Cristina Azevedo (Fiocruz News Agency)
The world is ageing, and it is not only in the wealthiest countries. In Brazil, this matter has an aggravating factor: while more developed nations become rich first and then age, Brazil is ageing in poverty, warns Alexandre Kalache. The president of the International Longevity Centre in Brazil, who is a doctor, was the mediator in the webinar Ageing, demographic changes and the pandemic, of the Fiocruz Global Health Center (CRIS/Fiocruz), that showed the impact of COVID-19 on the matter on last Wednesday (September 1st).
It is not possible to talk about the pandemic’s impact on demographic changes without mentioning longevity and population ageing, mentions the former director of the Department of Ageing and Life Course of the World Health Organization (WHO). “France took 145 years to double the elderly population from 10% to 20%, the ageing in the 19th and 20th century took seven generations. Brazil will double this index in 19 years, until 2030, in other words, in a single generation”, Kalache highlights. “It happens faster and in a context of poverty”.
The seminar conducted by Kalache had the participation of Amal Abou Rafeh, head of the Program on Ageing of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, who brought a global approach to the matter. Paulo Saad, director of the Latin American and Caribbean Demographic Centre ( CELADE - Population Division at ECLAC), focused on the situation in the region. Ana Amélia Camarano, coordinator for Studies and Research on Equality of Gender, Race and Generations of the Institute for Applied Economic Research – IPEA, talked about the matter in Brazil. And Margaret Gills, president of the International Longevity Centre Global Alliance (ILC), addressed the Civil Society towards the UN Convention on the Rights of Older People.
“An old activist”
At 75 years old, Kalache considers himself “an old activist”, emphasizing that “ageing is wonderful”, but he is aware of his rights and the need to fight for them. He highlights that in 2011, 10% of the population in Brazil was made of elderly people, a percentage that should jump to 20% by 2030, and to 30% in 2050, in what he described as a “rampant ageing”. “The projection shows that around 2040, the Brazilian population will reach its peak, and then it will start to decline. This has never happened in a developing country”, stated the gerontologist, who is also a co-director of the Age Friendly Foundation.
COVID-19 highlighted the inequalities related to age. Kalache calculates that the life expectancy has lowered by one year among richer people, and by three to four years among poorer people, that does not have conditions to prepare themselves for a healthy old age.
The impact of COVID-19 on families
In addition, the majority of the disease victims are elderly people. In many Brazilian municipalities, the retirement pension was the main source of income for families. In the face of poverty and unemployment, the death of elderly people placed many families in poverty. “There is data showing that around R$4 billion stopped reaching poorer municipalities in which elderly people made the majority of COVID deaths”, states the doctor.
This situation placed Brazil again on the hunger map, which Kalache describes as a paradox of a food exporter country that cannot feed its own people.
In the face of the worsening of this situation with the pandemic, when elderly people with comorbidities got more vulnerable, Kalache emphasizes the need of ensuring the rights of this portion of the population that grows more and more. To this end, the webinar highlighted the need of a specific convention on the rights of elderly people, a subject that started being discussed around 10 years ago in the UN, but that, according to the doctor, stumbles upon the opposition of the richest countries, that fear the increase in costs spent with its older population.
“I used to be an activist in my youth, and I am an activist now”, he states. “In 2070, we will have more people celebrating their 80th birthday than kids being born. We need to invest in health, knowledge [to keep being a workforce], rights and safety so elderly people are not unaided. Elderly people must have food, a roof over their heads and money to buy medicine. The pyramid is flipping, and we need to get older well”, he concluded.