Global health ethics


Old man, India

In 2015, the number of people aged 60 years and over (‘older persons’) worldwide was estimated to be about 900 million. The size of this age group is expected to grow to 2 billion by 2050. Furthermore, the current estimated number of people aged over 80 years is about 125 million. And this specific age group is estimated to grow to about 434 million by 2050, with about 120 million people living in China alone. Importantly, by 2050, 80% of all people aged 60 and over (about 1.6 billion) will be living in low- and middle-income countries.

WHO's work on Ageing Ethics

The WHO Global Health Ethics team aims to help advance this key area of ageing health policy through providing the philosophical and ethical framework for WHO’s healthy ageing model, policy guidance, and measurement and monitoring. The first step was a scoping meeting which included global ageing experts, and leading philosophers of health, wellbeing and ageing. It focused on clinical care, nutrition, care dependence, long term care and social support, advanced directives, health promotion, cost-effectiveness/economic evaluation, human rights, and sociology and psychology. This WHO meeting was held at the University of Tübingen, Germany on 18 March 2017. A short report titled, Developing An Ethical Framework for Healthy Ageing, was produced.

The next phase of the Healthy Ageing Ethics work involves working closely with colleagues in the Ageing & Life Course Department in order to conduct a full and inter-disciplinary literature review on ethical aspects of global ageing, interviews of experts worldwide, a global public consultation on ethical issues related to global ageing, and organize an expert consultation that develops ethical guidance for healthy ageing policies within and across countries.

The timeline for publishing the guidance document is late 2019 in order for the resource to be available at the launch of the United Nations Decade of Healthy Ageing 2020-2030.

After such guidance is developed, the subsequent work on the ethics of healthy ageing and wellbeing of older persons, work will focus on specific and pressing ethical issues that have been identified in the public consultations or become prominent as member states begin to implement healthy ageing policies.