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Madrid event to define new strategy for aging population

9/28/2001 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

NEW YORK (UMNS) - Twenty years after the United Nations created a strategy to deal with issues facing an aging population, it will host a forum to expand and update that plan.

The Second World Assembly on Aging, meeting April 8-12 in Madrid, Spain, also is expected to define a new long-term strategy for a demographic shift characterized by increasing proportions of older people.

Susanne Paul, a United Methodist who is founder and president of Global Action on Aging, said that demographic shift, which "raises a lot of social and economic policy questions for governments," is what makes the Madrid event so important.

A U.N. report on population aging in 1999 shows that by 2050, the number of people age 60 years old or older is projected at almost 2 billion, marking the first time in history that the 60-plus group will overtake the number of children age 14 years and under. Because of dramatic improvements in life expectancy, people age 80 and older are the fastest-growing segment of the older population, expected to reach 19 percent of the 60-plus group by 2050.

More than half of the world's older population resides in Asia. In addition, "the majority of people over 60 now live in developing countries," Paul noted. Because of that, the Madrid assembly will focus more on economic and development issues.

The volatile world atmosphere following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington also could impact discussion of social protection issues for an aging population. "If governments and people feel that they must put their public monies into armaments or into troops or into the military establishment to be safe, then there will be less money for human needs," she explained.

Global Action on Aging, which is based at the United Methodist-owned Church Center for the United Nations, is leading the organization of the social protection part of the forum for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), which will meet April 5-9 in conjunction with the Madrid assembly. Issues to be covered include health care, income support and age discrimination.

Global Action also will work jointly with the International Labor Organization regarding forum presentations on pension issues and income support, according to Paul.

She expects religious denominations and organizations, many of which already provide a variety of services to the elderly, to be major participants in Madrid.

Despite the demographic changes that have occurred since the First World Assembly on Aging, held in Vienna in 1982, the United Nations has recorded some progress from its member states. Among the findings:

· Most developed countries now have well-established national coordinating mechanisms on aging.
· Developing countries have better health care provisions for older people.
· Graduate studies in gerontology were created in some universities and more research has been done on aging.
· Information on aging has been incorporated in educational programs and promoted through the media.
· Some countries have established types of pension or social security plans.
· Governments have promoted policies to support employment for older people.
· Nongovernmental organizations contribute to the aging issue through advocacy and development assistance.

In 1999, the United Nations introduced the concept of a society for all ages during its International Year of Older Persons. That concept will be reinforced in Madrid through such priorities as increasing the social inclusion and political representation of older people; creating solidarity among generations; and promoting life-course planning for better health and well-being in the senior years.

"I think we will see a lot of intergenerational support for caring and helping people develop their talents at all ages of life," Paul said.

The Web site for Global Action on Aging, www.globalaging.org, has information both on the Madrid assembly and on various aspects of the aging issue.

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