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New joint programme will support countries in upholding rights and dignity of older persons during COVID-19 and beyond

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on the rights and health of older persons: as of September 2020, nearly 9 out of 10 COVID-19-related deaths reported in the UNECE region have been among adults aged 65 years and older. The region currently hosts more than 30 per cent of the world’s population aged 65 and above.

Through its broader impacts, the pandemic has also shown how vulnerable many older persons are to other situations that can take a dramatic toll on their physical well-being and mental health: a lack of access to health care; neglect and abuse in institutions and care facilities; poverty and unemployment; social isolation and exclusion, stigma and discrimination.

“The COVID-19 pandemic not only highlighted the vulnerability of older persons in emergency situations, it also witnessed cases of ageism, and worrying accounts of human rights violations affecting older persons, particularly with regard to health and long-term care services” said UNECE Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova. “It is crucial that we move from debate to action in working together to uphold the rights and dignity of older persons and change policy approaches, in light of the lessons learned since the start of the pandemic.”

On 1 October, the International Day of Older Persons, the United Nations Population Fund together with the World Health Organization, UNECE, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and HelpAge International launches a new Joint Programme on Ageing with that goal at its heart: “Building forward better in light of COVID-19: Upholding the rights and dignity of older persons through health, social care and enabling environments in Europe and Central Asia.”

The Programme will support countries in strengthening the rights and safeguarding dignity of older men and women through improving health and social care provision and enabling environments across the region.

With this years’ policy brief and policy seminar focusing on older persons in emergency situations and the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, and by extending work on the Road Map on mainstreaming ageing in Kazakhstan, UNECE provides important input to this new Joint Programme.

One of the first activities to be carried out will be an assessment of the impact of COVID-19 on long-term care for older persons in Kazakhstan. Planned to be conducted in October–December 2020, the assessment is seen as a potential model for other countries in the region to follow.

The Joint Programme on Ageing envisages collaborative action over the next three years (2020–2023) among agencies of the UN system and civil society stakeholders at regional and national levels, working closely with governments across Eastern Europe and Central Asia, in the following areas:

  • Enhancing preparedness and emergency response to mitigate the risks for older persons during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic;
  • Supporting the delivery of person-centred integrated health and social care for older people beyond the COVID-19 pandemic in the context of demographic and epidemiologic change in Europe and Central Asia to ensure ageing with dignity;
  • Changing the narrative, promoting the human rights of older persons and creating participatory and enabling environments.

The programme will include activities at national and regional level and will support United Nations Country Teams’ active role in engaging national governments, civil society actors and older persons in using the momentum of these processes to increase visibility of older persons in society; encourage a societal participatory review and appraisal of the situation of older persons, gender and intergenerational relations; and to identify policy priorities.