7 April is World Health Day and this year the theme is active ageing. Age UK and the World Health Organisation are marking the occasion by launching a ‘knowledge transfer toolkit’ to help low and middle-income countries address chronic illnesses.
In many parts of the globe today, there are millions of older people who are suffering from chronic long-term illness. This, you might think, is not surprising – it is widely known and appreciated that as we get older, the risk of illness increases. However, for many older people in the poorer parts of the world, there is a cruel paradox.
They are the survivors of the AIDS epidemic which places them as the carers of their grandchildren, but they themselves may have an undiagnosed disease or an untreated condition. The problem will continue to worsen as the population of low to middle-income countries (LMIC) ages.
These so-called LMICs have health systems which have been set up to deal with and prevent communicable disease – malaria, water-borne diseases, TB and HIV/AIDS. This emphasis is increasingly successful. As the risks are reduced and the survival rate improves, more will progress into later life where they may develop chronic long-term illnesses.
And here the problem really bites – because their health systems are under-invested and not configured to diagnose and treat these ‘ageing’ illnesses. For example, if you are living in central Burkina Faso, even if you were diagnosed as diabetic (and you wouldn’t be), there is no infrastructure in the health system to treat you.
This transition, from deaths due to communicable disease to deaths due to long-term chronic illness, is already upon us. It will involve millions of people globally. Unless solutions are found, the economic consequences and the human suffering will be immense. That is why Age UK, together with the World Health Organisation, is working to remove the barriers which prevent what we know (‘evidence’) from entering into policy and practice (‘what we do’). This process we call ‘knowledge transfer’.
In collaboration with McMaster’s university in Canada, we have produced a knowledge transfer tool which is designed to help LMIC health services break down the barriers which are preventing health care reaching those with chronic long-term illness. For example, we know that in parts of western Africa, over half of those aged over 65 have high blood pressure, but only 5 per cent are treated for it. Why is this? Are there no policies in place? What about health promotion? Or access to medical care?
Of course, there is a need for investment and the use of the knowledge transfer tool cannot address the problem alone. But where barriers exist, these will be removed more easily because they will be identified, together with evidence on how to use the existing investment more efficiently.
Age UK is proud to be part of this initiative. When the tool is launched on World Health Day, it will be a milestone for LMICs and the start of a journey which will help millions of older people worldwide to age more healthily.