As the World Health Assembly
convenes a special session to discuss the potential of developing a future WHO
convention on pandemic preparedness, HelpAge International addressed the meeting to call for any response to address the risks faced by older people and to uphold their rights.
HelpAge’s global healthy ageing adviser, Camilla Williamson
, spoke to the Assembly to call for those most at risk to be at the centre of pandemic preparedness and response. In her statement she said:
“Age discrimination has gone unsanctioned during COVID-19, as a result of the lack of explicit mention of age in international law on public health emergencies. Ageist responses have been a death sentence for many older people.
“Millions have also been rendered invisible by the failure to collect, report and use age, sex and disability disaggregated data.
“Vaccine apartheid means that many of those most at risk in low-income countries are still unvaccinated. And even where vaccines are becoming available, older people living in poverty, along with those who are socially or geographically isolated or excluded or living in insecure situations are being left behind.
“This inequity must end, and any future pandemic instrument must ensure it is never repeated. The use of age as a ground for discrimination must also be prohibited.”
HelpAge also called for measures which ensure inclusive approaches to preparedness and response be included in any future WHO instrument, highlighting that this can only be achieved by meaningfully engaging with different groups of older people.
This is only the second time in history that a special session of the World Health Assembly has been convened by the WHO and is an acknowledgement of the urgent need to develop a future convention, agreement or other international instrument on pandemic preparedness and response.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted in the most brutal ways the life and death consequences of infectious diseases, particularly for older age groups and other at-risk populations. During the first year of COVID-19, older people made up 84 per cent of mortality globally.
Those most at risk must be at the center of pandemic prevention and response. But during COVID-19 millions of older people have been left behind. Inequalities, discrimination, and ageism have led to violations of their human rights – including their right to health and their right to life.
The lack of explicit mention of age in international law on public health emergencies means age discrimination goes unsanctioned. Ageist responses have been a death sentence for many older people, while failure to collect, report and use age, sex and disability disaggregated data has left them invisible. A future pandemic treaty must end this. It must prohibit the use of age as a ground for discrimination in pandemic responses and include measures to ensure all-of society approaches that meaningfully engage older people in building resilience to pandemics and in the design and delivery of responses.
Equity, as a principle and outcome, must guide the treaty. The inequity of the pandemic, which continues today in the vaccine apartheid, means we are in a situation where millions of those most at risk in low income countries, including older people, are still unvaccinated.
Within countries, older people living in poverty and those who are socially and geographically isolated or excluded are most at risk of being left behind, including older women, older people with a disability or care need, older people from minority ethnic or religious groups, migrants and refugees, and those living in remote or insecure situations. This inequity must not be allowed to continue, and a future instrument must ensure it is never repeated.