World Health Day 2012: Older activists fight for right to healthcare


By Rachel Trayner and Navdha Malhotra

An older Bolivian woman demands her right to better healthcare This older Bolivian campaigner is demanding better treatment for older people at health centres. HelpAge International 2011 Older people across the world will come together this week to mark World Health Day on 7 April. As part of our global campaign, Age Demands Action on Health, they will call on their governments to address the health challenges of an ageing world.

The theme for this World Health Day is "Ageing and health: Good health adds life to years" and comes at an extremely relevant time. Indeed, within the next five years, the number of adults aged 65 and over will outnumber children under five. 

Low and middle-income countries will experience the most rapid and dramatic demographic change. By 2050, 80% of all older people will live in these countries.

No age limit to good health

Richard Blewitt, CEO of HelpAge International, will be speaking at a World Health Organization event "Good health adds life to years" in Geneva on 4 April.

He said: "There should be no age limit to good health. Older people everywhere should have access to appropriate healthcare. It is discrimination, not age, which limits older people's health.

"In Ghana for example, nearly 60% of older people are hypertensive, which can cause strokes and heart attacks. However, only 5% of those affected take medication. This is because many chronic conditions are not included in national health insurance schemes as they are considered too expensive to treat. This week, older campaigners in Ghana will meet their Minister of Health and fight for better healthcare rights.

"My call to the global community is to put older people at the heart of decision making. I applaud Margaret Chan as the first UN leader to provide genuine leadership on ageing."

In poorer countries, more older people die of non-communicable diseases such as heart disease and diabetes than infectious and parasitic illnesses. Known as "silent killers", these treatable conditions are often dismissed as part of ageing.

However, the right to healthcare and access to treatment and rehabilitation should not diminish with age. Likewise, measures must be taken to prevent disease and disability, regardless of age.

ADA activists demand better healthcare

In October 2011, older people took part in our global, grassroots Age Demands Action (ADA) campaign and called for better healthcare, more medication and free clinics. Over the next two weeks, HelpAge partners in 17 countries are building on their campaigns from last year and restating their right to better healthcare. For example:

  • ADA activists in Albania, Fiji, Bolivia, Moldova, Serbia and Nepal are meeting with representatives of their respective health ministries to call for adequate and accessible healthcare.
  • Free medical check-ups for hypertension and diabetes are being organised in Gaza and the West Bank.
  • Activists in Haiti are meeting with the Minister of Health to discuss the Social Security for Haitian Agricultural Communities Bill, which will offer vulnerable groups pensions and free healthcare.
  • In Kyrgyzstan, activists are meeting Ministry of Health representatives to discuss a national strategy on diabetes and non-communicable diseases.
  • Older campaigners in Pakistan, Ethiopia and Ghana are taking part in rallies and demonstrations.

"No one cares about our health"

Vera Andreevna, a 77-year-old ADA leader in Kyrgyzstan said: "No one cares about our health. There is not enough accessible and affordable healthcare for people like me.

"I need to support my family, earn a living and stay healthy. How can I do that if I cannot access medical and social care? For a nation to be healthy, healthcare services need to be revitalised so that medical treatments are accessible by all."

The right to healthcare in pictures

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  • M.Prakash Rao (10 June 2012)

    I am 74 years now. There is no bar for doing exercises. Exercise is a potent midication in History. I, at the age of 74 doing the exercises pertaining to moderate weight lifting for 30 minutes a day except sunday. People around me say I am very healthy. Except a little blood pressure. I suffer from no other health problem. Thank God. I advice others like me to follow.

    M.Prakash Rao

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