Remarks by Dr Michael O'Leary, WHO Representative in China on World Health Day 2012
Honorable Vice Minister,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Happy World Health Day! On behalf of the World Health Organization we are honored to join the Ministry of Health, the China National Committee on Ageing and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and all of you, on this special occasion.
As you know, this year's World Health Day focuses on Ageing and Health: Good health adds life to years.
The global population is rapidly ageing. In the next five years, for the first time in human history, the number of adults aged 65 and over will outnumber children under the age of 5. By 2050, these older adults will even outnumber all children under the age of 14.
Developing countries will experience the most rapid and dramatic demographic change. It took more than 100 years for France's population aged 65 or older to double from 7 to 14%. In contrast, it will take countries like Brazil and China less than 25 years to achieve the same growth.
China has the largest elderly population in the world. According to the 2010 national census, there are 119 million people aged 65 and over, or about 8.87% of China's overall population.
This rapidly ageing population poses many challenges for health systems, governments, individuals and communities. We have to be ready to meet these challenges. If we lose this window of opportunity, then we may find ourselves overwhelmed by the inevitable rise in the number of people with long-term disabilities and in need of care for chronic diseases, such as cancer, diabetes and strokes.
This demographic trend is unprecedented, but we can prepare for it. By stressing healthy and active ageing, we appreciate the valuable contribution of older people, and promote health throughout the course of life.
There's much we can do now.
First of all, good health across the life-course contributes to a happy and productive older age. Healthy behaviors earlier in life — such as eating right, staying physically active, and avoiding tobacco and too much drinking — can help us to stay healthy as we age.
Second, we must do more to prepare our health system for the coming demographic reality. Societies that take care of their older populations and support their active participation in daily life will be better prepared to cope with the changing world.
Third, older people are a valuable resource in our communities. We need to recognize and respect their important contribution to society.
For the past ten years, China has made great efforts to develop policies and national plans, create age-friendly environments, explore mechanisms of care and support for older people in urban and rural areas, and provide access to basic primary health care and long-term care for older people. The 12th Five Year Development Plan on Ageing provides guideline and targets for the future.
The WHO Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities aims to help cities become better places for older people to live and be active. It connects cities and communities that share a commitment to become more age-friendly.
I am very pleased that Qiqihaer City of Heilongjiang has become a member of this Global Network. I hope that more and more cities and communities in China could join this Global Network to develop environments where older people can be more productive, and valued.
WHO, along with its many national and international partners, is committed to supporting the Government of China in coping with the rapidly ageing population.
Ladies and gentlemen,
On this World Health Day, we join with Ministry of Health, China National Committee on Ageing, and UNFPA, and ask you to join also in recognizing the contributions of older people.
Let's work together to promote healthy and active ageing, and to make old age the most beautiful time in our lives.