The COVID-19 pandemic has without question exposed the brutal consequences of infectious diseases for the most at-risk populations which includes healthy older people as well as those with chronic conditions. It has also unearthed an uncomfortable structural and societal ageism affecting the human rights of millions of people around the world. From hospital triaging guidelines to chronic understaffing of long-term care facilities, national health systems have not taken the necessary steps to ensure that the most at-risk people had access to life-saving health services, regardless of age or socioeconomic background.
An article in the Lancet explored the impacts that the COVID-19 pandemic had on older persons and discussed recommendations to ensure global attention is aligned with the United Nations (UN) Decade of Health Ageing (2021-2030).
The COVID-19 pandemic was the first in history to impact a society in which the global population aged 65 years and older outnumbered those 5 years and younger, revealing three key points. First, there are more older persons now than ever before. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) the population of those aged 65 years and over in 2020 was approximately 727 million globally and this number is expected to double within the next three decades, totalling to 1.5 billion in 2050.
Second, the pandemic highlighted the critical relationship between economies and healthy populations. Investing in health promotion and preventative measures will help to lower the burden on health care systems associated with an ageing population.
Thirdly, the pandemic revealed that the key component to a healthy older population is not treatment, but prevention. This calls for the development and implementation of policy focusing on a life course approach to health such as vaccinations throughout the lifespan for infectious diseases including influenza, pneumococcal pneumonia, and pertussis.
To ensure that older people are not left behind, Ataguba, Bloom, and Scott (2021) argued for an international convention on the rights of older people to provide a framework for addressing “social and economic inequities, insecurities, and vulnerabilities; championing beneficial opportunities for older people; and articulating aspirations and plans for the decades ahead”.
The International Federation on Ageing (IFA) in their conviction to a Convention is convening the 15th Global Conference on Ageing: Rights Matter. This international platform aims to improve understanding of age-friendly environments, to debate the solutions to address inequalities, to confront the reality of ageism, and to delve into what it means to enable the functional ability of an older person.
To learn more about the inequalities faced by older persons please contact Alana Officer, the Unit Head, Demographic Change and Healthy Ageing (DHA) at the WHO.
Alana Officer Unit Head, Demographic Change and Healthy Ageing
Alana Officer coordinates the United Nations Decade of Healthy Ageing (2021-2030) & oversees WHO's work on age-friendly environments.