Difficult Situation of Africa and Countries in Conflict in support of Older People highlighted at Ageing Assembly in Madrid

By : United Nations
April 10, 2002


Developing countries' difficult situation, which exacerbated the situation of older people there, was particularly true for countries trapped in cycles of violent conflict, Vice-Minister for Social Assistance of Angola, Maria Da Luz told the Second World Assembly on Ageing this afternoon.

Africa was one of the most acute examples of the adverse consequences of globalization, she said. The international community must work to ensure that the continent could emerge from underdevelopment and become more integrated into the global economy. In sub-Saharan Africa, wars, economic crisis, poverty and malnutrition had led to premature ageing and death.

Also drawing attention to the problems of older persons in countries in conflict, the representative of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) said that he saw the Assembly as part of the process for attaining the United Nations Millennium Development goals. Those included halving poverty in developing countries. "As we work on finalizing the conference documents -- the Plan of Action on Ageing and the Political Declaration -- we would urge the international community to provide policy actions that would effectively address the critical issues of ageing in our development process", he said.

Stressing that protection of the elderly and the consolidation of their rights and preservation of their dignity was of central concern to this Assembly, Egypt's Foreign Minister, Fayza Aboulnaga, said that what was happening in the occupied Palestinian territories was a violation of human rights, particularly of older persons.

Emphasizing the importance of research as a basis for formulating sound and achievable policies for action, the President of the International Association of Gerontology, Gloria Gutman, said that there were clear indications that to address the issue of ageing, poverty must be squarely addressed as well, along with the attitudes that excluded older persons from the mainstream. There was a need for a new vision of ageing that addressed both lifestyle and factors influencing health and well-being that are under the control of individuals, as well as "big picture issues", including concerted efforts for the eradication of poverty.

Several speakers also focused on the need to counter the disintegration of traditional values, which ensured family care for the elderly and respect for older persons. Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Lao People's Democratic Republic Phongsavath Boupha said that while the proportion of older people was growing, the number of caregivers within families was declining. Urbanization of societies and the growing number of working women were eroding the traditional support system of the extended family for the older family members.

Another recurrent issue in the debate was the impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. As more productive people died, the older people were left to provide support to orphans, the representative of Malawi said. The death of young productive people also meant less economic transfers to older persons. Another challenge was the effect of poverty on rural communities, particularly the aged. Older persons found themselves more vulnerable to the shock created by the changing socio-economic environment due to globalization. In order to fully realize the welfare of older persons, family and community-based care should be encouraged, as opposed to institutional care. Such an arrangement provides an opportunity to reweave the social fabric and promote inter-generational inter-dependency.

Statements were also made by Ministers and Deputy Ministers from Bahrain, Kazakhstan, Finland, Hungary, Brazil, Côte d'Ivoire, United States and Viet Nam, as well as the representative of Bangladesh. On behalf of inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations, the Assembly was addressed by the Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization, and representatives of HelpAge International, the Federation of Women for Democracy and the International Institute on Ageing.

In other business this afternoon, Syria and Ukraine were elected as Vice-Presidents of the Assembly. Antoine Mifsud Bonnici (Malta) was designated as the Assembly's Rapporteur-General.

The Assembly will continue its general exchange of views at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 11 April.

Election of Other Members of Bureau

The Assembly elected by acclamation Syria from the Group of Asian States and Ukraine from the Group of Eastern European States as Vice-Presidents of the Second World Assembly on Ageing.

The Assembly also agreed to the designation of Antoine Mifsud Bonnici (Malta) as the Assembly's Rapporteur-General.


ABDUL-NABI ABDULLA AL-SHOALA, Minister for Labour and Social Affairs of Bahrain: Bahrain shares the concern of the international community on the issue of ageing. The International Plan of Action on Ageing and the Arab plan for the elderly have become our main frames of reference, on which all our policies are based. We share the same demographic changes in the numbers of older persons as the rest of the international community. The number of elderly in Bahrain has doubled in the last 20 years -- from 3.8 per cent to 5.5 per cent of the total population.

A national committee on the elderly was formed in Bahrain in 1994, consisting of representatives of the Government, civil society, the private sector and experts in ageing to ensure the participation of all in forming ageing policies. Our commitment to provide the best preventive health and social care means intensifying efforts to provide for all needs. Among the most important programmes is that of raising awareness for the caring of older persons, who are the depositories of wisdom, knowledge and experience.

We have increased the participation of older persons in Bahrainian society through programs of administrative development and political modernization. A prime example is increased participation in the municipal and parliamentary elections, in which women will participate on an equal footing with men. We believe in the advancement of women, especially through their entry into the labour market and participation in economic activity, so that they will have pension and retirement guarantees as they grow older. We encourage day care for older persons and, to this end, partnership between the public and private sectors is being strengthened.

Millions of people are denied the opportunity to reach an advanced age, due to famine, disease and natural disasters. For example, the Palestinians are currently suffering the worst forms of barbaric attacks on their territories -- children and older persons alike.

MARIA DA LUZ, Vice-Minister for Social Assistance and Reintegration of Angola: The international financial and economic situation is indeed grave for developing countries. This is particularly true for countries trapped in cycles of violent conflict. While one could look at the African continent, and my county in particular, as being blessed with limitless natural resources, in truth, Africa is one of the most acute examples of the adverse consequences of globalization. The international community must work to ensure that Africa can emerge from underdevelopment and become more integrated into the global economy. We call on the international community to recognize the important role that the African continent can play in creating a better world for all.

