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What does healthy ageing mean?

04 Nov 2015

A nurse examining an older person at a health centre in Haiti (c) Frédéric Dupoux/HelpAge International

Last week I joined over 180 stakeholders in Geneva as the World Health Organization (WHO) consulted civil society, member states and UN agencies on its five-year Global Strategy and Action Plan on Ageing and Health, due to be implemented next year. Centred on healthy ageing, the WHO'S strategy, launched on the back of its World Report on Ageing and Health, sets out five strategic priorities, including aligning health systems to the needs of older populations and developing long-term care systems.

Older people at the heart of the strategy

HelpAge International is pleased that the views of older people are central to the new strategy. At the consultation event, HelpAge older activists Ruth Wayaro from Kenya and Dr Mateja Novak from Slovenia, both former health professionals, outlined their priorities for healthy ageing in official statements to stakeholders. These included:

  • Having staff who are trained and therefore sensitive to older people's healthcare needs in health facilities, and dedicating specific staff for older people within health facilities.
  • Available, accessible, affordable, acceptable and quality health and care services for older people. Too often drugs and assistive devices are unaffordable for older people and they miss out on vital treatment, causing their health to deteriorate.
  • Older people are vital partners in ensuring integrated health and social care as they have the experience and knowledge of how care needs to be improved and are powerful advocates in telling health professionals, managers and politicians where services need to change.

HelpAge staff from London, and regional offices for East West, Central Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean also made statements. They highlighted where HelpAge could support delivery of the strategy, for example, by training health professionals and supporting older people's associations to press governments for healthcare reforms.

WHO took a lot of these messages on board. In his final speech, John Beard, director of WHO's ageing and life course team that was responsible for delivering the world report and the strategy, spoke of older people as "protagonists" in delivering the strategy's objectives.

Making the strategy a reality

WHO will present the strategy to its executive board for comment until early next year before it goes to the World Health Assembly in May for approval.

There is now an important role for stakeholders, including older people's associations and other organisations and campaigners. They must lobby national governments to make sure the strategy is firmly on the agenda of health ministries, and integrated into broader health policies and plans, including efforts towards delivering the Sustainable Development Goals.

It is vital that other government departments, such as social care, housing, transport and finance, are included in making early plans to adopt the strategy and that governments take a proactive approach to healthy ageing. There is a real opportunity for HelpAge and its partners to support the implementation of the strategy. By helping to train professionals, advising on policy and programmes, and providing valuable feedback on the priorities and needs of older people, we can help to improve their health in the short term and in years ahead.

Download the Global Strategy and Action Plan on Ageing and Health.

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Author profile


Clare Woodford
Country: UK
Job title: Health Policy Advisor

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These blogs are personal reflections and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelpAge International.