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.