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International Day of Older Persons 2020: Pandemics and the elderly

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The United Nations International Day of Older Persons 2020 marks the 30th anniversary of the designation of this special day for global senior citizens. It brings the rights and the health of the elderly into focus. More so this year, with the pandemic making them more vulnerable to neglect.

What is International Day of Older Persons?

A series of events led to the formation of this day. Chief among them is the Vienna International Plan of Action on Ageing adopted in 1982. The plan was put forth at the World Assembly on Ageing and later accepted by the UN. More initiatives along the way culminated in the UN General Assembly designating October 1 as UNIDOP (United Nations International Day of Older Persons) in the year 1990.
This special day works towards creating an equal society for people of all ages. Twenty years after the Vienna International Plan of Action on Ageing came the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, designed for a new set of challenges for the elderly in the 21st century. What makes this year’s observance more significant is that it marks the 30th anniversary.

Theme for International Day of Older Persons 2020

The theme for the International Day of Older Persons 2020 is “Pandemics: Do They Change How We Address Age and Ageing?” The theme is relevant in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic that seniors across the world are witnessing. Since they are at a higher risk of infection during disease outbreaks, this day calls for special policies and government and CSR programmes for their care.
The older population has a large contribution to society. Older persons can play many roles in the response to COVID-19 and future pandemics. They are caregivers to grandchildren and spouses, volunteers and leaders in their own right.

Impact of COVID-19 on the elderly

Seniors, especially those with comorbidities like diabetes and high blood pressure are at serious risk of infection and death from COVID-19. Septuagenarians (people between 70-79 years old) with symptoms of the virus are 20 times more likely to be hospitalised than the younger lot. Fatality risk from coronavirus starts increasing at 60 years, and only gets worse as the age increases.
Older persons suffer during pandemics in other ways. They are denied care and treatment for other unrelated health conditions. They suffer neglect and abuse in old age homes and within their own families. The pandemic has a disruptive effect on their mental health and sense of well-being. With the pandemic spreading to low-income countries, seniors without financial support are finding themselves in the throes of poverty. There have been cases of grown children ousting their parents from home after they tested positive for coronavirus.

Why is this day important?

The number of elderly folks is expected to more than double over the next 30 years. There will be 1.5 billion senior citizens by 2050. Our continent is part of the equation. East and South-East Asia witnessing the biggest surge in the ageing population. There are expected to be 573 million seniors in this region in 2050. Less developed countries like India will be home to two-thirds of those over 65 years of age. However, the least developed countries will see the quickest rise in their numbers, to approximately 120 million in 2050.
International Day of Older Persons 2020 is bringing governments, health professionals, experts and civil society organisations together for a deep dive on the Global Strategy and Action plan on Ageing and Health. The Strategy’s main objectives are integrated into the Sustainable Development Goals since issues of older persons are relevant to all the 17 goals. Goal #3 is directly connected to the Strategy – ensure healthy lives and promote the well-being of all at all ages.
We must recognise and draw attention to the contributions of our grandparents and their generation. Various organisations like Dignity Foundation, NGO Wishes and Blessings and HelpAge India are providing relief and support to the ageing population in India. They are actively reaching out to the elderly and delivering services. It’s time the voices of older persons are heard in government policies and corporate programmes for society at large.