The End of the Era of Denial?

This blog post was contributed by Ken Bluestone, Age UK’s international political and policy adviser:

The annual World Demographic and Ageing Forum just took place in St Gallen Switzerland. As the name would suggest, it is a meeting place in which challenges, future trends and opportunities regarding demographic ageing are discussed.

The future of healthcare in the developed and developing world, human rights of older people and demography meets financial markets were all on the agenda. Despite the focus and attention given to these issues in St Gallen, there is little evidence that demographic ageing is being taken seriously by international policy leaders outside the room.

Photo: Adam Cohn

During the conference, demographic ageing was described as the ‘second inconvenient truth of the century’. According to the UN’s figures, the global number of people over the age of 60 is due to exceed the number of children under the age of 15 for the first time ever by the year 2045. The pace of this change will be felt most acutely in developing countries making demographic ageing an inescapable part of the international development landscape.

Yet ageing remains a glaring blind-spot in the optics of international policy-making. For example, ageing is almost entirely absent from the Millennium Development Goals; and the World Health Organisation finds it acceptable to prepare for the upcoming UN High-level Meeting on Non-communicable Diseases (19-20 September) by referring only to the 9 million global NCD-related deaths of people under the age of 60 whilst ignoring the population aged 60 and over where 75% of NCD deaths occur (27 million).

One of the clear messages coming from the discussions at the WDA Forum in St Gallen is that we live in extraordinary times. We are benefitting from unprecedented advances in all forms of technology and these have changed our lives. It is enabling us to live longer and also, hopefully, to live longer well.

Whether one views demographic ageing as a cause for celebration or a harbinger of more woe to come, we are not sitting on the edge of a precipice. There are no surprises ahead where demographic ageing is concerned, yet still the international community refuses to prepare.

Ilona Kickbush, Chair of the WDA Forum, summed up the conference by saying the denial of ageing can be overcome providing we have leadership from all sectors of society. The question is: will this challenge be taken up by others?

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