MESSAGE - International Day of Older Persons 2010
International Day of Older Persons
“Older Persons and the achievement of the Millenium
The month of October promises to be a very busy one for us here in Saint Lucia. It is Creole Heritage Month, The Month of the Child as well as the Month for Older Persons. But it is in relation to the Month for Older Persons that I invite you to “lend me your ears” for the next few minutes as I share with you some of the issues that we, as a society, need to address if we are to embrace truly the concept of a society for all ages. October 1st has been designated by the United Nations as International Day for Older Persons, and over the past few years the international community has been invited to raise the level of discussion and action on ageing, the ageing process and the integration of older persons in all aspects of national life and national development. The issues, as you can well imagine, are many and varied. It is customary however, for the United Nations to recommend a theme each year, on which we can all focus as we seek to arrive at common positions on what is a universal situation. The theme recommended for this the 20th anniversary of the UN International Day of Older Persons is “Older Persons and the achievement of the Millenium Development Goals.”
But what are the Millenium Development Goals, you may well ask. They are, in fact, eight development Goals which the international community articulated and agreed upon at the United Nations Millenium Summit in 2000, at the very beginning of this new period of a thousand years. The Governments of the 189 member countries which signed the Millenium Declaration affirmed then their collective responsibility to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity and to achieve certain targets by 2015. They are referred to as anti-poverty goals intended principally to meet the needs of the world’s poorest. This year’s observance of International Day of Older Persons is aimed at examining progress towards achieving the Millenium Development Goals, the MDG’s, as they are called, from the perspective of empowerment of older persons, giving attention to their inclusion, their participation in society and the promotion of a positive image of ageing. This follows on the heels of the recently concluded UN Summit on the Millenium Development Goals and the adoption of a global action plan to achieve these goals by their 2015 target date.
Time will not permit me to examine all the eight goals, but it is reasonable to conclude that the most fundamental goal is that of eradicating extreme poverty which is associated with disease, hunger, lack of adequate shelter and exclusion. The Secretary General of the United Nations himself concedes that
“Eradicating extreme poverty continues to be one of the
main challenges of our time, and is a major concern of
the international community.”
As we in Saint Lucia observe International Day for Older persons we ask ourselves to what extent have we made progress in reducing poverty among one of the most vulnerable groups in our society – the elderly among us ? The National Council of and for Older Persons report that the growing elderly population of Saint Lucia faces serious problems relating to their care and well-being, due to the fact that poverty is a major issue among that group. The results of this year’s Census have not been published but figures for the 2001 Census indicated that approximately 40% of the 60+ age group was below the poverty line, with 21% of them being “far” below that poverty line. A significant proportion of our elderly is therefore unable to provide for their day-to-day needs. Many are faced with health issues ; with a cyclical and chronic inability to provide for their medical needs ; with inadequate to poor nutrition and housing. They also face major social issues such as isolation, loneliness, neglect and rejection which only serve to worsen their fragile health. The 2001 census figures also suggest that many older persons’ rights to an adequate standard of living is not being addressed, nor is their right to adequate social security, assistance and protection. 82.5% of the elderly surveyed claimed that they “do not have an income”, which suggests that pension schemes and the like cannot be counted upon to support them.
It has been noted that where poverty is endemic, that is, where it is commonplace, persons who survive a lifetime of poverty often face an old age of deepening poverty. It is in that regard that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, in his 2010 Message, urges services that give them a chance for life beyond mere survival. He therefore calls on Governments and society in general to do more to address the needs of older persons by addressing seriously the well-known key interventions : namely, granting universal access to social services – health care, housing, institutional care, for example ; increasing the number and level of pension plans ; and introducing policies that prevent age and gender discrimination in the workplace. (Thankfully here we have been able to address this last issue equitably and successfully). With only five years left before the 2015 Millenium Development Goals deadline, he argues, it is time for all countries to put in place the financial, legal and social protections that will lift their older people out of poverty and ensure their rights to dignified, productive and healthy lives.
These actions will not only benefit those who are currently in their senior years. We all need to prepare for the future particularly the young and able-bodied among us. Income security has to be one of our main concerns, and programmes aimed at ensuring or enabling all workers to acquire basic social protection should be strengthened now. There is need for persons who are self-employed or working in the informal sector to give serious attention to these issues. Public, private and supplementary pension schemes should be encouraged and actively pursued. In light of recent experience however, there is need to strengthen the regulatory frameworks to ensure the integrity, sustainability, solvency and transparency of pension and insurance schemes. We do need to act now.
In the midst of all these challenges and setbacks, there has been progress made as it relates to the well-being of the elderly. Both Government and Non-Governmental Organisations, among them, HelpAge Saint Lucia National Council of and for Older Persons, the Club 60 Movement, the Pensioners’ Association, the Mothers’ and Fathers’ Groups, religious and service organisations have been involved in the drive to enhance the quality of life of our older citizens. Their mission is that of supporting and promoting a society for all ages, one which encompasses the goal of providing older persons with the opportunity to continue contributing to society.
Permit me to single out for particular praise, the National Council of and for Older Persons’ Adult Day Centre initiative in Mongouge, Choiseul and La Clery, Castries. These provide a planned programme that includes a variety of health, social and support services in a protective setting during daytime hours which helps the older person to live a more fulfilling life in the company of peers and trained caregivers. The Centres’ objective to work to develop strategies to meet the basic needs of older persons in these two communities in improving income level, health care, nutrition and socio-recreational opportunities can be considered one of our major local successes in achieving the most fundamental Millenium Development Goal. It is an initiative that needs to be expanded and implemented in many more of our communities islandwide.
On this, the twentieth anniversary of the International Day of Older Persons, let us be conscious of the invaluable role that older persons play in all societies – as leaders, caregivers, volunteers – and let us do all we can to enhance the quality of their lives.
Dame Pearlette Louisy
October 1, 2010
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