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An elderly woman infected with Covid-19 meeting her son at an old age home in Belgium. An elderly woman infected with Covid-19 meeting her son at an old age home in Belgium.  (AFP or licensors)

UN urges respect for rights, dignity of elderly during Covid-19

UN Secretary-General António Guterres on May 1 launched a new policy initiative addressing the challenges faced by the elderly during and after the pandemic.

By Robin Gomes

Noting that the COVID-19 pandemic is causing untold fear and suffering for older people across the world, UN Secretary-General António Guterres appealed that humanity’s response to the virus includes respect for the rights and dignity of older people.

High Covid-19 risk for over-80 

“The fatality rate for older people is higher overall, and for those over 80, it is five times the global average,” he noted in a video message for the launch of a UN policy brief entitled, “The Impact of COVID-19 on older persons”.

A report by the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) in early April pointed out that in the world’s top 30 countries with the largest percentage of older people, over 95% of Covid-19 deaths occurred among those older than 60 years. More than 50% of all fatalities involved people aged 80 years or older.

Guterres noted that beyond its immediate health impact, “the pandemic is putting older people at greater risk of poverty, discrimination and isolation, with a particularly devastating impact on older people in developing countries”.

At age 70, the UN chief has the responsibility of caring for an even older mother. Hence he is “deeply concerned about the pandemic on a personal level" and its effects on communities and societies.

The UN policy brief launched on May 1, he said, provides analysis and recommendations to address these challenges. It has four main messages.

Respect for rights and dignity of all 

Firstly, “no person, young or old, is expendable”, Guterres stressed in his message, adding, “older people have the same rights to life and health as everyone else”. “Difficult decisions around life-saving medical care must respect the human rights and dignity of all.”

Secondly, while physical distancing is crucial in fighting the contagion, they need “improved social support and smarter efforts to reach older people through digital technology”.    

The policy brief urged that “all social, economic and humanitarian responses” take the needs of older people fully into account - from universal health coverage to social protection, decent work and pensions.  

Most of the elderly are women

The UN chief pointed out that the “majority of older people are women, who are more likely to enter this period of their lives in poverty and without access to health care”. Hence, “policies must be targeted at meeting their needs”.

Lastly, the policy brief urged that older people not be treated as “invisible or powerless”. In this regard, Guterres pointed that out that “many older people depend on an income and are fully engaged in work, in family life, in teaching and learning, and in looking after others”. Hence, their voices and leadership count.

Everyone's solidarity is needed

The UN Secretary-General called for a “surge in global and national solidarity”, encouraging all, including the elderly, to contribute, in order to create “more inclusive, sustainable and age-friendly societies that are fit for the future”.

According to Johns Hopkins University, which tracks the Covid-19 pandemic worldwide, over 3.5 million people have been reported infected by the virus since the first cases were detected in China in December.  Meanwhile, the global death toll is nearing a quarter of a million. 

Italy, the first country in the world to impose a nationwide lockdown due to the pandemic, began easing some of the restrictions on Monday, after a month and three weeks.  (Source: UN)

04 May 2020, 15:21