|Ladies and Gentlemen,
would like to welcome you to World Health Day 1999 which, as you all know, is devoted to
the theme of ageing under the slogan "Active ageing makes the difference".
I trust you have all seen this year's World Health Day poster, which shows the
inspiring faces of three older people from different continents, two women and one man.
The picture of these people (some of whom may actually be in the audience and we thank
them warmly for letting us use their pictures) was taken in the WHO lobby. They were here
together for a photo session, but their origins are different and they have different
stories to tell. What unites them, regardless of their different geographic and cultural
origins, is that they are growing older in good health and by continuing to be active.
How have they done it? How have they achieved ageing in good health? What can we learn
from them? Why, in fact, is the very last World Health Day of this century, of this
millennium, devoted to ageing? And why active ageing? What exactly is WHO's concern
with active ageing?
The most obvious reason why World Health Day 1999 is devoted to ageing is that WHO is
part of the UN family and the UN General Assembly designated 1999 as the International
Year of Older Persons. Special themes are assigned to international years in recognition
of important unfolding changes and processes that affect all of humanity. International
years therefore signal the need and offer the opportunity to develop a new consensus
around an issue within a global context. This is why we have seen recent UN international
years focussing world attention on the status of women, children, the family, the
disabled, and indigenous people.
Within the next few decades, we will see an extraordinary increase in the number of
older people worldwide. At the end of the century population ageing has become a global
process that will increasingly affect everyone of us on this earth. We have experienced
increases of 30 years in the average life span in this century. There are currently 580
million people in the world aged 60 years and over, and this figure is expected to
rise to over 1 billion within the next 20 years. In addition, fertility rates have fallen
significantly in most regions and now even some of the least developed countries are
showing declines. Gradually infectious diseases are being replaced by chronic,
non-infectious diseases as the major cause of death in most of the developing world. These
are indeed profound changes affecting our lives. And they are likely to accelerate in the
Population ageing is the outcome of all of these developments. It is viewed by some
with a deep sense of concern for the anticipated costs to society, particularly in the
areas of health care, old-age pensions and long-term care. Ours is a different view.
Population ageing is first and foremost a success story for public health policies as well
as social and economic development. As I have had the opportunity to stress on many
occasions, the growing numbers of older persons represent a great resource to society, -
and this needs to be better recognized and tapped for the good of all.
We are indeed at an important turning point in the history of humanity. And if we are
to overcome the concerns and reaffirm that ageing is a success story, we must recognize
that there is still a great deal to be learned about this unprecedented development. The
lessons to be learned from research and their implications for the development of
effective policies are going to be central for public health in the 21st century.
Active ageing strategies require that we increase our knowledge. Taking the perspective
of health promotion throughout the life course, we need to learn how to better motivate
people to change their behaviours and lifestyles to achieve active ageing. From a gender
perspective, we must recognize gender-based differences and inequalities which affect how
well we age as men and women. From a developing country perspective, we must be fully
aware that while the developed countries became rich before they became old, the
developing countries will become old before they become rich. We must therefore be
determined in eliminating the greatest enemy of good health, i.e. poverty, particularly in
its most extreme forms. From a resources for health perspective, we must learn how to
better ensure an equitable access to and the sustainable provision of health services. And
we must train the health service providers how to recognize the needs of an ageing society
by taking into consideration the cultural and physical environment in which people live as
they grow older.
In summary, we must define and refine strategies that stimulate healthy and active
ageing. Active ageing strategies concern everyone, from policymakers to researchers, from
practitioners to every individual on this planet. A strategy for active ageing is required
to ensure that the greatest number of people stay healthy and active for as long as
possible. This takes into account the sum total of all of WHO's activities - from
rolling back malaria or tuberculosis to eliminating tobacco or substance abuse, from
fighting diseases to eliminating violence, from promoting healthy schools, safe
motherhood, good nutrition to promoting mental health and active living - active ageing
policies cut across all of these strategies. Active ageing policies help us to focus our
attention on what is truly essential: to promote longer and healthier lives. Active ageing
policies can truly make a difference as we move into the next century. And clearly, WHO
will not stop to promote strategies for active ageing when 1999, the International Year,
comes to a close. On the contrary, as we go into the next century active ageing must
become a natural and integral part of all of our lives.
And it is in the true spirit of active ageing that we have invited Sir Richard Doll to
be with us today as our Guest of Honour. As one of our most eminent epidemiologists, Sir
Richard's contribution to public health is truly outstanding.
It has now been exactly 50 years that Sir Richard was finalizing with Bradford Hill the
preliminary study that has linked smoking to lung cancer. The resulting paper was
published in 1950 and we reprinted it this year in the first issue of our new WHO
Bulletin. However, Sir Richard's contribution goes far beyond this extraordinary
study. He has spent the last 50 years conducting many outstanding studies, publicizing the
results and training generations of epidemiologists at the University of Oxford.
For a young student at Harvard in 1965, Richard Doll was the real guru, as you were to
so many others, who are now leaders in public health worldwide.
Sir Richard, a tribute from WHO to your unparalleled achievement has been long overdue
- may I therefore ask all of you to give Sir Richard a standing ovation.