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World Health Day celebration tackles ageing and health

Last 7 April 2012, the World Health Organization (WHO) spearheaded the celebration of the World Health Day with the theme "good health adds life to years." The event aimed to increase people's awareness on how good health can help older men and women become active and productive members of the society.

According to the WHO, humanity has been adding years to life over the past century. More and more people are surviving childbirth and childhood and adults are living longer than ever before. While these are great triumphs for the health sector, these also lead to a predictable and accelerated ageing of populations around the world.

The number of people aged 60 and over has doubled since 1980 and expected to rise from 10% to 22% in the next four decades. This will lead to increase in the number of people aged 60 years and over to 395 million between now and 2050. By then, older adults will outnumber children under the age of 15.

Population ageing presents both challenges and opportunities. If no action will be taken, population ageing may result in a shrinking workforce and an exponentially increasing demand for healthcare, social care and security. On the other hand, given good health and well-being, aged persons can contribute to their families and in the community.

"This requires a paradigm shift," said Dr. Margaret Chan, Director General of the WHO. "In order for this to happen, we should appreciate and enable older people to be an active participant in the community. We, policymakers, practitioners, the media, civil society organizations and people across all generations and countries, need to change the way we think and act about ageing."

Though the determinants of healthy and active ageing lie beyond the health system, the WHO said, ageing is a demographic challenge that demands response from the health sector. "That is why we need to tackle issues across life courses and in many social spheres while we, too, need to adapt," added Dr. Chan.

Among the recommended interventions of the WHO include: promoting healthy lifestyle across the courses of life by allowing older persons to continue to participate in social, economical, cultural, spiritual, and civic affairs regardless of their level of physical functional ability; creating age-friendly environments and policies to engage older men and women; and making primary healthcare that is age-friendly.

Dr. Chan also mentioned that in building age-friendly societies, it is crucial to involve other sectors. "Everyone's involvement is crucial here. World Health Day should be an opportunity for us to start a collective action to make this an age-friendly world."