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From Global AgeWatch Index to Global AgeWatch Insights

15 Aug 2017

The first edition of the Global AgeWatch Insights will have a focus on health and wellbeing (c) Hereward Holland/HelpAge International

In 2012, HelpAge International embarked on the development of a multidimensional measure of older people's wellbeing. The initiative came on the heels of the review Ageing in the Twenty-First Century: A Celebration and a Challenge, which identified a need to monitor governments' progress in eradicating poverty, improving health and advancing the inclusion of older people.

Global AgeWatch Index was launched in 2013 and published annually until 2015. The index has been a popular and effective advocacy tool, highlighting key data gaps on ageing and older people at the global level. Based on what we have learned from our experience of publishing three editions of the index, we have now decided to re-launch it as Global AgeWatch Insights. The first edition of Global AgeWatch Insights will be published in 2018.

What we learned

The index's country ranking tables attracted wide media attention, the insight reports and data on ageing became popular downloads, and HelpAge global network members and partners used the index to launch discussions with decision-makers about the situation of older people where they work. However, as general awareness of data gaps on ageing and older people has grown, needs have evolved and we are re-designing the index to respond to those needs.

Analysis needs to reflect the national and regional diversity of ageing issues

On the part of policy-makers and data providers, there has been a growing call and expectation for the index to offer national and regional analyses of the diversity and inequalities in ageing experiences, which are influenced by gender, disability, geographic location and other factors. These analyses need to be accompanied by more specific policy recommendations on issues related to ageing and older people.

Practical recommendations are needed to close national data gaps on ageing

Due to the lack of internationally-comparable data on ageing, 98 countries could not be included in the index. Members of the public and governments want to better understand the extent of data gaps and what to do about them. At this stage, we need a more nuanced assessment of what data is available and what is missing at the country level. We also need to be able to identify barriers to improvement of data on ageing and to provide tailored recommendations on how to overcome them.

Data quality is paramount

Without quality data, it is difficult to come to accurate conclusions on older people's circumstances. Drawing on international data proved challenging. We relied on information from international datasets in order to ensure comparability across countries. Sometimes national data was both more recent and of better quality, but it could not be included in the index because it was not internationally comparable. Other challenges have included the revision of datasets we were drawing on to calculate the index, the year-on-year volatility of subjective data from respondent surveys, and inconsistencies in age cohorts and years of observation for survey findings used to measure the indicators. The index methodology must be more robust to mitigate these limitations.

What's next

The UN adoption of Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, accompanied by an unprecedented emphasis on the improvement of data systems to measure the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), offers both challenges and opportunities for data work on ageing.

The potential to map between SDG indicators and the Global AgeWatch Index, as currently configured, is limited, as we have found from a review of the Global SDG Indicators Database. Few of the SDG indicators are disaggregated by age due to persistent challenges in data collection and analysis.

To tackle this, we need to move from broad awareness-raising about data gaps to more tailored work with national statistical offices and other relevant stakeholders to improve production and reporting of data in local contexts. There is also an opportunity to directly link data advocacy to the implementation of Agenda 2030 policy goals that are critical to the wellbeing of older people.

Considering all of these factors, we have redesigned the Global AgeWatch Index to become the Global AgeWatch Insights, which will be published every three years. It will be thematic in focus, will provide data from a smaller number of countries but in greater depth, and will explore and analyse themes linked to key policy goals from Agenda 2030.

Global AgeWatch Insights 2018

The focus of Global AgeWatch Insights 2018 will be on health and care, and universal health coverage (UHC). If we are to deliver on the promise of UHC for older people, as set out in SDG 3 on "Good health and wellbeing", and the WHO's Global strategy and plan of action on health ageing and Decade of Healthy Ageing from 2020 to 2030, we will need to campaign effectively on both data and policy issues.

Global AgeWatch Insights will support advocacy by HelpAge International, and the HelpAge network members and partners to:

  • increase access of older people in low- and middle-income countries to UHC
  • improve design and implementation of UHC to ensure it meets complex and chronic health needs of older people through integrated health and social care services
  • improve knowledge and statistics on health status of older people in low- and middle-income countries.

Further information

During the period 2013-2016, many people contributed to the success of the Global AgeWatch Index and we would like to thank them for their contributions. There are too many to name individually, but please see page two of our Global AgeWatch Index 2015 insight report for details.

For further information about Global AgeWatch Insights, please email Alex Mihnovits, Programme Officer (Data and Global AgeWatch).

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Author profile


Patricia Conboy
Country: Republic of Ireland
Job title: Head of Policy, HelpAge International

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