Dr. John Beard MBBS PhD Director Department of Ageing and Life Course, WHO
and Director (a.i.) Department of Gender, Women and Health, WHO
Populations around the world are rapidly ageing. Between 2000 and 2050, the proportion of the world's population over 60 will double from less than 11% to 22%, and the total number of people aged 60 years and over is expected to increase from 605 million to almost 2 billion.
This "demographic transition" is also occurring very quickly, particularly in less developed countries. For example, it will take countries like China and Thailand less than a quarter as long as it took France for the proportion of their population over age 60 to double from 7 to 14%. Already, the majority of older people live in the less developed world, and, by 2050, more than 80% will live in what are currently low- and middle-income countries.
Older people continue to play an invaluable role in all societies - as leaders, workers, caregivers and volunteers. However, the rapid ageing of populations also presents a number of challenges for both developed and developing countries. Healthy ageing needs to be at the core of our response to these challenges. Not only is health a fundamental right of all, if an older person is in poor health, many of their financial resources will be diverted to health care costs. For many older people, and often for their families, a major health event such as a stroke can place them at risk of a rapid descent to poverty. On the other hand, if a person can retain good health into older age, there is little to distinguish them from a younger adult. In many senses, health makes age irrelevant.
Ageing is not merely a biological process; it also encompasses emotional, social and economic issues. Healthy ageing implies that as we age, we can continue to actively participate in family, social, economic, cultural, and civic affairs. Nor is healthy ageing something that can be left until the last years of life. Events in early childhood, adolescence and adulthood also impact our health in later life, and we need to age healthily even from childhood.
We congratulate the Malaysian Healthy Ageing Society for taking on the mantle of leadership and spearheading the first World Congress on Healthy Ageing in 2012. This forum is an ideal venue for initiating bold and constructive discussions on healthy ageing. For this is a challenge and an opportunity that can only be solved globally, and we can all learn from each other's local or regional experiences.
The World Health Organization is very pleased to be the co-sponsor for the World Congress. We would like to extend our warmest welcome to all participants throughout the world and look forward to a very productive and profitable time during this 1st World Congress on Healthy Ageing 2012 in Kuala Lumpur.
1st World Healthy Ageing Congress, 19th-22nd March 2012, Kuala Lumpur Malaysia
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