Washington, D.C., 1 October 2019 (PAHO) – The challenges and opportunities that a rapidly aging population bring were discussed during a side event at the Pan American Health Organization´s (PAHO) 57th Directing Council, which brings together ministers and high-level health authorities from around the Region until 4 October.

The event, Response to Aging Societies: The Challenges and Opportunities in Fostering Sustainable Health and Long-Term Care Systems in the Americas, was hosted by the Costa Rican and Chilean ministries of health, and supported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Daniel Salas Peraza, the Minister of Health from Costa Rica, opened the event, whose first panel was moderated by HHS Assistant Secretary for Aging Lance Robertson.

Populations around the world are aging quickly, with these changes being observed especially in low- and middle-income countries. Today in the Americas, 81% of people born in the Region will live to age 60, and 42% will live beyond 80. By 2030, in the United States alone, 73 million people - or one of every five - will be over 65 years old. The increase in the number of older people in the Region is expected to be the main cause of increased dependence in these countries.

The gaps between the increase in life expectancy and the hope of living those years in good health are increasing, warned PAHO Assistant Director Jarbas Barbosa. He said it is necessary to use all available tools in health promotion and prevention, strengthening primary care and health systems, and working with other sectors to respond to the growing care needs of older adults.

The meeting provided a chance for experts to discuss best practices and different experiences in working with aging populations. Jean Accius, from the AARP Public Policy Institute, shared some of the challenges the United States has faced in terms of growing longevity. He presented a long-term care and support system for older people that´s based in community services.

Pablo Ibarrarán, Lead Social Protection Specialist at the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), emphasized the relationship between chronic diseases and dependence, and said that healthy aging can reduce the burden on health systems. “Our fight isn´t just for our people to live longer, but rather to live longer and in good health,” he said.

Dr. Manfred Huber, the coordinator for Healthy Ageing, Disability and Long-Term Care in the WHO Regional Office for Europe, shared an overview of the situation in European countries. He argued that it´s important for people to understand that not having adequate long-term care systems comes at a high cost.

Kanako Kitahara, Director of the Long-Term Care Insurance Data Analysis Office in the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare of Japan, presented a snapshot of her country´s experiences since 1960 and how they were able to adopt an insurance system for long-term care of older adults.

The side event was held on the International Day of Older Persons, which is celebrated on 1 October every year, and as part of PAHO´s 57th Directing Council. The discussions held during the event are part of the support PAHO is providing countries for the upcoming launch of the Decade of Healthy Aging 2020-2030.