What is the Big Idea?
The world's aging population is growing and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s message to the world on World Health Day, observed on April 7, is for society to pay attention to the health of the world's older citizens.
"On this World Health Day, I urge Governments, civil society and the private sector to commit attention and resources to ensuring that people everywhere have the chance to grow older in good health," Ban said in a press release.
What is the Significance?
According to the World Health Organization, there were just 14 million people in the world aged 80 years or older in the middle of the last century. By 2050, there will be almost 400 million people in this age group, 100 million of them in China alone. Within the next five years, for the first time in history, adults aged 65 or older will outnumber children under five.
This shift is tied to the world's improved economic and social development, according to Ban.
"Thanks primarily to global public health successes in improving childhood survival and adult health, people are living longer in most parts of the world. Many high-income countries are already facing rapidly aging populations. In the coming decades, low- and middle-income countries will see equally dramatic increases."
He also cites non-communicable diseases as the biggest health threat for older people in all countries. They include heart disease and strokes, while visual impairment and dementia are the major causes of disability. These risks are higher in low-income countries.
These burdens affect older people as well as the families and societies who need to care for them.
"Many low- and middle-income countries have neither the infrastructure nor the resources to deal with existing needs, let alone to cope with the much greater demands expected in the future," says Ban. "The good news is that there are many practical and affordable solutions that Governments can put in place to help their older citizens to lead healthy and active lives."
WHO's Director-General, Margaret Chan, emphasized that measures to improve the quality of life of ageing populations do not have to be costly. She encouraged governments to implement affordable and practical policies that can significantly help their citizens grow old in a healthy manner.
"We must not let money or lack of access to care decide who stays fit and who gets frail too soon,” Ms. Chan said in a roundtable discussion on the theme of the Day in Geneva, Switzerland, on Wednesday.
"Simple interventions can have a huge impact. For example, hypertension control, using extremely affordable medicines, contributes greatly to increased longevity yet only around 10 per cent of older people in the developing world benefit from this treatment," she said. "Regular moderate physical activity has a rejuvenating effect, working to turn back the clock. Ancient Chinese Tai Chi exercises can restore balance in older people and help prevent falls."
Check out Big Think's primer for World Health Day by clicking on the link below.