atuguba1_Matthew HorwoodGetty Images_elderlywomencovid Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

A Global Institution for an Aging World

At an international level, no single institution is responsible for safeguarding the rights and advocating for the interests of the world’s fastest-growing age group – those 65 and over. But the world’s governance architecture must adapt to its changing demographic structure.

CAPE TOWN/CAMBRIDGE/LONDON – The COVID-19 pandemic has made global aging impossible to ignore. This pandemic is the first to occur since the world’s population aged over 65 exceeded that under five, and COVID-19-related mortality rises sharply with age.

The intersection of the pandemic and this new demographic reality has exposed a gap in our global governance architecture. There is no single international institution responsible for safeguarding the rights and advocating for the interests of the world’s fastest-growing age group – those 65 and over. This institutional lacuna contributed to the lack of a unified global response to a worldwide pandemic that disproportionately affects this population. Inconsistent vaccine rollouts are the most obvious symptom, but many other dimensions of vulnerability exist. For example, in low-income countries, 46% of those aged 65 and over are in the labor force, and they are rarely a policy priority.

Other population groups have not been neglected. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) targets the needs and rights of children, UN Women promotes gender equality and women’s empowerment, the United Nations Population Fund focuses on issues of sexual and reproductive health, and the International Labour Organization monitors the standards and conditions of workers. An organization that emphasizes the older population is missing. Although older people are implicitly covered by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the lack of an explicit focus on them, combined with demographic change, means they form a growing proportion of the world’s most vulnerable people.

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