UN and governments must step up to UN Secretary General’s call for action on older people and COVID-19


“COVID-19 exposes existing inequalities that affect older persons, especially older women and older persons with disabilities.” UN Secretary General António Guterres

In response to the launch of a UN policy brief on the impact of COVID-19 on older people today, Justin Derbyshire, HelpAge International’s Chief Executive, said,

“We congratulate the UN Secretary General for his much-needed leadership on this issue and welcome his recognition of the broad range of risks COVID-19 has on older people’s lives. The Secretary General rightly highlights the disproportionate threat to their health, rights and social and economic well-being in the pandemic.

“This pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing inequalities, ageism and discrimination, as well as the challenges faced in accessing health care and humanitarian assistance.

“Responses to the pandemic to date have failed to adequately include older people. As the UN brief highlights, the pandemic has shown the need for stronger legal frameworks at both national and international levels to protect the rights of older people and to take them into account in social, economic and humanitarian responses.

“Older people should not be discriminated against when it comes to access to scarce medical resources or their ability to give informed consent.  Everyone’s rights to health and to life must be treated equally in response to COVID-19. More, not less, social care and support services must accompany the process of physical distancing.

“This is an encouraging first step towards the leadership and coordination we need to transform the way the international community supports older people. UN member states and agencies must get behind the Secretary General and take immediate action in response to his call to step up efforts to ensure the well-being, dignity and voice of older people as the world responds to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

HelpAge International highlighted specific areas that need to be addressed, including the need to:

  • ensure older people have access to information on the risks they face and how to protect themselves
  • ensure older people can participate in decision-making processes
  • monitor the impact of COVID-19 and responses to the pandemic on older people
  • give older refugees access to national health systems and ensure that older people have special attention in refugee response plans and wider humanitarian response.
  • guarantee older people’s rights in national and international legal frameworks.