More Elderly Than Children … Within Just Five Years


Human Wrongs Watch

Geneva, 7 April – Within the next five years, for the first time in history, the population of people aged 65 and older will outnumber children under the age of five.

Photo:UN

The World Health Organization (WHO) also informs that in the middle of the last century there were 14 million people in the world aged 80 years or older. 

However, by 2050, there will be almost 400 million people in this age group – with 100 million of them in China alone.

On 7 April this year, the world marks the 60 anniversary of the founding of the WHO and each year a theme is selected that highlights a priority area of concern for the UN’s health agency.

This year’s theme, Good health adds life to years, focuses on promoting good health throughout individuals’ lives “to improve their chances of remaining health and productive in later years.”

UN officials stressed the importance of “providing adequate health services to older citizens” and called on countries to commit resources to help their ageing populations lead a healthy and active life.

In this regard, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged “governments, civil society and the private sector to commit attention and resources to ensuring that people everywhere have the chance to grow older in good health.” But “an increase in worldwide longevity is putting pressure on countries’ health services,” he warned. 

The Greatest Health Threat for Older People

The UN chief noted that the greatest health threat for older people in all countries is now overwhelmingly from non-communicable diseases, with heart disease and strokes the biggest killers, and visual impairment and dementia the biggest causes of disability.

He underlined that “in low-income countries in particular, the incidence of non-communicable diseases is two to three times greater than in high-income countries.”

This burden is carried not just by older people, but by their families and by society as a whole,” Ban said.

Not Expensive Measures

Earlier this week, WHO’s Director-General, Margaret Chan, emphasized that measures to improve the quality of life of ageing populations need not be expensive, and encouraged governments to implement affordable and practical policies that can significantly help their citizens grow old in a healthy manner.

We must not let money or lack of access to care decide who stays fit and who gets frail too soon,” Chan said.

Simple interventions can have a huge impact. For example, hypertension control, using extremely affordable medicines, contributes greatly to increased longevity yet only around 10 per cent of older people in the developing world benefit from this treatment,” she said.

“Tai Chi” Exercises!

Regular moderate physical activity has a rejuvenating effect, working to turn back the clock. Ancient Chinese Tai Chi exercises can restore balance in older people and help prevent falls.”

Chan underscored that the incidence of non-communicable diseases in older people require a shift in focus from providing care for a single disease to providing good health in the face of multiple diseases.

What About Millions of Forgotten Human Beings?

Meanwhile, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has been working to help five million registered Palestinian refugees, with a high percentage of elderly people.

This year’s WHO theme is very timely for the five million Palestine refugees we serve, said Dr. Akihiro Seita, director of UNRWA’s health programme.

In 2004, around 420,000 refugees registered with UNRWA were older than 60.” he said.

In 2011, this number increased to around 630,000, which is 12 per cent of the entire refugee population.

For Palestine refugees, non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease are the leading causes of death,” Seita informed.

In 2011, UNRWA provided care for around 212,000 people with diabetes and hypertension, double the number of cases in 2002.

Read also:

Over 65 percent of Asia’s Elderly Population Will Be Women

World’s Elderly Face Abuse, Stigmatization and Violence

Bangladesh: Old, Unprotected, and Alone

2012 Human Wrongs Watch

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