By Robin Gomes
As the world marked the 30th anniversary of the International Day of Older Persons on Thursday, the United Nations chief drew attention to the disproportionate and severe impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has wrought on older persons around the world, not only on their health but also on their rights and well-being.
“Older people must be a priority in our efforts to overcome Covid-19”, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in his message for the International Day of Older Persons, celebrated annually on 1 October. In this regard, he said, the international community needs to examine how the pandemic might change how we address age and ageing in our societies. He called for more opportunities for the elderly, such as increasing their access to healthcare, pensions and social protection.
Caring for others
Guterres noted that this year’s observance took place during the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife, which highlights the vital role of health and social workers, such as nurses and midwives, in responding to the pandemic. He noted that most of the health and social workers are women, including many older persons. “These are the people who devote their lives to our care, and to the care of older persons, mothers and children, and deserve far greater support.”
Potential of the elderly
Drawing attention to the UN Decade of Healthy Ageing 2020-2030, the UN Secretary-General called for concerted efforts during this period to improve the lives of older persons, their families and communities.
“The potential of older persons is a powerful basis for sustainable development”, he stressed, adding, “we must listen to their voices, suggestions and ideas to build more inclusive and age-friendly societies”.
According to the UN, the composition of the world population has changed dramatically in recent decades. Between 1950 and 2010, life expectancy worldwide rose from 46 to 68 years.
Globally, there were 703 million persons aged 65 or over in 2019. The region of 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).
The UN estimates, by 2020, the number of people aged 60 years and older will outnumber children younger than 5 years. Over the next three decades, the number of older persons worldwide is projected to more than double, reaching more than 1.5 billion persons in 2050, with 80% of them living in low- and middle-income countries.
The COVID-19 pandemic may significantly lower older persons’ incomes and living standards. Already, less than 20% of older persons of retirement age receiving a pension. This number is scheduled to increase to 1.4 billion by 2030 and 2.1 billion by 2050. This increase is occurring at an unprecedented pace and will accelerate in the coming decades, particularly in developing countries.