Older People Must be Explicitly Recognized as a Population Group “Most-Affected and At-Risk”

Temperature screening in Vietnam
Temperature screening in Vietnam © HelpAge International

HelpAge International has analyzed the global humanitarian response plan to fight COVID-19 – launched by the UN Secretary-General launched on 25 March along with a US$2.1 billion appeal – highlighting where the plan fails to deliver protection for older people at risk.

Older people have not been specifically included in a list of those ‘most affected and at-risk despite being the group with the highest primary needs in this crisis. This is a glaring omission given that donor and operational decisions will undoubtedly be driven by this list and could limit the humanitarian support made available to older people.

‘Old age’ is included at the end of a list of ‘conditions’ that people suffer from, increasing their risk.

“Older age is not a condition to be suffered and it is unacceptable to represent it in this way. It is unthinkable that they are not included explicitly, acknowledging both the immediate and long-term risks they are exposed to by the virus,” said Justin Derbyshire, CEO, HelpAge International.

There are longstanding issues with older people being excluded in humanitarian response. If humanitarians are to fulfill their mandates and save lives, this has to change with the COVID-19 response.

“This is no time for business as usual. UN agencies, donors, and humanitarian organizations need to put aside pre-existing plans and priorities and commit to providing life-saving assistance to those most at risk – which specifically includes older people for COVID-19 – in the spirit of the humanitarian principles that guide us all.

We welcome OCHA’s commitment to revise the plan and urge members of the IASC to take our proposals on board. Through the UN global humanitarian plan, UNOCHA and the IASC need to provide the leadership and coordination to ensure that older people are fully included in COVID-19 responses.            Justin Derbyshire, CEO of HelpAge International

COVID-19 presents specific risks for older people. Ninety-five percent of those who have died from COVID-19 in Europe were over 60, and more than half of those were over 80. Initial research in China based on over 44,000 cases of COVID-19, showed a mortality rate of 2.3% for the general population, rising to 8% in those aged 70-79 and nearly 15% in those 80 and over.

HelpAge International is asking OCHA, members of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, and the whole humanitarian community to stand in solidarity with older people and take concrete steps to strengthen the approach in the next iteration of the Humanitarian Response Plan. This includes:

Recognizing older people explicitly alongside other population groups considered “most-affected and at risk.”

  • Strengthening the humanitarian needs analysis acknowledging that older people face significant health risks, discrimination, and longstanding, systematic barriers to accessing humanitarian assistance.
  • Strengthening implementation plans and guidance and monitoring framework to ensure that measures to reduce risk and respond to older people’s needs are implemented and monitored.
  • Ensuring that older people are represented within national-level coordination and prioritized within funding mechanisms.

For detailed analysis and recommendations, please read our briefing document on the COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan.

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