LAGOS, Oct. 1 (Xinhua) -- African countries should prioritize safety for the elderly population, whose vulnerability to the COVID-19 pandemic is higher compared to other population groups, an official from the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday on the occasion of the International Day of Older Persons.
Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said older people are at higher risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19, noting that interventions aimed at containing the virulent disease should pay special attention to senior citizens.
"Our elders provide us with love and care, and are a source of wisdom and talent, influencing who we are and who we aspire to be. Together we have a duty to support older people in realizing their human rights and living with dignity," Moeti said in a statement reaching Xinhua on Thursday.
In the continent, the WHO official said, more than 17,000 people aged over 55 years have lost their lives to COVID-19, accounting for over 50 percent of the COVID-19 deaths in the region.
To address the disproportionate burden of COVID-19 on older people, Moeti said the region must play a role in shielding the elders, including practicing the preventive measures of wearing masks, keeping a physical distance, and frequent washing of hands.
She added that there are around 54 million people aged over 60 years in sub-Saharan Africa, representing five percent of older adults worldwide, noting that the population of older people in sub-Saharan Africa is projected to reach 67 million by 2025 and 163 million by 2050.
According to her, the year 2020 has been designated as the start of the decade of healthy aging in recognition of the profound social and economic impacts of population aging globally.
"This is an opportunity to invest more in living long and healthy lives, to combat ageism and enhance the autonomy of older persons, including by building resilient health and social systems that incorporate the needs of older people," said Moeti.
The global health agency said it was working with 40 African countries to build capacity for the integrated care of older people, an approach that centers on community-based care, early detection and management of declines in physical and mental capacities, and supporting household caregivers.
In line with the global strategy and action plan on aging and health 2016-2020, 23 African countries have multisectoral healthy aging policies and strategic plans.
"Going forward, we are increasing the focus on integrated, people-centered care in the African Region, to address the needs of different population subgroups, including older adults," she added.
The United Nations designated Oct. 1 the International Day of Older Persons. The theme of this year is "Pandemics: do they change how we address age and aging", and aims to support older people in realizing their human rights and living with dignity.