Africa: WHO Director-General’s Opening Remarks At the Launch of the First UN Global Report On Ageism

Distinguished guests, dear colleagues and friends,

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening, and thank you all for joining us for the launch of this very important report.

I’m sorry I couldn’t be with you for the whole of today’s event, but I’m glad that I get to have the last word.

As he approached his 100th birthday last year, Captain Tom Moore decided he would try to raise £1000 for the United Kingdom’s National Health Service by completing 100 laps of his garden.

He ended up raising more than £30 million, and received a knighthood for his service.

I would like to thank Captain Tom’s grandson Benjie and his Mum Hannah for joining our panel today. I had the honour of meeting Captain Tom virtually last year. I am very sorry that you have now lost him – we lost him too – but I know that you are also very proud of who he was – and you should be, and we’re very proud of him too.

And I would like to thank all the other panel members who have joined us today.

For me, Captain Sir Tom is a powerful demonstration that although older people are among those most at risk from COVID-19, they make incredible contributions to our society.

But in some public discourse, a dangerous narrative has taken root: that all older people are frail, vulnerable and dispensable because “they would have died anyway”. This is wrong.

Conversely, young people have sometimes been vilified for recklessly and irresponsibly spreading the virus because they are supposedly invincible.

These narratives are the latest manifestation of an old problem: ageism.

Stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination based on age is not new.

COVID-19 has unveiled just how widespread ageism is in our society.

Ageism exists in our institutions, our relationships and ourselves. It is so insidious and socially acceptable that it often goes unchallenged.

But our age doesn’t define us, just as our sex, race and ability do not define us.

Ageism is associated with premature death and poorer physical and mental health, including depression.

It can also slow down recovery from disability, and can lead to unhealthy eating, smoking and a lower quality of life.

The negative effects of ageism on health and well-being are seen all over the world.