Press Releases

    SOC/4613
    11 April 2002

    DIFFICULT SITUATION OF AFRICA AND COUNTRIES IN CONFLICT
    IN SUPPORT OF OLDER PEOPLE HIGHLIGHTED
    AT AGEING ASSEMBLY IN MADRID

    (Received from a UN Information Officer.)

    NEW YORK, 10 April (UN Headquarters) -- Developing countries’ difficult situation, which exacerbated the situation of older people there, was particularly true for countries trapped in cycles of violent conflict, the 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.

    Statements

    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 programmes 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 defenceless 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 programmes and initiatives make up the backbone of the Government’s social policy scheme.

    In order to help raise children, mothers, fathers and grandparents can choose to stay home on subsidized leave for up to three years. Time spent rearing children also qualifies for a pension, calculated on the basis of previous earnings. Special emphasis is placed on recognizing and supporting multi-generational family models as well. We are convinced that respect for the elderly, recognition of their dignity and promoting their active participation and social self-fulfilment can be effectively incorporated in macro-level policies if those values are rooted in broad support for strengthening the family unit. Our programmes are aimed at meeting the special needs of the elderly over the full life cycle. Our basic aim is to promote home care for those who need it, but we also allocate significant resources towards building and operating elder-care facilities and nursing homes.

    Our priorities include safeguarding the independence of elderly persons and increasing their active participation in the economy and society. An important aspect of that effort is a guarantee of financial security for as many elderly persons as possible. In fact, 98 per cent of the elderly population receives an old age pension of between 56-60 per cent of average pay. Unfortunately, because of the inherited economic state of the national pension system, 25 to 30 per cent of pensioners are paid very small sums. To address that problem, we launched a pension reform plan in 1998 which has produced a "mixed pension scheme" whereby a fully funded supplementary fund has been created for the young. We are planning to introduce a new full pension system in 2003.

    WANDA ENGEL ADUAN, Secretary of State for Social Assistance of Brazil: Issues of ageing must not be treated narrowly. We must look at ageing as a whole and take an integral approach, integrating the economic and social aspects. Economists work in quantitative areas, but in the social area, we take a different approach.

    We welcome the full participation of older persons in the development process. We must change our attitudes about older persons -- we must see them as a source of social enrichment for society, not as a handicap. We must also ensure that we respond to the specific needs of older women.

    Older persons, who often suffer from poverty or social exclusion, must be allowed to live a dignified life. Brazil tries to invest 21 per cent of its gross national product (GNP) to improving life for all. Infant mortality has dropped from 44 per cent to 43 percent, illiteracy is dropping among older persons, although it is still widespread, and school attendance is improving. In attempting to protect older persons, we are providing better services to them, as well as to the disabled. We have now reduced the number of elderly poor to about 3 per cent.

    Brazil has 15 million older persons -- about 8 per cent of its total population. There has also been a 7 per cent drop in infant mortality, which affects these statistics. In 1994, we put into effect a national policy for older persons, with departments to assist and integrate them into society, as well as to develop geriatrics and gerontology.

    OHOUOCHI CLOTILDE, Minister of Social Affairs and National Unity of Côte d’Ivoire: In Côte d’Ivoire, the percentage of older persons has increased from 3 to 4 per cent of the population over the period 1988-1998. The Government has always worked towards the well-being of the elderly. Indeed, the Constitution guarantees the protection of children, the elderly and disabled persons. That protection is carried out through a national social pension scheme and a pension scheme for Government officials. Family support is also a duty for the entire community. The elderly live precariously and count on family and community solidarity, but that solidarity is difficult under the current economic circumstances.

    The Ministry for Social Affairs and National Unity includes a section dealing with vulnerable groups, such as the elderly and the disabled. Its strategies and policies include setting up of a framework to link grass-roots NGOs with the Government. Various associations and NGOs support the Government. Despite all such actions, much remains to be done. In the national action programme, therefore, improvement of the elderly will be one of the priorities. Despite their relatively small share of the population, the Government grants special attention to the elderly. Those actions should be supported by the international community through solidarity in order to achieve a world in which it is good to age.

    JOSEFINA CARBONELL, Assistant Secretary for Ageing in the Department of Health and Human Services for the United States: Looking back, we see visible progress in improving the lives of older persons and preparing for tomorrow’s ageing populations. Nations have begun to address the many challenges and recognize the contributions that an ageing population can make to society.

    Older Americans comprise a large segment of our population -- one out of every eight of our citizens. And our older population is getting older. As our post-Second World War "baby boom" generation ages, this number is expected to increase even more. By 2030, the population of those 65 and older will represent 20 per cent of the population of the United States.

