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Geneva, Switzerland, 20 May 2019 (PAHO/WHO) – To foster healthy aging, the World Health Organization (WHO) will lead a decade of global action consistent with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). To review the Organization’s progress over the past decade and share experiences, Argentina, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Panama, and six other countries organized a side event at the 72nd World Health Assembly.

“Population aging is an unprecedented phenomenon that forces all of our countries to unite,” said Chile’s Minister of Health, Emilio Santileces. “The Decade of Healthy Aging 2020-2030 will be a global effort that can make a difference in people’s lives and their environments,” he said.

Panel in aging

Santileces reported that Chile is “working to create healthy environments for older people, to provide health with multisectoral strategies, trained human resources and fewer barriers to access.” He said that “health should be brought to the elderly, with strong connections between this age group and their caregivers.”

It is estimated that, by 2050, the number of people over 60 years of age will double. Healthy aging is about developing and maintaining functional abilities that enable well-being in old age. Settings that support and maintain the capacities of older adults are essential for healthy aging.

“We are concerned about health equity, because people who have resources tend to live seven years longer than those in the poorest segment of society,” said Dr. Theresa Tam, the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, a country she says has been at the leading edge in promoting age-friendly communities. For Dr. Tam, the challenge is having stronger leadership and better understanding who is benefiting and who is being left behind when policies are formulated.

Ecuador’s Minister of Health, Verónica Espinosa, expressed her concern over the demographic transition taking place in her country, estimating that the percentage of older adults in her country (currently 7.3% of the population) will triple between 2015 and 2050.

“In Ecuador we start with the approach that aging begins when a person is born, so ever since 2007 we’ve had a plan called Toda una vida [A Lifetime of Health] that is based on social protection and guarantees the right to health from birth,” she said. The minister emphasized that “a comprehensive vision of protecting older adults has to go beyond health care.”

At the close of the event, Carissa F. Etienne, Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), said that “ensuring a longer life has become one of the most important achievements of society.” However, increasing life expectancy has not been accompanied by better health. “Our objective is to ensure not just longer but healthy lives; we have to add life to those years,” she said.

The health authorities of Singapore, Finland, and other countries, also shared their experiences.