The world's elderly people generally make up the poorest segments of societies. They are also the most dependent on social aid. Statistics have shown the dramatic increase in the number of older persons throughout the North, but in sub-Saharan Africa, wars, economic crisis, poverty and malnutrition have led to premature ageing and death. There is also a new and strange phenomenon in African culture that has led to the expulsion of older persons from family units. This is particularly disturbing because the cultural heritage of the continent is to revere the elderly and respect their place in the community. We must unite to preserve the great wealth that older persons can provide their communities and families.

Despite all this, there has been some progress in the situation of older people in many African countries. In Angola, we have extended specific protection to older persons, categorizing them as a vulnerable group. We have also reformed our social security system to provide the requisite social assistance. We have also begun providing additional financial assistance. Overall, our Government initiatives have led to the drawing up of a nation plan on social assistance.

KHAFIZA UTEULINA, Vice-Minister of Labour and Social Protection of Kazakhstan: Population ageing has a strong impact on all aspects of life, including social and economic life. The actively employed sector has to pay more towards caring for older people. Over the last three years there has been an increase in life expectancy in Kazakhstan. We have a highly developed pension system and there are many Government services for the elderly and for veterans. We also provide care at home. Each social worker helps 6 to 10 elderly persons. We have an automated system to pay out pensions and those over 80 years old get paid at home.

Medical care is particularly important for the older persons. One of the most important problems in Kazakhstan is that of circulatory diseases. There has been an increase in heart disease, particularly among older persons, but since 1997 there has been a slight drop in mortality from that disease. We also try to take advantage of the experience and wisdom of the elderly in trying to solve the problems they face. Today, more attention is being paid to the problem of the elderly and there are more gerontologists working. Hospitals have geriatric departments, which provide health services, consultations with specialists, and advice on the taking of medication.

MAIJA PERHO, Minister for Social Affairs and Health of Finland: Most of us would like to lead independent lives as long as possible. Our living environments, therefore, should be constructed in a manner that permits older people and persons with disabilities to live in their own homes. Housing, communication and mobility are potential areas for major innovation in the field of ageing.

We must develop policies designed to prevent loss of function due to age and disability. We must also increase opportunities for older people to use information technology, and allow them to work longer. However, the latter is a difficult and delicate political issue. The Finnish National Programme for Ageing Workers aims to create positive attitudes about working longer. Employers should be encouraged to recruit people over 45. Discrimination based on age should not be tolerated in any circumstances.

Promoting health and well-being throughout life should be every government's goal. In Finland, preventive work begins with child guidance and family counselling clinics, day-care units and schools. Preventing accidents and promoting healthy lifestyles among older persons is vital. Finland welcomes the emphasis in the Assembly Plan of Action on mental health issues -- which have been completely neglected on a political level -- and which can be a reason for reduced quality of life. Older people should have the same rights to mental health services and psychosocial support as other citizens.

FAYZA ABOULNAGA, State Minister for Foreign Affairs of Egypt: The philosophy of caring for the ageing in Egypt is built on the basis of providing a pension to all those who have reached the age of retirement. Egypt also supports comprehensive care for the ageing through the voluntary action of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and through the family. Caring for the ageing is also a basic Islamic concept, to the extent that the majority of families look forward to caring for their parents. In 2000, the ageing population reached 6.3 per cent of the total population, and it is expected that this percentage will reach 10.8 per cent in 2025.

Health-care policies for the ageing are based on improving medical and mental health services, increasing the awareness among them and in the society of their role and their independence, decreasing disability and increasing their standard of living. Egypt emphasizes the importance of international cooperation to improve the situation of the ageing, especially in light of changes in the international economy. The ramifications of those changes are felt by the countries of the South. The international community should bear its responsibility in supporting developing countries to strengthen and consolidate development and to eradicate poverty through, among other things, debt rescheduling, the opening up of markets, the facilitation of the flow of foreign investments and provision of the necessary levels of official development assistance (ODA).

The dangerous and painful repercussions of the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories and the continuous brutal Israeli aggression and massive violations of the Palestinians' human rights shames humanity. The first World Assembly on Ageing coincided with the massacres of Sabra and Shatilla in 1982. The Second World Assembly on Ageing coincides regrettably with the ongoing massacres in Jenin, Tulkarem, Nablus and Ramalla. The genocide attempts, the subjugation and the daily agony the aged Palestinians undergo is a degradation that wipes out their dignity. Isn't it time that the international community shoulder its responsibilities and protect a defenseless people from crimes that shock humanity? As we are assembled here today to protect the elderly and consolidate their rights and preserve their dignity, this Assembly should condemn what the elderly suffer at the hands of the Israeli army, to demand the immediate withdrawal of Israeli troops and to demand an end to the Israeli occupation of Arab lands. The Assembly should also demand that Israel respond to the hand of peace that all Arab States extended in Beirut in March.

JUDIT SZEMKEO SZILAGYINE, State Secretary of the Ministry of Social and Family Affairs of Hungary: Currently, 14.6 per cent of Hungary's population is over 65 years old. In 50 years, 26 per cent of our population will be over 65. A more pressing problem for my country is the steady decline in births over the past two decades. The proportion of elderly has therefore developed unfavourably in comparison with the economically active population. We have attempted to reverse that trend by initiating an Active Family Policy Agenda designed to increase the number of births and improve mortality rates, especially in the area of working age men. We consider it a great achievement that by 2000, our efforts have effectively halted the decline in births. A diverse and wide-ranging set of programs and initiatives make up the backbone of the Government's social policy scheme.


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