Older generation at risk of being left behind in push for UHC

An elderly woman visits a clinic run in Dar Nahim site in Chad. Photo by: © European Union / ECHO / Isabel Coello / CC BY-NC-ND

BARCELONA — A lack of data on people aged 65 and above means the older generation is at risk of being left behind in the push toward universal health coverage, according to a new report by HelpAge International and AARP. This can be felt especially in lower income countries.

In 2017, there were 962 million people aged 60 or older worldwide — 62 percent of whom live in developing countries. Without adequate data on this age group to monitor illnesses, conditions, and general health, governments cannot effectively plan for the delivery of health services.

“There’s been a lot of work done in the humanitarian and development field in terms of setting inclusion standards, but we need to see NGO workers at all levels pushing for those to be included within their programs and their advocacy.”

— Justin Derbyshire, chief executive officer, HelpAge International

“The systems can’t adapt if you don't know how many people you’re focused on, what issues, what illnesses, or conditions they’re facing,” said Justin Derbyshire, chief executive officer of HelpAge International. He noted that 34 of the 40 countries in Africa that conducted a World Health Organization survey on noncommunicable diseases — the leading cause of death globally — excluded anyone over the age of 64.

Older people aren’t being intentionally excluded. Derbyshire believes the lack of information stems from archaic data systems that don’t accurately reflect the aging population. To remedy this and ensure UHC is achieved by 2030, he called for the development community to step up and put inclusion principles into practice.

“There’s been a lot of work done in the humanitarian and development field in terms of setting inclusion standards, but we need to see NGO workers at all levels pushing for those to be included within their programs and their advocacy,” he said.

Priya Kanayson, senior advocacy officer at NCD Alliance, recommended that as people live longer, the focus should also be on ensuring that they are living long, quality lives — limiting the years of poor health. “This is particularly relevant for older persons and requires health-promoting environments and health systems that deliver integrated care.”

A strong health system requires better civil registration, vital statistics, and better data collection, she said. “With populations aging across the board, countries must ensure the needs of older persons are met, and doing so requires quality data disaggregated by age and gender.”

The Global AgeWatch Insights 2018 report also found that older people are unable to access health services due to distance of medical facilities, cost, and a lack of information and discrimination by health workers. And while women are living longer, they spend more years in poor health.

In order to achieve UHC, the report recommends national governments and international agencies train medical staff to understand older people’s health issues; improve accessibility of health facilities; ensure the costs of receiving care are not a deterrent; and develop data that accounts for older people’s experiences when designing how health systems operate.

“UHC will only be successful once it covers and addresses the needs of all people, regardless of age, gender, geographic region, etc.,” said Kanayson.

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    Rebecca Root

    Rebecca Root is an Editorial Associate and Reporter at Devex. She has a background in journalism and communications, and has written for a variety of publications while living and working in New York and London. She is now based in Barcelona and produces multimedia editorial content for digital content series and media partnerships.