Governments, Society Must Act Promptly on Ageing, Says UNFPA Official as Technical Meeting Begins

United Nations Population Fund
Contact: in New York:
William A. Ryan

The ICPD+5 review process

Governments, Society Must Act Promptly on Ageing, Says UNFPA Official as Technical Meeting Begins

BRUSSELS, 6 October 1998 -- Prompt actions and sound strategies are urgently needed to meet the needs of growing numbers of older persons worldwide, according to Mohammed Nizamuddin of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The Director of UNFPA's Technical and Policy Division made the suggestion at the opening of a Technical Meeting on Population Ageing.

The four-day meeting here is part of "ICPD+5", a review of progress in carrying out the programme of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo.

In welcoming remarks, Mr. Nizamuddin said ageing will increasingly become a feature of the world's population in the 21st century. By 2020, he said, 13 per cent of the population is expected to be aged 60 or older; 70 per cent of the elderly will live in developing countries.

While the problems of ageing are well-known in developed countries, Mr. Nizamuddin said, ways of dealing with them will differ from one society to another and change over time. For example, he observed, co-residence of elderly parents and adult children is common in developing nations, but such arrangements are declining as modernization occurs. This trend will undermine the economic security of the old, since only a small urban minority is currently eligible for pensions.

In many less-developed countries, few provisions for support of the elderly exist outside the family, he continued. Declines in traditional support for older persons will impact hardest on elderly women, who are often without partners and destitute in their late years.

Mr. Nizamuddin also spoke about the high risk of poor health at older ages, and the growing difficulty facing families -- especially women care givers -- in endeavouring to meet the specialized health care needs of elderly members. This problem is compounded by the reluctance of many governments to direct scarce resources to this sector.

He said UNFPA has helped developing countries with policy formulation and planning to meet older persons' needs. These efforts include training programmes on ageing and development, gender-specific research, advocacy to draw policy makers' attention to the concerns of older people, and assistance to strengthen national capacity to deal with ageing.

There are no universal solutions to the challenge of managing ageing, cautioned Antonio Golini, a demography professor from Rome University. Presenting a paper on the lessons of population ageing in developed countries, he said solutions should fit each country's particular economic and social circumstances and respect its family traditions. Caution is necessary, given the sharp differences between states in the intensity and speed of ageing. For example, by 2050, half of all Italians may be over age 58, while half of Ethiopians will be 25 and below.

African governments and international agencies should assist the orphans and widows of those who die of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), to reduce the burdens on older people who currently support such relatives, said James Ntozi, a population studies professor at Kampala's Makerere University. In his co-authored paper on ageing in Africa in the context of AIDS, he said the elderly raise a significant fraction of Ugandan orphans.

AIDS mostly affects people in their most productive years, often depriving elderly parents of their means of support, he added. Because many older people lack adult children or relatives to take care of them, the extended family should be supported and direct assistance given to the elderly, the professor said.

Some African governments have recognized the need to care for the elderly, he continued. For example, a presidential decree in Mozambique calls for assistance to older people who lack family support. Senegal has organized associations for the elderly and created development projects to be managed by them. In Uganda, community members are being trained to meet the needs of the elderly; the Government recently named a Deputy Minister in charge of issues concerning the elderly and the disabled.

Friendlier banks, post offices and senior citizens' services centres should mobilize resources and provide improved services to older persons, said Zaki Hasan, Dean of Karachi's Jinnah Medical College in Pakistan, in a paper on the health status and service needs of the elderly. Networks of senior citizens should be formed to enable them to act collectively, medicines should be provided at concessional rates, and there should be special transport for the elderly and easy access to facilities, he added.

UNFPA organized the Technical Meeting on Population Ageing in cooperation with the Population and Family Study Centre (CBGS), a Flemish Scientific Institute in Brussels. The meeting will review the experiences and policies of the developed countries on population so as to identify lessons and best practices that can be adopted by their developing counterparts. It will also appraise the implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action and identify key actions to meet older persons' needs, with a special focus on the gender and poverty dimensions.

The meeting will include: the presentation of technical papers; working group meetings; and a panel discussion on key country policies, poverty and gender aspect of ageing. Papers will be presented in six sessions on: the Process, Dimensions and Prospects of Ageing; Promotion and Maintenance of Health in Later Life (6 October); Support Systems for the Elderly; Special Needs (7 October); and the Economic and Social Policy Implications of an Older Society (8-9 October).

The meeting is scheduled to be closed on 9 October by UNFPA's Executive Director, Dr. Nafis Sadik. It was opened today by the General Director of the CBGS, Robert Cliquet, who welcomed participants and introduced them to his organization. He described population ageing as one of the important issues of the ICPD and one of the most critical issues facing both industrialized and developing nations.

As part of the ICPD+5 process, UNFPA is sponsoring a series of technical meetings and round-table discussions, leading up to an international forum on ICPD implementation, to be held in February 1999 in The Hague, the Netherlands. The conclusions of all these meetings will be background material for a report by the United Nations Secretary-General to a special session of the United Nations General Assembly, in June and July 1999, on post-ICPD progress.

The current meeting is being held a week after this year's International Day of Older Persons, during which the United Nations declared 1999 the International Year of Older Persons. Ageing also is one of the main themes of UNFPA's flagship publication, The State of World Population 1998, entitled "The New Generations".

(For information purposes only. Not an official document.)

Back to Technical Meeting on Population Ageing