WHO Africa Chief Calls on Social, economic support for older people to leverage their wisdom

  • International Day of Older Persons 2021 is being celebrated around the globe under  ‘digital equity for all ages’ theme

By Dr Matshidiso Moeti

ADDIS ABABA – The International Day of Older Persons on 1st October is a key occasion to celebrate senior citizens and to raise awareness of the opportunities and challenges of population ageing.

Reverence for our elders is a core value across African societies and so this day is a reminder to appreciate the grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles who have guided, inspired and made sacrifices for their families and communities.

This year’s theme is “digital equity for all ages” because many seniors are missing out on access to health care and social engagement facilitated by technology. This has become even more apparent during the COVID 19 pandemic, with increases in social isolation and shifts towards telemedicine and other digital services.

2021 is also the first year of the United Nations Decade of Healthy Ageing, which offers a platform to push for societal changes towards improving people’s lives at all ages.

In the African Region, the Decade of Healthy Ageing, has kicked off strongly. At the WHO Regional Committee for Africa in August 2021, the continent’s health ministers agreed that addressing population ageing is a strategic priority and endorsed a framework to guide action. They also expressed commitment to equity in adopting a framework to advance digital health solutions in countries.

Africa’s older population is expected to triple from 54 million today to 163 million by 2050. Older people should be a key demographic group for the health sector, the technology industry and other sectors, but too often their interests, concerns and preferences are overlooked or assumed. At the level of health systems, there are also critical gaps in data on older age groups leading to a lack of visibility and understanding of their situations.

Investment is needed in quality community-based services designed around the preferences of older residents, including listening and sharing information in ways that build trust. More should be done to ensure digital health strategies, approaches and devices reach older people in ways that they appreciate and value. This includes pursuing research and development in collaboration with older people to make sure technologies are responsive to their needs.

Action across sectors is increasingly important to provide social and economic support for older people and to leverage their wisdom, talents and skills in shaping healthy societies.

So, in closing, older people know best what works for them. They are crucial agents of change and should be heard and involved in planning and action to achieve digital equity for all ages. They have a wealth of experience that they can share with the new generation, and digital solutions can help to bridge generations.


Dr Matshidiso Moeti the WHO Regional Director for Africa,  and writer of the message for the International Day of Older Persons 2021