Is the World Health Organization Kicking Older People to the Curb?

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This past November the World Health Organization (WHO) released a draft of its “thirteenth general programme of work” for the period 2019 through 2023. The draft includes no references to older people or to the illnesses and conditions that accompany aging.

WHO has set a “triple billion target” for the next program period: 1 billion more people with health coverage, 1 billion more people made safer and 1 billion lives improved.

Failing to mention any specific programs targeted at people 60 or more years old does not appear to have been an oversight by the proposal’s drafters. There are several specific age-related goals, though, to be fair, all are targeted at children.

In a letter to British medical journal The Lancet, Peter Lloyd-Shedlock, Martin McKee and Shah Ebrahim of the School of International Develop at the University of East Anglia write:

Older people (≥60 years) constitute more than 12% of the world’s population, which will rise to 16.5% by 2030. This age group will represent 10% of the population in less developed regions by 2030. Although older people account for a greater proportion of the global burden of disease and health-care needs than younger people, their positive societal contribution should not be overlooked. This age group often provide unpaid care for children or grandchildren, or other adults with disabilities. Improved health of older people is an essential goal to reduce health-care costs and maintain the societal support older people provide.

Although WHO has begun to address this key global challenge over the past decade, the proposed 13th General Programme of Work makes no reference to older people or conditions associated with later life, such as dementia, which is unacceptable. If the proposed programme is approved, it will considerably diminish WHO’s global authority and will brand itself as a champion of age discrimination. We therefore urge that WHO rectify this oversight and revise the proposed programme to include substantial plans relating to the health of older people and challenges of an ageing population.

A quick search through the draft text does not turn up any of the following words: older, old, senior, aging (“ageing” appears once). Here’s the full text of the 13th General Programme of Work.