    Our Government is committed to improving the lives of older Americans and their families. That means eliminating discrimination based on age, modernizing our health insurance programme for older persons, expanding prescription drug benefits and preventing disease. We are also committed to protecting older people from abuse, neglect and exploitation, and we urge other nations to join us in this resolve. This includes the promotion of awareness and knowledge of the problems and developing systems to respond to the needs of the abused.

    The United Nations theme of advancing health and well-being into old age is similar to efforts in the United States. We are promoting healthy lifestyle changes and heightening public awareness of culturally appropriate health care and social services that focus on disease prevention. We are also urging seniors to stay socially active, especially through volunteering in their communities. The United Nations theme of ensuring supportive environments parallels our efforts to assist family caregivers. In the United States, families provide 95 per cent of care for older persons and those with disabilities.

    DAM HUU DAC, Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs of Viet Nam: As a result of the progress achieved in implementing the International Plan of Action on Ageing adopted in Vienna in 1982, the situation of older persons, particularly, health and social services, has been improved in many countries around the world. Older persons were now able to positively contribute to the overall development of society. This is a trend that must be preserved and enhanced by the work taking place in Madrid this week. We must recognize that the skills and expertise gained by older persons during their professional years can enhance the indigenous strength of nations. The cultural benefits of promoting active social participation, interaction and integration of our ageing populations is particularly crucial in a social climate characterized by rapid technological and scientific advances.

    We must also recognize inequities in our national strategies for the elderly. Despite many successes, we have to admit that there is a pattern of unfair treatment of elderly persons -- from provision of basic services, to providing late-life employment and health care. We must also address the situation of the elderly in the developing world, where despite efforts to overcome persistent inequities, the widespread poverty and poor health exacerbated by lack of resources continue to hamper their progress. More to the point, we cannot ignore the sad reality that in some parts of the world, together with women and children, older persons continue to fall victim to acts of discrimination, violence and aggression as a result of protracted conflicts. All this confirms our belief that only by fostering international peace in the cause of stability for sustainable development can we provide better services and care for the world’s older populations.

    At present, Viet Nam is not yet an ageing nation. Still, the number of persons over 60 has been increasing steadily and they now account for some 10 per cent of the population. Our policy on older persons is based on a national tradition of respect for elders and the recognition of their great contribution to the country. Many of Viet Nam’s older persons have given their entire lives to the struggle for national independence and the protection of our country -- experiences which are invaluable to younger generations. With that in mind, our programmes for the care of the elderly, including national community health-care programmes, have always been integrated in our socio-economic development initiatives. To enhance the social life of older persons, in 1995, the Viet Nam Association of Older Persons was founded with chapters in all cities and provinces.

    PHONGSAVATH BOUPHA, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic: Although population ageing will occur worldwide, it is expected to take place at a faster pace in Asia and the Pacific. The twin processes of reduced mortality and fertility, as well as improved longevity will contribute to this dramatic increase in the proportion of older persons. This rapid ageing, though still in its early stages, has implications for the socio-economic development of countries in the region, including a diminishing labour force, increasing economic dependency and a growing demand for care.

    Laos has a total population of 5.2 million, of which 5.1 per cent are aged 60 years and older. In the next 10 years, the country’s population is expected to reach 6 million, with the number of ageing people increasing to 5.4 per cent. This demographic change is explained by improved nutrition and health care, which are lowering mortality rates. At the same time, younger age groups are shrinking in size, due to falling birth rates. Progress in socio-economic development, especially advances made in the status of women through education and employment, has reduced the need for large families.

    Our older people are a diverse group with a range of abilities and varying levels of responsibility. Usually as people age, their level of productivity diminishes and they require more and more care, due to poor health. However, while the proportion of older people is growing, the number of caregivers within families is declining. The urbanization of societies and the larger number of women entering the labour force are eroding the traditional support system of the extended family for older members.

    Thus, the Government must consider appropriate means of solving future problems concerning older persons. While poverty is the greatest obstacle to a secure old age, the Government has recognized that needs and opportunities differ greatly between urban and rural areas. Therefore, sound policies have been adopted and social welfare programmes implemented to address issues about ageing.

    SHAHED AKHTAR (Bangladesh): In Bangladesh, the population over the age of 60 has reached 7.2 million and is likely to double in the next 20 years. Life expectancy is increasing on account of improved health services, education and technology. As the country moves towards industrialization, the pattern of employment is shifting. The population is moving from rural to urban areas, creating a social gap, with more and more older persons being isolated in the villages. There is a constitutional guarantee of the well-being of older persons. The Government is giving priority to older persons, especially women, in its socio-economic development programmes.

