WHO calls for more attention to the health needs of the over 60s, 7 April 2012

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On April 7, we celebrate World Health Day 2012, marking the anniversary of the founding of the World Health Organization in 1948. The theme for this year is “Ageing and Health: good health adds life to years.”

In the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region, every country is facing the challenge of population ageing. In Palestine, 4.4% of the population (4.8% in the West Bank and 3.7% in the Gaza Strip) is now aged 60 or older. The proportion will rise steadily due to improved life expectancy, which has increased from 67.0 in 1992 to 73.9 for females and 71.0 for males in mid-2011. The proportion is lower than the 6% average for developing countries due to the young demographic profile of Palestine. The proportion for high income countries is much higher, an average of around 16%.

The growing number of older people means that more and more are at risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer. In the recent WHO survey of chronic disease in Palestine (2011), which examined five risk factors (smoking, consumption of 5 daily servings of fruit and vegetables, low level of physical activity, overweight, and raised blood pressure), 77.4% of 45-64 year age group, the oldest age group surveyed, had three or more risk factors for non-communicable diseases.

Older people are also poorer on average. 13,000 cases of social hardship registered with the Ministry of Social Affairs in West Bank and Gaza are aged 60 and above, and receive cash stipends, food assistance and health insurance from the Palestinian Authority.

Encouraging older persons to remain physically, socially and economically active for as long as possible will benefit not only the individual but also society as a whole. Good health throughout life can help older people to lead full and productive lives and continue to be a source of support and wisdom to the their families and communities

The ageing of populations and changes in disease patterns are global phenomena that demand action at all levels and from various sectors: policy-makers at international, regional, national and community levels, civil society, private sector, individuals. WHO urges joint action that brings sectors and generations together, and makes policies with older persons rather than about “them”, to improve opportunities for older persons’ participation and contribution.

We need start planning now in Palestine to provide integrated health and social care, to enhance family and social support and to reduce the burden of disease and disability.