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Developing countries ‘unprepared’ for ageing global population

Developing countries ‘unprepared’ for ageing global population

Age International

4 min read Partner content

Governments and development agencies are “not prepared” for a rapidly ageing population, a leading charity has warned.

A new report by Age Internationalseeks to draw attention to global shifting demographics that require an urgent response from both governments and NGOs.

The charity hopes to start a conversation about the largely ignored plight of older people in developing countries and highlight the growing numbers that will need health and social care provision over the coming decades.

Age International’s Political and Policy Adviser Ken Bluestone is keen to stress that higher life expectancy for people in low and middle income countries is a “huge success” based on improvements in healthcare and tackling poverty and inequality, but that it does bring challenges.

“Ageing and the shifting demographics itself is not a crisis, it is how we respond as a society that determines the result. Quite simply, we are not prepared,” he says.

Currently there are around 850m people over the age of 60 worldwide, two-thirds of whom are living in developing counties.

The latest projections suggest that by 2050 that number will have risen to 2bn – one fifth of the world’s population - of which 80% will be living in what are now developing countries.

“It’s a total transformation in terms of overall demographic structures,” Mr Bluestone says.

The charity welcomes greater recognition of older people in the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, which follow on from the Millennium Development Goals and will be agreed this September.

The goals begin to recognise, Mr Bluestone says, that “older people do exist and are a part of development reality.”

He commends in particular two crucial ambitions: to collect better data by age and the promise to ‘leave no one behind,’ which suggests that targets should be met for all relevant groups.

Prior to this, Mr Bluestone says older people “had been completely left behind… side-lined and ignored and I would say even marginalised,” from the development discourse.

 “But, the new framework has to deliver more than words. The real proof will be positive changes in older people's lives,” he added.

“There is this on-going perception in development that tackling poverty in developing countries does not include people in later life.

“And that’s the perception that we are trying to challenge,” he says.

The charity is calling for better income security and healthcare for older people to be a priority for international development.

Economic research highlighted by Age International shows that non-contributory social pensions can benefit both the recipient and the wider community.

“It has been proven in many countries that this is not only affordable but results in an investment to the local economy and improves the lives of the older people and their families,” Mr Bluestone says.

In many low and middle income countries people are working “literally until the day they die because they don’t have a choice,” he adds.

He points to the case of sub-Saharan Africa where 73% of people over the age of 60 are working in agriculture to provide food and some income for themselves and their families."

Healthcare is also a key area as older people in developing countries continue to play a vital role in the household economy.

In many cases the poor health of an elderly relative will have an economic impact on the entire family, and girls in particular may miss out on education in order to fulfil a caring role.

“When their health fails it is not just affecting them as older people, it’s affecting the people who rely on them… Good health is an investment in the economy and the community,” Mr Bluestone says.

Although the context may differ, many of the difficulties and challenges faced in later life are universal experiences and Age International is keen to identify common goals that will enable all citizens to be valued and respected as they age.

Loneliness in old age does not happen only in wealthy countries, Mr Bluestone says, and across the world "people live longer lives, they are increasingly living in isolation."

"Fundamentally, we need a shift in attitudes and understanding about ageing in developing countries," Mr Bluestone explains, "setting a new agenda that recognises the dignity and rights of older people across the globe is long overdue."

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