Good health adds life to years
WORLD HEALTH DAY 2012
Interview with John Beard, Director, Ageing and Life Course
MARIE-AGNÈS HEINE, WHO
Why did WHO decide to focus on healthy ageing for this year’s World Health Day?
The world is rapidly ageing and this has significant consequences. The number of people today aged 60 and over is double what it was in 1980, and within the next five years the number of adults aged 65 and over will outnumber children under the age of 5. The challenge is to ensure that people not only live longer but also stay healthy for as long as possible. We hope that World Health Day will help mobilize governments, societies, and individuals to respond to this challenge.
What are the key issues countries face as their populations age?
The key issues are to keep people healthy for as long as possible; to break down the barriers that prevent the ongoing participation of older people and provide care for those who can no longer look after themselves. And we need to do this in poor as well as rich countries. We also need to think again about what it means to be old. Stereotypes of ageing from the 20th Century will not help us create the sort of society in which we might want to live in the 21st.
And what could be done to bring down these barriers? What can governments do to create agefriendly societies?
We all have a role to play in the creation of age-friendly societies: governments, social partners, policymakers, service providers, families, friends, neighbours and strangers. We all have to think about the society we might want to live in as we age. Governments need to make sure that older people get the same opportunities to participate in social, economic and cultural affairs as their fellow citizens and that they are treated with equal dignity and respect. They need to look at existing barriers to participation, for example mandatory retirement ages and other legislation or incentives that discourage older people from active social engagement. There are also many physical barriers we need to address, for example making sure public transport is accessible and affordable. Perhaps most important is to remove the artificial idea that one night at midnight, we suddenly become “old” and need to be treated differently. Viewing ageing as something that happens across the life course, doing what we can to ensure good health across life, ensuring financial security for all and then ensuring our society is a positive place to live for those who lose their health or the ability to look after themselves would be a good place to start.