World Health Day: Good health adds life to years
Ageing and health – to which each and every one of us can relate – is the theme of this year’s World Health Day to be observed on 7 April 2012.
Over the past century life expectancy has increased dramatically and the world will soon have more older people than children. Populations are ageing everywhere, but less-developed countries are witnessing the fastest change. This social transformation represents both challenges and opportunities. In particular, countries may only have a single generation to prepare their health and social systems for an ageing world.
The slogan of the day is ‘Good health adds life to years’.
Here are a few interesting facts on ageing.
The world’s elderly population – people 60 years of age and older – is the fastest growing age group
Ageing is a global phenomenon. By 2050 about 80% of older people will be living in less developed countries. Population ageing is occurring in parallel with rapid urbanization: in 2007 more than half of the world’s population live in cities. By 2030 that figure is expected to rise to more than 60%.
Population ageing is a triumph of modern society
It reflects improving global health, but also raises special challenges for the 21st century in both developing and developed countries. In 2005, life expectancy in countries like Japan and France was already more than 80 years. Life expectancy is also rising in developing countries. For example, a child born today in Chile, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Lebanon, Sri Lanka or Thailand can expect to live for more than 70 years.
There are vast differences in life expectancy at birth between countries
Vast health inequalities persist, as is clear from differences in life expectancy at birth. For example, while Japan has the highest life expectancy in the world at 82.2 years, in several countries in Africa the figure is 40 years lower.
Within countries, health inequalities are also significant
In the United States of America, for example, higher socioeconomic groups can expect to live up to 20 years longer than people from lower socioeconomic groups.
By 2050, close to 80% of all deaths are expected to occur in people over 60
Health expenditures increase with age but are concentrated in the last two years of life, regardless of how old someone is. As people live longer, it is important to ensure these added years are healthy so that health-care costs can be kept manageable.
Investing in health throughout life produces dividends for societies
Healthy older people represent a resource for their families, communities and economies. It is rarely too late to change risky behaviours to promote health: for example, the risk of premature death decreases by 50% if someone gives up smoking between 60 and 75 years of age.
Effective, community-level primary health care for older people is crucial to promote health, prevent disease and manage chronic illnesses
In general, training for health professionals includes little if any instruction about specific care for older people. However, they will increasingly spend time caring for this section of the population. WHO maintains that all health providers should be trained on ageing issues, regardless of their profession.
Disasters and emergencies severely impact older people
For example, the highest percentage of fatalities caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in Indonesia was in people 60 years of age and older, and the majority of the 2003 heat wave victims in Europe were people 70 years of age and older. Policies to protect older persons during emergencies are urgently required.
In older age, the risk of falls increases and injuries are far more serious
This leads to significant health, human and economic costs. In Australia, the average health system cost of one fall-related injury for people 65 years of age and older was US$ 3611 in 2001-2002.
Elder abuse is on the increase as the population ages and social dynamics change
WHO estimates that between 4% and 6% of older persons worldwide have suffered from a form of elder abuse – either physical, psychological, emotional, financial or due to neglect. Elder abuse is an infringement of human rights.
Source: World Health Organisation