A global institution for an aging world

(MENAFN- Gulf Times) • Internationally, no single institution is responsible for protecting the rights and defending the interests of the world’s fastest growing age group – 65 and over. But the architecture of global governance must adapt to the evolution of its demographic structure

The Covid-19 pandemic has made global aging impossible to ignore. This pandemic is the first to occur since the world population aged over 65 has exceeded that of under five, and Covid-19-related mortality increases sharply with age.
The intersection of the pandemic and this new demographic reality has revealed a gap in our global governance architecture. There is not a single international institution charged with protecting the rights and defending the interests of the world’s fastest growing age group – the 65 and over. This institutional gap has contributed to the lack of a unified global response to a global pandemic that is disproportionately affecting this population. Inconsistent vaccine deployments are the most obvious symptom, but many other dimensions of vulnerability exist. For example, in low-income countries, 46% of people aged 65 and over are in the labor force, and they are rarely a political priority.
The other population groups have not been neglected. The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) targets the needs and rights of children, UN Women promotes gender equality and the empowerment of women, the United Nations Population Fund focuses on issues of sexual and reproductive health, and the International Labor Organization monitors the standards and conditions of workers. What is missing is an organization that focuses on the elderly population. Although older people are implicitly covered by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the lack of explicit attention to them, combined with demographic change, means that they constitute a growing proportion of the most vulnerable people in the world. world.
To see the difference creating an institution focused on older people, think about what UNICEF has done for children. Since 1990, the mortality rate for children under five has fallen by almost 60%. Although many factors are responsible, UNICEF’s advocacy, as well as immunization and sanitation programs, have contributed significantly to this dramatic improvement.
The reasons for the current institutional gap are historical. The structure of the world’s population was very different when the United Nations and the World Health Organization were established in the 1940s. In 1950, there were about seven times as many children under the age of 15 as there were people. 65 years and over. But by 2050, those two age groups will be roughly the same size, with 1.5 billion people aged 65 and over, nearly double the number of children alive when the nation was created. ‘UN and WHO.
Closing this global governance gap requires two initiatives: a United Nations Convention on the Rights of Older Persons to provide a framework for addressing economic and social inequalities and vulnerabilities, and an international agency, such as a United Nations Program. for old people. Many UNPOP activities would imitate those of Unicef. UNPOP would also follow Unicef ​​to protect the most vulnerable and fight against abuse and exploitation.
Inevitably, the focus would be on health – where the need is great and the gap large. The world was largely unprepared for the Covid-19 pandemic. He cannot afford not to be prepared for the growing trend of age-related illnesses driven by unprecedented, but high-probability demographic changes.
Unfortunately, three common misconceptions have prevented world leaders from bridging the institutional divide. To begin with, the aging of the population has traditionally been seen as a problem mainly for rich countries. While high-income countries currently have the highest proportion of people aged 60 and over, most people in this age group live in low- and middle-income countries. There are 308 million people in this age group in high-income countries, compared to 322 million in low- and lower-middle-income countries and an additional 419 million in upper-middle-income countries.
This leads to a second misconception: that countries with large populations of young people do not have to worry about the aging of society. But they do. Global life expectancy increased from 34 to 73 years between 1913 and 2019, so the goal must be not only to meet the needs of today’s older populations, but to ensure that future populations more older people are as healthy and productive as possible.
This prospective approach highlights the third misunderstanding, which results in the inability to consider aging from a life stage perspective. Healthy aging requires focusing on all phases of life, from prenatal care to end-of-life care. Since young people will lead the longest lives, this step-by-step approach is necessary to achieve intergenerational equity and avoid the risk of inequalities worsening over the course of a lifetime.
While UNPOP should focus primarily on the rights of older people and in particular on supporting the most vulnerable, there are also broader gains to be made. Past improvements in health have supported economic growth, and it is reasonable to think that this could apply to the older population as well. One sixth of the global workforce is currently aged 55 and over, and this proportion is expected to increase further. Thus, a targeted program for the elderly would help countries achieve macroeconomic gains.
The growing number of older people and the increased likelihood of young people aging means that in far too many countries existing forms of social support are underdeveloped. This gap at the national level is yet another reason for a global advocacy body to disseminate best practices.
In order for the global institutional architecture to leave no one behind, it must adapt to the changing demographic structure. The UN mandate must be explicitly extended to do just that. – Project union

• John E. Ataguba is Professor of Economics at the School of Public Health at the University of Cape Town. David E. Bloom is Professor of Economics and Demography at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. Andrew J. Scott is Professor of Economics at the London Business School.

Last update: October 06, 2021 12:25 AM


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