Putting the ageing challenge on the regional agenda
MANILA, 11 July 2013 - WHO Member States must act fast to ensure healthier lives for their rapidly ageing populations.
"The window of time for action is short, so we must act now," said WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific Dr Shin Young-soo. "The modern world is ageing at an unprecedented rate. The proportion of the population over 60 is growing faster than any other age group. In fact, we have the most 'silver' country in the world in our Region—Japan—but we also have countries where most of the people are young, but the population ageing process will be faster—such as Cambodia, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines. These countries may double the share of people aged 60 or older within one generation. They will have much less time to develop appropriate policies and action."
Dr Shin spoke at the three-day Meeting on Ageing and Health in the Western Pacific Region, which concluded today. The delegates from 16 of the Region's 37 countries and areas discussed and reviewed a draft regional framework for action on ageing and health, which WHO plans to present to the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific at its next session in October.
"Population ageing is actually good news," Dr Shin said. "People are now living longer than ever before because of the great strides Member States have made in preventing diseases and promoting health. Of course, population ageing presents challenges for society. More resources may need to be spent on health and welfare. But if the process is managed properly, older people will continue to be a vital and valuable resource."
The draft regional action plan is built on four pillars:
- to foster age-friendly environments through action across sectors;
- to promote healthy ageing across the life course and prevent functional decline and disease among older people;
- to promote universal health coverage through age-friendly health systems; and
- to strengthen the evidence base on ageing and health.
A major concern is the strain that ageing populations will place on health systems in the Region. This will require a reorientation of the way services are currently funded and delivered. There are also concerns about equity and discrimination.
There is also a lack of evidence on the impact of ageing on health and society in the Region. More detailed data and information are necessary to devise health system policies adapted to country-specific circumstances.
WHO has long been concerned with the impact of ageing on health and has sought to approach the issue from a broad perspective.
"We already know much about what we need to do," Dr Shin said. "Ageing and health cannot be tackled by one institution or one team. It requires contributions from governments, nongovernmental partners and older people themselves. This involves the ministries of health and other partners, such as the ministries of labour and community associations."
WHO held informal experts' consultations on healthy ageing in the Western Pacific Region in May 2011 and in April 2013.
Healthy ageing was the theme of World Health Day 2012 and WHO's message "adding life to years" highlighted the challenges that ageing poses to health services and society.
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