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UN Secretary General, António Guterres

“The COVID-19 pandemic is causing untold fear and suffering for older people across the world. Beyond its immediate health impact, the pandemic is putting older people at greater risk of poverty, discrimination and isolation. It is likely to have a particularly devastating impact on older people in developing countries.” – UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres

Between 2019 and 2030, the number of persons aged 60 years or over is projected to grow by 38%, from one billion to 1.4 billion, globally outnumbering youth. This increase will be the greatest and the most rapid in the developing world, recognising that greater attention needs to be paid to the specific challenges affecting older persons.

Although all age groups are at risk of contracting COVID-19, older persons are at a significantly higher risk of mortality and severe disease following infection, with those over 80 years old dying at five times the average rate. An estimated 66% of people aged 70 and over have at least one underlying condition, placing them at increased risk of severe impact from COVID-19.

Older persons may also face age discrimination in decisions on medical care, triage, and life-saving therapies. Some older people face additional vulnerabilities at this time. The virus is not just threatening the lives and safety of older persons, it is also threatening their social networks, their access to health services, their jobs and their pensions.

“No person, young or old, is expendable”, said UN Secretary-General António Guterres in a video message to launch a policy brief on older persons last month. The impact on health and long-term care services for older persons must recognise and confront the particular challenges they face, including their ability to access medical treatment and care.

Addressing Elder Abuse

Elder abuse can be defined as “a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person”. It is a global social issue which affects the Health and Human Rights of millions of older persons around the world, and an issue which deserves the attention of the international community.

In many parts of the world elder abuse occurs with little recognition or response. Until recently, this serious social problem was hidden from the public view and considered mostly a private matter. Even today, elder abuse continues to be a taboo, mostly underestimated and ignored by societies across the world. Evidence is accumulating, however, to indicate that elder abuse is an important public health and societal problem.

UN observed – World Elder Abuse Awareness Day – June 15th

The World Elder Abuse Awareness Day happens each year on June 15th. It was officially recognised by the United Nations General Assembly in its resolution 66/127, December 2011, following a request by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (INPEA), who first established the commemoration in June 2006. It represents the one day in the year when the whole world voices its opposition to the abuse and suffering inflicted to some of our older generations.

Elder abuse is a problem that exists in both developing and developed countries yet is typically underreported globally. Prevalence rates or estimates exist only in selected developed countries — ranging from 1% to 10%. Although the extent of elder mistreatment is unknown, its social and moral significance is obvious. As such, it demands a global multifaceted response, one which focuses on protecting the rights of older persons.

“To get through this pandemic together, we need a surge in global and national solidarity and the contributions of all members of society, including older people. As we look to recover better, we will need ambition and vision to build more inclusive, sustainable and age-friendly societies that are fit for the future” underscored the UN chief. “Difficult decisions around life-saving medical care must respect the human rights and dignity of all.”

Secretary-General launches Policy Brief on Older Persons

“Today we are launching a policy brief that provides analysis and recommendations to address these challenges. Our response to COVID-19 must respect the rights and dignity of older people.”

There are four main messages:

1. No person, young or old, is expendable. Older people have the same rights to life and health as everyone else. Difficult decisions around life-saving medical care must respect the human rights and dignity of all.

2. While physical distancing is crucial, let’s not forget we are one community and we all belong to each other. We need improved social support and smarter efforts to reach older people through digital technology. That is vital to older people who may face great suffering and isolation under lockdowns and other restrictions.

3. All social, economic and humanitarian responses must take the needs of older people fully into account, from universal health coverage to social protection, decent work and pensions. The majority of older people are women, who are more likely to enter this period of their lives in poverty and without access to healthcare.

4. Let’s not treat older people as invisible or powerless. Policies must be targeted at meeting their needs.