Including older people in development policy & practice

22/08/2011 at 3:29 pm Leave a comment

Guest blog by Hannah Grene for Age Action Ireland


It is generally understood that the world is ageing. The UN World Population Ageing Report estimates that by 2045, people over the age of 60 will outnumber children globally for the first time. What is less well understood is that this is no longer just an issue in the developed world.

Currently, 8% of the population in developing countries are over 60, compared to 20% in developed countries. But the global population of older people (defined as over 60) will increase by a massive 29 million each year on average between 2010 and 2050 – and 80% of this increase will be in developing countries. By 2050, older people will account for 20% of the population in developing countries – the same ageing demographic currently experienced in developed countries. The speed at which the population is ageing in developing countries is unprecedented, giving less time to adjust to the consequences.

The role and place of older people in developing societies is changing also. As a result of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, older people often find themselves as the primary carers of their adult children living with HIV/AIDS, or of orphaned granchildren. Migration patterns play a part, too – as younger adults move to the cities in search of work, the older generation is often left behind, sometimes caring for grandchildren or sometimes alone, caught in a situation where their traditional supports have been removed, but a proper state-sponsored primary care network does not exist either.


Why should we consider ageing in general development practice?

Groups such as HelpAge International work specifically on the rights of older people in development. However, a rights-based approach to development holds that human rights should be enjoyed equally by all, and that as we work to help people obtain their rights, we must pay particular attention to vulnerable groups where they are at risk of disadvantage or discrimination. If older people are not considered when drafting policy, they can sometimes be discriminated against unintentionally.

For example, September 2011 will see the first ever UN High Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases. Initial preparatory documents outlined that the focus of the summit would be on preventing deaths of ‘productive workers’, defined as under the age of 59. But four out of five older people worldwide have no access to a pension and are often obliged to work until they die – in Africa, over half of men over 65 are still working. Three-quarters of those who die each year from non-communicable diseases are over 60.

How can we ensure that older people are considered in development practice?


Relatively simple measures could go a long way towards ensuring older people’s equal access to rights. To start with, much development programming is based on demographic data, broken down by age group, but this can be underused or absent at the upper age levels. For example, Millenium Development Goal 6 is to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases. Whereas the baseline data series for malaria is gathered on all ages, the HIV/AIDS baseline data is ages 15-49 only. This means that, despite the ageing of the AIDS epidemic, older people continue to be excluded from HIV/AIDs prevention and treatment programmes, as the WHO now acknowledges. Expanding the data collection beyond age 49, as national programmes in Tanzania and Mozambique have now committed to doing, is the first vital step in acknowledging that older people are at risk, too.

Age Action Ireland are currently seeking to develop guidelines for the international development sector on considering older people. In order to ensure that the guidelines are not ‘just another add-on’, we wish to consult actively with Irish development NGOs, to understand how an ageing perspective might be practically implemented in programmes and policy.

If you are interested in being part of this process, please contact Hannah Grene at or Adrienne Boyle at

Suggested further reading:


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