A hundred international experts met today at the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington, D.C., to review the condition of older adults and to identify strategies to support active and healthy aging, particularly for the poorest populations in Latin America and the Caribbean.
"The severe social problems and imbalances in the region will project into the future and will influence dramatically the quality of life and dignity of people in old age," said IDB President Enrique V. Iglesias today at the inaugural session of a two-day international "Consultation on Active Aging."
"There is a window of opportunity now in countries with younger populations to improve income distribution, education, savings and investments, so when the progressive tendency towards aging populations –due to lower fertility rates, health improvements and longevity — sets in, the continent will be prepared," added Iglesias.
"This consultation we begin today is a great opportunity to share successful worldwide experiences to be able to tap the extraordinary human wealth of the population that is older than 60, that will represent almost a 15 percent of the total Latin American population by the year 2025," said Iglesias.
Among the others who inaugurated the conference were Pan American Health Organization Director George A.O. Alleyne; HelpAge Chief Executive Todd Petersen; Regional Vice President of the International Federation of Aging, Ramón Gutmann; and IDB chief of the Social Development Division Mayra Buvinic.
Alleyne underscored that the problem of aging populations is not only of the developed world, but for all countries, and he pointed out to the importance of prevention. He signaled that "there is strong evidence that practices adopted early in life have repercussions late in life".
While underlining the key role of the media in sensitizing all the population on these issues, Alleyne stressed that health for the elderly is a problem in its own right, not the exclusive concern of the health sector. There is also an "ethical consideration" that older people deserve as much attention as others, and that specific problems such as health coverage for elderly women living alone, have to be addressed.
Studies by the IDB and other organizations show that the age structure of the population in Latin America will progressively acquire the characteristics of the industrialized countries: the estimated 7.8 percent of the population over 60 years old now, will double to 14.1 percent by 2025 -- around 97.7 million people, of which 25.9 million will be over 75.
The meeting is expected to provide elements for future IDB involvement in developing operational policy and promoting programs for active, productive, autonomous and healthy aging, and the reduction of poverty among the older adult population in Latin America.
After a general overview of the situation of aging, lessons from international experience were presented by analyzing policies and programs from North America, Europe, Japan and China.
Participants in the conference included Jeanette Takamura, Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Administration on Aging, and Horace Deets, Executive Director of AARP; Nancy Garrard, Director of the Division of Aging and Seniors of Health Canada; Iuhani Ilmarinas, Finland; Kerry Persson of Swedish Healthcare, AB; Xiao Caiwei, International Deputy Director of the National Committee on Aging of China; and Taichi Ono of the Embassy of Japan, Ministry of Health and Welfare.
Experts from the IDB, PAHO/WHO and the Andaluzan School of Public Health from Spain, presented also the results of studies carried out in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, three of the countries in the Americas already most affected by the aging of their populations.
The reports from these countries identify demographic and social trends, as well as needs and demands of the older adults; the supply of services for the sector; criteria for defining and prioritizing service policies and resources; and strategic opportunities for intervention.
Argentina, Chile and Uruguay have updated their pension, social services and health systems to a certain degree, but their coverage is insufficient to satisfy basic needs for many, in areas such as nutrition, housing and health, and the limited pension plans exclude the possibility of work. But the challenge of an aging population goes beyond these aspects and should also include guaranteeing a social capital of autonomous and active older adults as well as helping those with functional problems.
On June 2 the participants will discuss the demands of an aging population and will identify effective policies and programs in areas such as employment, technology, social services, health, housing, urban development, education and recreation. In a final plenary session chaired by IDB Vice President for Planning and Administration Paulo Paiva, participants will suggest recommendations to set the basis for an IDB operational policy proposal.
Aging is a central dimension in the natural process of life and development, Iglesias said. Wasting a whole life of investments in education, experience and health, and losing productivity for lack of recognition of the potential value of contributions by older people, and its human, social and inter-generational consequences represent a huge economic and social cost the region cannot afford, he added.
The event is co-sponsored by the governments of Sweden and Finland, the Spanish Foreign Trade Institute, the Japan Program, the Pan-American Health Organization, the International Federation on Aging and HelpAge International.
- Christina MacCulloch