Overview: Healthy ageing


More people in the African Region are living longer lives. Estimated at 43 million in 2010, the number of people aged 60 years and older in sub-Saharan Africa is projected to reach 67 million by 2025 and 163 million by 2050. Ageing is becoming a major challenge as it increases the demand for a variety of health services as a growing number of older people are living with chronic diseases and disability.

In most countries in the African Region, health systems do not make adequate provision for older people and are not prepared to respond to the needs of their rapidly ageing populations.

There is a lack of health-care services specifically catering for older people, infrastructure is inappropriate, and geriatric medicine and gerontology are not adequately covered in health training institutions.

Other support systems, such as housing, transportation, water and sanitation, are currently unable to meet the basic needs of a growing ageing population. Active ageing, which refers to optimizing opportunities to improve health, participation and security to enhance quality of life as people age, has not been addressed adequately, and the need for accessible and appropriate care for elderly people has not yet been met in the Region.

Women account for an estimated 54% of people aged 60 years and above. However, gender based inequities, disparities in economic power, and the undermining effects of traditional and cultural practices contribute immensely to poverty in older women. Poverty is, in turn, closely associated with ill health and has significant consequences for women’s access to health services.

For older women, age and gender discrimination can lead to disempowerment and result in poor health outcomes, victimization and even death.

In addition, in most countries of the Region, the health systems remain unprepared to respond to the needs of the ageing population: health-care facilities focusing on elderly people are lacking, infrastructure is inappropriate, and health professionals are not well trained in old age care and active ageing (active ageing refers to the process of seizing and optimizing opportunities for physical, social and mental well-being throughout the entire life course in order to extend healthy life expectancy). The need for accessible and adequate care for the elderly is not yet met.