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In times of pandemic, it is imperative for countries to prioritize care and protect the rights of older persons

The Online Conversation: Challenges to the protection of older persons and their rights in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, was an opportunity to exchange experiences and reflect on its impacts on the population of older persons.

(October 8, 2020) Protecting the rights of older persons amid the current humanitarian and socioeconomic crisis is one of the great challenges for governments of Latin America and the Caribbean. Experts from the region affirmed during the  Online Conversation: Challenges to the Protection of Older Persons and their Rights in the Face of the COVID-19 Pandemic, which took place today as part of a series of conversations held within the context of the Regional Conference on Population and Development.

The event was opened by Julio Mazzoleni, Paraguay's Minister of Health; Raúl García Buchaca, Deputy Executive Secretary for Programme Administration and Analysis of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean(ECLAC); and Harold Robinson, Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

During the event, a group of decision makers, academics and civil society organizations analyzed the sociodemographic scenario for countries in the region in light of the current health crisis, as well as its potential short, mid and long-term impacts on older persons. This health, social and economic crisis, generated by the COVID-19 pandemic, has taken a particularly heavy toll on them, as they are exposed to increased risks of mortality and serious illness after the infection, experts said.

The conversation was also a forum for reflection and the exchange of experiences and learning in connection with the challenges and difficulties governments face in serving the most vulnerable groups. The participants also shared good practices and initiatives for the promotion of cooperation mechanisms to respond to the needs of the population of older persons.

Julio Mazzoleni, Paraguay's Minister of Health and Chair of the Regional Intergovernmental Conference on Aging and the Rights of Older Persons, who participated in the opening session of the online conversation, affirmed that “the scenario we are living today is the greatest public challenge, from the standpoint of health and social economy, for humanity”.

"We must build a just society with dignity and rights, and work to incorporate programmes, development plans and care projects for the population of older persons into policies in a cross-cutting manner", he said.

Raúl García Buchaca, ECLAC's Deputy Executive Secretary for Programme Administration and Analysis, who led the opening session, said that, “the current outlook for the adult population is a matter of priority that demands urgent actions in several dimensions of public policies, inclusion and the protection of human rights and equality”.

And he added that, “while the pandemic has brought huge challenges to humanity and has posed a disproportionate threat to the life, well-being and rights of older persons, it is also creating opportunities to build inclusive and friendlier societies that can promote healthy aging, human rights and the dignity of older persons".

During his participation, he also said that the UN's latest projections indicate that people aged 60 and above have already reached 85 million in the region and account for 13% of its total population. It is estimated that, by 2050, this age group will reach 190 million people and will account for approximately 25% of the population in the region. And the proportion of persons aged 80 and above in that group will triple over the next 30 years, from 2% to 6%, and will reach approximately 2 million people by 2050.

UNFPA's Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Harold Robinson, stressed the importance of improving the response to the population of older persons, and made a call to address the challenges posed by the largest pandemic the world has experienced in more than a century, with responsibility, sensibility and firmness: “We are fully aware that the challenges of leaving no one behind on the path to development were already huge before the outbreak; however, we are also aware that these challenges have grown in size and complexity”.

And he added: “In these difficult times, UNFPA has prioritized the organization of this type of events for the collective exchange of regional experiences. And this is extremely important to safeguard hard-fought gains and pursue and accelerate intergovernmental goals and objectives agreed upon in the area of Population and Development."

UNFPA's Regional Director also stated that “the circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic have put us in the frontlines of a region experiencing tensions as a result of health, economic and social challenges. Tragically, inequality has become more visible and the population of older persons has been particularly affected. The decline in economic activity has had an impact on sources of funding for retirement and pension systems; national health systems and national care systems”.

Finally, Harold Robinson stressed that the pandemic is having an impact on the volume of workers' retirement savings, which could be used to finance productive investments and could be severely affected.

This third conversation is part of series of online conversations that have become an open forum to share information, experiences and learning in connection with the main difficulties and challenges governments are facing to alleviate the effects of the health crisis on the population, to share initiatives and best practices, and to promote cooperation mechanisms between countries for the implementation of coordinated responses to the crisis.

Read the Spanish version of this story here