Press Release WHO/65
1 October 1998
INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF OLDER PERSONS LAUNCHED
Active Ageing Policies are Key, says Dr BrundtlandAt the launching ceremony of the International Year of Older Persons in Geneva today, the World Health Organization (WHO) called upon policy-makers to recognise the importance of population ageing and put this recognition into action.
In her speech at the UN headquarters for Europe, the Director-General of WHO, Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, pressed for the development of active ageing policies to deal with social and public health challenges presented by a rapidly ageing world.
Currently there are some 580 million people aged 60 years and over in the world. By 2020, this number is estimated to pass over the 1 billion mark. By that time, over 700 million older people will live in developing countries alone. It was therefore indispensable to bring ageing into the development agenda, she emphasized.
According to Dr Brundtland, the 20th century was the century of "survival". The greatest challenge in the 21st century will be to improve the quality of life as we all age. "Health is the most important prerequisite for people to enjoy life, especially in their older years," she said.
But health at older ages depends on the lifestyles and behaviours acquired throughout the entire life span. "Tomorrow's elderly people are today's adults and yesterday's children," said Dr Brundtland. Ageing, she emphasised, was a natural process and in itself was not a problem. Premature death and disability, much of which could be avoided, were.
It is a necessary and sound investment, therefore, to develop national policies and interventions promoting active and healthy ageing. "The capacity of older people to contribute to society can only be extended if their health is maintained ", stressed Dr Brundtland.
WHO will conduct research and develop global strategies that could help countries formulate their national policies to tackle the public health impact of rapidly ageing populations in both developed and, especially, developing countries.
Such strategies will be culturally sensitive. Also, special emphasis will be placed on maintaining social cohesion between generations to avoid conflict of interests, particularly over the allocation of scarce resources in the health sector.
A key dimension would be the gender issue, stressed Dr Brundtland. "Men and women age differently. Men die earlier while women experience greater burden of disease and disability in older age. The mechanisms behind these facts are not yet well understood We need to understand them and define key areas for interventions that could lead to a healthier, more secure and active old age for both sexes," said the Director-General.
Another important area WHO strategies will look into is how to help older people with disabilities maintain or regain control of their lives. National active ageing policies should embrace all older persons, including those with disabilities. Their problems should be dealt with in the community where they live, emphasised Dr Brundtland.
Throughout the International Year of Older Persons and beyond, WHO will be conducting research, developing and implementing active ageing strategies and promoting this concept.
WHO's Director-General also announced that the theme of the 1999 World Health Day (7 April) would be "Active Ageing". She pledged to devote her entire agenda on that day to the issue and said she would invite Heads of State and Governments from all WHO Member States to devote part of their time to the issue as well.
On 7 April 1999, a global awareness-raising campaign under the same title will also be launched. The campaign will be targeted at the general public, policy makers, political leaders, health professionals, care providers and above all older people themselves, who, as Dr Brundtland said, were part of the solution rather then a problem.
WHO's Director-General invited international organizations, nongovernmental organizations, as well as governmental agencies and volunteer groups in all of the 191 Member States to join WHO in promoting active ageing. "To make a difference, WHO needs you," said Dr Brundtland.
For further information, journalists can contact Igor Rozov, Health Communications and Public Relations, WHO, Geneva. Telephone (4122) 791 25 32. Fax (4122) 791 48 58. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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