    Bangladesh has introduced social security and welfare programmes for the aged, including old-age pensions, allowances for widows and distressed and deserted women, and housing for the distressed, abandoned and disabled aged. A project is under way to provide medical care, a communication network and recreation for older persons who are lonely and depressed. Such situations arise due to family break-ups and changes in traditional family norms and values. Micro-credit programmes have been successful in alleviating the poverty of women, including older women, and making them economically self-sufficient.

    My delegation calls for increased international cooperation, especially for improving health facilities, education and development of an economic support system for the elderly. in developing countries we need to prioritize a plan of action for the ageing which includes: a sound institutional framework; the introduction of universal health care; long-term residential facilities for disadvantaged older persons; research on geriatrics; social security schemes; ensuring equal opportunity for elderly women; promoting NGOs devoted to the welfare of older persons; and above all, exchange of ideas and information on best practices, particularly with developed countries, where the older generation is already enjoying special privileges.

    JUNE ASANI-NDELEMENI (Malawi): Malawi has done progressively well in addressing issues of older persons, which constitute 4.7 per cent of the 11 million Malawians. Realizing the complexity of issues surrounding ageing, the Government has created partnerships with the private sector, NGOs and religious organizations. Since the majority of older persons live in rural areas, they should be supported there through family and community institutions.

    The Government has already put in place long-term plans to address issues that affect older persons, including a free housing scheme for very poor older persons in rural areas, free farm inputs to households with older persons, improvement of water and sanitation at the community level, and the provision of micro-credit financing to poor rural women. The review of the Wills and Inheritance Act and the introduction of the Land Policy have availed opportunities for older persons to exercise their rights to property and land ownership, particularly for older women.

    The most pronounced challenge the Government is facing now is the HIV/AIDS scourge. As more productive people die, older people are left to provide support to orphans. The death of young productive people also means less economic transfers to older persons. The second challenge is the effect of poverty on rural communities, particularly the aged. Older persons find 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.

    FRANCESCO FRANGIALLI, Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization: Our organization is the only agency within the United Nations family headquartered in Spain. The issue of population ageing is particularly significant in the leisure and vacation community. Before the tragedy of 11 September, figures showed that on average, 150 million people over 60 travelled each year. Two thirds of that number travelled in Europe. Travel and holidays taken by older persons have become a major part of the international economy. The leisure sector long ago realized the power in the expression "active ageing".

    Along with all this, we must understand that increased travel by older persons heightens the need to provide special services that will ensure that they have equal opportunities for leisure and social opportunities, as in other areas of life. Older travellers have special needs but the also have special expectations. They have a spirit of discovery and adventure. But health and dietary concerns are important to them. They also prize culture and education while travelling. The impact increased travel of the elderly will have on economies cannot be overestimated. The average growth in travel is 4 per cent for travellers over 60, the average increase is 10 per cent. There will be a revolution in vacation, leisure and travel activities for older persons that will correspond with the ageing revolution.

    More importantly, while this phenomenon will no doubt help countries of the North, there are signs that it will soon expand to the developing world -- beginning with significant increases in travel in East Asia and the Pacific. A large percentage of the world’s ageing population is made up of wealthy, healthy "baby boomers." This group is culturally different from travellers of previous generations in that they access to significant disposable incomes. They also will tend to gravitate towards cultural and eco-tourism. This is not only good news for the developed world, it is particularly good news for developing countries, whose secluded locales and scenic landscapes hold the lure of adventure. The leisure industry generates more that $470 billion a year and is a major factor in economic trade, making the leisure industry one of the few economic sectors that could actually provide real benefits for developing countries.

    R. OMOTAYO OLANIYAN, Chairman of the Delegation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU): People aged over 60 account for 4.5 per cent of the population of Africa. Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1997 show that Africans 60 years of age and over will increase from 22.9 million in 1980 to 101.9 million in 2025. This could drain African economies if a proportionate increase in the workforce does not occur. And it may not if the negative effects of HIV/AIDS on adolescents, women and the elderly in many counties on the continent are not halted and reversed.

    The OAU Policy Framework and Plan of Action on Ageing is unique among world regions. It provides a common framework for developing national action plans on ageing in African countries. The Framework underscores the role of family in the care, support and welfare of older people. It emphasizes the need to tackle chronic poverty, and recognizes the importance of addressing issues affecting older persons. Our organization has further noted the need to adequately address problems of old age and demographic imbalances in the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the African Union.

    The commitment of our continent to ageing problems and the need to find appropriate solutions have encouraged us to be part of this process. We see this Assembly as part of the process for attaining the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, which include halving poverty in developing countries. As we work on finalizing the conference documents -- the Plan of Action 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. We must also pay equal attention to the problems of older persons in countries experiencing and emerging from conflict.

