Ageing populations worldwide pose key policy challenges warns UN official

11 April 2007The number of elderly people will triple in the next 25 years, and a “large majority” of them will soon be living in the developing world, an official from the United Nations health agency said today, calling on policymakers in rich and poor countries to grapple with the challenges posed by this long-term demographic change. Somnath Chatterji, team leader of Multi-Country Studies at the World Health Organization (WHO), told journalists at UN Headquarters in New York that the phenomenon of a rapidly ageing population can no longer be considered to be confined only to affluent nations. Many developing nations are in transition as well, Dr. Chatterji said, shifting – albeit later than in developed States – from a comparatively young population where infectious diseases are prevalent to an older population where chronic diseases, such as heart disease, are more common. He cited China and India, which together represent one third of the global population, as among the most notable examples of this transition. Dr. Chatterji, who has been attending the 40th session of the UN Commission on Population and Development, said the absolute number of people aged over 65 will treble within 25 years. A report by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon earlier this year on the changing age structures of populations and their implications for development projected that by 2050 the number of older persons – defined as aged 60 or more – would exceed the number of children for the first time in history. By then, there should nearly 2 billion elderly persons, up from about 705 million this year. The world’s poorest nations, many of which are located in sub-Saharan Africa, will continue to have a relatively young population for some years, Dr. Chatterji, adding that the HIV/AIDS epidemic was a key factor in this trend. Nyovani Madise, senior researcher at the African Population and Health Centre, told journalists at the same press conference today that the continent’s enormous young population remains particularly vulnerable to the scourge of AIDS. Dr. Madise called for greater investment in health care across Africa and recommended an increase in targeted programmes aimed at promoting more responsible behaviour among the continent’s young people – whose use of contraception is generally lower than that of older people, exposing them to a higher risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections.