As the world marked the International Day of Older Persons yesterday, a report released by the UN Fund for Population Activities and Helpage International said the number of older persons is growing faster than any other age group.
According to the report, 80% of world’s older people will live in developing countries by 2050, while over-60 population will be larger than the under-15 population by that year.
While the development is a cause for celebration for those societies which treasure old age, it also presents huge challenges, according to the report, requiring completely new approaches to health care, retirement, living arrangements and intergenerational relations.
The report rightly warns that if not addressed promptly, the consequences of these issues are likely to take unprepared countries by surprise.
It points out that in many developing countries with large populations of young people, for example, the challenge is that governments have not put policies and practices in place to support their current older populations or made enough preparations for 2050.
This message has been well put by UNFPA Executive Director, Dr Babatunde Osotimehin, who said: “People everywhere must age with dignity and security, enjoying life through the full realisation of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
Our country has been working towards ensuring the elderly population is protected through social welfare guarantees, but it must be pointed out the pace has been too slow to be of much help.
In light of the UN report, policy makers in the country will need to move quickly to put in place the legal framework, a process which started as far back as 2003 and is yet to be completed.
The elderly are still not yet guaranteed free medical services, despite the fact that the government has given directives on the issue as often as it was raised in parliament by stakeholders pointing out non-implementation.
The nation also needs to include them in national development plans as a human resource, using them mainly as mentors of the young generation.
According to the report, 47 per cent of older men and nearly 24 per cent of older women participate in the labour force. Yet, despite the contributions that a socially and economically active, secure and healthy ageing population can give to society, the report also notes that many older persons all over the world face continued discrimination, abuse and violence.
A nation that is truly seeking to prosper will create a pathway to transform the explosive number of people over 60 to become growth drivers and value creators, says the report, noting: “By revolutionising our approach and investing in people as they age we can build stronger, wealthier societies.”
Lest we forget, the elders, we see around, infirm as some of them are, have contributed immensely to getting the nation, where it is, stable, one of the most peaceful in the continent, attracting internal and foreign investments for its growth.
We can keep enjoying the wealth of experience garnered over the years by this group to help the young people steer the nation to more prosperity, only if the nation concretely implements the policies that take care of the needs of the over-60.