    TODD PETERSEN, Chief Executive of HelpAge International: HelpAge International is a worldwide development agency, active in over 80 countries, with the mandate to support disadvantaged older women and men to make sustainable improvements to their lives. Our core message to the Assembly today is that the greatest and most implacable enemy of old age is poverty. Poverty brings with it hunger and illness. It puts the wishes of older women and men to contribute to family and community through work and household activity under great strain. Older women, who live longer and are likely to be widowed, face special problems due to a lifetime of discrimination and lack of material assets.

    Old-age poverty is both the cause and effect of inter-generational poverty. It is hard for younger generations to care for their older relatives when they themselves are poor. It is equally hard for older relatives to care for younger relatives orphaned by AIDS or made homeless by civil conflict and natural disaster when they are struggling with lack of resources and ill health. The Millennium Declaration does not mention old age and its development goals do not identify old-age poverty as one of the ills of the twenty-first century that must be eradicated. We believe that this is a serious omission. Unless the poverty of older people is tackled, the international goal of halving poverty by 2015 will not be met. We urge nothing less than that older people be accorded their right to equal treatment and to an equitable share of resources at the national and the international level.

    ELENA BUSTILLO SUAREZ, President of the Federation of Women for Democracy: Our organization is an association which has worked for the defence of women to participate in all levels of society. In that spirit, we have actively participated in the NGO Forum, which successfully concluded its work in relation to this Assembly yesterday. We give courses throughout Spain for the training of women, with special emphasis on access to the training market. We are also developing a technical project for women in the Dominican Republic.

    In many States, older persons remain an "invisible community" to their governments and social institutions. We have observed the feminization of ageing and women are now the most vulnerable ageing community. This is usually because they are less skilled and have not been able to participate fully in the labour market. Still, we must work to remove the stigma of old age. Indeed, the majority of older persons contribute significantly to their communities and societies. In Spain, pension schemes have been improved, particularly those aimed at addressing the needs of the poorest women. An important element of our social security system is that active labour after the age of 65 does not interfere with qualification for pension benefits. We will continue to work to improve the situation of older persons. Growing old successfully means that one has overcome life’s many challenges and we must all work to ensure that the benefits of such success can contribute to the overall improvement of society.

    GLORIA GUTMAN, President of the International Association of Gerontology: The Association represents 63 organizations in 60 countries with a combined membership of over 46,000. The objectives of the organizations are to promote research on ageing and training of personnel, disseminate information on best practices and promote the interests of national gerontological societies in international affairs.

    This is the first time in history that a United Nations social summit has been preceded by a meeting of scientists, researchers, educators and practitioners for the purpose of gathering the scientific evidence base. A Research Agenda was elaborated on 1-4 April by the Valencia Forum, which gathered 500 experts in ageing research, education, policy and practice in gerontology and geriatrics from around the world. The meeting was organized to provide a scientific basis for the draft International Plan of Action being discussed by the World Assembly.

    The report of the Valencia Forum and the Research Agenda for the twenty-first century stress the importance of using the knowledge and understanding of human ageing as a basis for formulating sound and achievable policies for action. They also underline the importance of viewing ageing as a positive experience and ageing persons as a major resource to their societies who should be valued and respected. At the same time, it is important to recognize that some members of the ageing population, especially the very old, have major needs for health care, social services and support.

    There is a need for a new vision of ageing that addresses both life style 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. The results are in. Research clearly indicates a very strong relationship between health and socio-economic status. There is no doubt that to address the issue of ageing, poverty must be squarely addressed, along with the attitudes that exclude older persons from the mainstream.

    FREDRICK FENECH, President of the International Institute on Ageing : The main concern of the Second World Assembly on Ageing was to determine factors leading to the successful implementation of the recommendations of the First World Assembly on Ageing. This concern has been expressed by academics at the Valencia Forum and by grass-roots spokespersons during the NGO Forum, as well as various governmental delegations here.

    One of those factors has been education and training in the field of ageing. Educational and training needs identified in the Vienna International Plan of Action in 1982 still apply. However, new educational and training requirements have recently emerged. Due to increased longevity attained during the past few years, especially in developing countries, the education of older persons themselves has become more important.

    The International Institute was set up in 1988 under the auspices of the United Nations to focus on the urgent training and educational needs of developing countries. It has now become necessary to cater to life expectations of significantly longer than 60 years. In future, radical changes in education will have to be implemented. In general, education and training in ageing was largely oriented towards training personnel to do things for older persons. Most development programmes for older persons were targeted towards self-development, rather than empowering them to be of service to society.

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