimated 90 per cent of classes online. In the Netherlands which has established an intelligent (sector focused) rather than mandatory lockdown, all 14 public universities have agreed on a blended system of course delivery with virtual and limited face to face teaching with operations between 11am- 3pm and 8-10 pm. In both cases, lecturers, who in March, scrambled to switch their courses online, are now being asked to convert some of their teaching back into physically distanced spaces with online fall back at all stages.
Over a third of US colleges and universities fully reopened in August. That this was risky is illustrated by statistics showing that at the beginning of the month, the US had about 55 000 new cases per day and no federal covid-19 control plan or coordinated vision for safely reopening universities. This scenario has played out at universities nationwide. The New York Times Tracking COVID at US Colleges and Universities ( September 25) shows that there have been 130,000 cases in 1,300 higher education institutions
A recent LSE study shows that this current COVID generation is estimated to pay a high price estimated at US$ 1.5 B in missed out education. "They can’t travel and can’t get jobs. Entering job market during pandemic results in scarring income earning capabilities for decades." Under these circumstances, education is the best option. According to the Director of LSE, we owe this COVID-19 generation a huge investment in their education in order to improve their employment chances in the future.
Tuition Fees and The Financial Bottom Line
At the same time there are demands from students worldwide for a reduction of fees in response to the emphasis being placed on online learning. This was dramatized in the US, where many colleges flung open their doors to new students – and their tuition fees, of course – triggering, as predicted, a wave of coronavirus outbreaks, hasty closures and condemnation of perceived recklessness. Yet a federal judge largely dismissed a lawsuit in which a group of Northeastern University students sought refunds of their tuition and other payments after the university, like most colleges in the country, closed its campuses and shifted to remote learning because of the coronavirus.
Still, the experience of the pandemic seems to have confirmed the risks of over-reliance on international fees by some universities Even prior to the pandemic, a scramble for these fees which according to the Times Educational Supplement (September2020) " has not only made UK universities financially vulnerable but also created homogeneous departments, often overly dominated by Chinese students."
Universities-UK has made the case similar to that in most European countries that the costs for online learn have risen enormously. Cloud space, for instance, has to be rented to host video lectures because local networks are unable to handle the massive spike in traffic. The preparation and repurposing of learning facilities as safe spaces have also added to operational arrangements. The British Medical Journal (September 2020) has advocated for provision for expanded consideration on care for students and staff including access to ventilation, updated considerations on food service, contact tracing , recognizing and following up on signs and symptoms of COVID-19 by screening, and testing, coping and support and Direct Service Providers (DSPs).
Conclusions: Lessons for building a Better Future
The hope of that the UNESCO Global Convention on Higher Education will reemerge from the devastation of the coronavirus is being kept alive. But this will depend on how well we learn from the primary lessons that have emerged, including:
As we mark the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, our last two blogs focused on the challenges to multilateralism. At the same time, debates at the United Nations General Assembly revolved around the Sustainable Development Goals, Climate Change, Financing for Development, Gender Equality and COVID-19. As we write this week’s blog, it is important to highlight that October 1 marks the 30th anniversary of the International Day of the Older Person. The United Nations General Assembly has taken the opportunity to promote the Decade of Healthy Aging (2020-2030) which highlights the process of developing and maintaining the functional requirements that enable wellbeing in older age. The realities of living in the era of COVID-19 have brought the reality of ageing to the forefront of the national and international agendas.
The Demography of Ageing
A paper prepared for the 146th WHO Executive Board in February 2020, revealed some interesting statistics. It showed that populations around the world are ageing at a faster pace than in the past and that this demographic transition will have an impact on almost all aspects of society. It illustrated more specifically that between 1950 and 2010, life expectancy worldwide rose from 46 to 68 years; that there were 703 million persons aged 65 or over in 2019; that Eastern and South-Eastern Asia was home to the largest number of older persons (261 million), followed by Europe and Northern America (over 200 million). It is also projected that over the next three decades, the number of older persons worldwide will more than double, reaching over 1.5 billion persons in 2050. It is to be noted that all regions are estimated to see an increase in the size of the older population between 2019 and 2050. The fastest increase in the number of older persons is expected in Northern Africa and Western Asia, rising from 29 million in 2019 to 96 million in 2050 (an increase of 226 per cent). The second fastest increase is projected for Sub-Saharan Africa, where the population aged 65 or over could grow from 32 million in 2019 to 101 million in 2050 (218 per cent). ECLAC projected for the Caribbean that between 2015-2035 persons aged 60 and over will increase by 1.1 million (13 percent of the population) to 2 million (22 percent). At the same time, low and falling fertility rates will continue to reduce the number of young people.
The COVID 19 Intervention
COVID-19 threatens to reverse the progress of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3, which aims to ensure healthy lives and wellbeing for all. According to the UN Report on COVID -19 (September 2020), 70 countries halted childhood vaccination programmes, and in many places, health services for cancer screening, family planning, and other non-COVID-19 infectious diseases have been interrupted or are being neglected. The report warns that health service disruptions could reverse decades of improvement. Allowing people to slip through these service gaps could affect population health for years to come.
COVID-19 has laid bare the urgency for addressing the human rights of older persons. The figures from AARP Foundation Report (September 2020) show that worldwide 8 out of 10 older persons with coronavirus risk dying; 94% of deaths from COVID-19 were older adults of which 40% were in long term care. With respect to long term care, the risks are essentially associated with under-staffing, lack of training of staff, lack of PPEs, and control protocols; and within hospitals and medical facilities, by the challenges of triaging ventilators in short supply. These structural inadequacies are compounded by greater risk of isolation of older adults with traumatic mental and psychological consequences. They are also faced with discrimination based on lack of security and protection from abuse. An overall human rights concern is reflected in age based restrictions on the movement of older people, whether mandatory as in Columbia for those over 70 years or perfunctory as in Jamaica for everyone over 65 years. ILO adds yet another dimension to the human rights. agenda by illustrating the intersection between ageing and gender with women being in the majority of the ageing adults without jobs, and 63% without pensions are women. What is often neglected is the contribution made by the older adults as frontline workers whether as medical personnel including retired doctors or generational self-help like food preparation and distribution.
Conclusion: Build the Future Better to include Older people
During the UN General Assembly this week, a new slogan -- Build the Future Better-- emerged as a clarion call. It is premised on strengthening multilateralism by placing global alliances ahead of nationalism to tackle the many challenges associated with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Jamaican Prime Minister, Andrew Holness who with Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, was joint chair of the UN Panel called for a Marshall Plan in response to the immediate crisis caused by COVID-19 and securing a global recovery that is based on strengthened resilience, and transitioning over the long-term to green, inclusive and sustainable development. As part of this overarching approach to multinationalism HelpAge International is promoting the UN Convention to Protect the Rights of Older People.
In the buildup to the Convention it is important to recall the “Year of the Nurse and Midwife” celebrated earlier this year, as we highlight the role that health care workforce must play in contributing to the health of older persons. And in so doing, special recognition is given to the nursing profession, and a primary focus on the role of women - who are relatively undervalued and in most cases inadequately compensated. We recognize too, that older people must be involved in shaping the framework and implementing the elements of the Convention. In this way, a charter on the human rights of older people will indeed contribute to Building the Future Better.
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.