Bringing health-related rights home for older persons

Between 1950 and 2010 life expectancy increased from 46 to 68 years and by the end of the century is projected to be 81. Already there are more than 700 million people over the age of 60 and by 2050, one in five people will be 60 or older.

During a discussion on the right to health of older persons held on 16 September, the Human Rights Council heard that a rapidly ageing world population brings hope for human longevity but also presents significant challenges for the global community, including for the full enjoyment of human rights by older persons.

UN Human Rights chief Navi Pillay told the Council, “Regrettably, prejudice against and stigmatization of older persons are consistently reported everywhere in the world”. Discrimination based on age is present in health care, as well as in areas as vital as social protection policies, employment laws, and access to public services.
Pillay added that “it is clear that the situation of older persons should rank among the most pressing policy issues for governments, public institutions and societies at large.”

“Age-related discrimination in health care is common in all regions of the world,” the High Commissioner told the Council, “…age often defines whether someone is allowed access to medicines, treatment, devices or long-term care. Older persons claim that their age alone is handled as a disease. ”

Presenting a study on the subject prepared for the Council, Anand Grover, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health, said that a “right to health approach” to aging is indispensable to mitigate the consequences of an aging society and ensure that older persons enjoy the full range of human rights.

The Special Rapporteur drew attention to the stereotyped view of older persons and brought home the importance of encouraging them to remain physically, politically, socially and economically active for as long as possible. “That would benefit not only the elderly but also society as a whole,” said Grover. He called for much greater focus on treatment for long-term and chronic pain, on respect for the right of older persons to informed consent, and on the prevention of abuse, which older persons too often suffer, particularly if ill.

Grover regretted that the rights of older persons “are often considered to be a marginal area in human rights”. He pointed to the absence of a specific international instrument concerning older persons’ rights, and warned that “failure to recognize older persons as rights-holders may lead to continued prejudice and discrimination against them”.

The panel discussion on the right to health of older persons was held on 16 September during the 18th session of the Human Rights Council.

The International Day of Older Persons is observed on 1 October every year since 1991.

27 September 2011

See also