COVID-19 is a serious global challenge, which requires strong action, at EU and national levels, to protect the whole population and leave no one behind. While EU leaders examine how to join forces to best respond to the outbreak, public authorities are taking a great variety of measures to contain the virus and maintain their capacity to provide necessary care and support to those who need it most.
Our response to COVID-19 pose unique threats to the equal enjoyment of human rights by older persons. According to human rights law it is crucial that the authorities take measures that do not discriminate and are proportionate to the aims pursued.
We must stand in solidarity against COVID-19
The ongoing crisis cannot be tackled unless we all do our part and stand in unity against the pandemic. When we comply with physical distancing measures and keep good hygiene, we contribute to efforts to contain the virus.
We also all have a responsibility to be more present to the people around us, our families, our neighbours and everyone in our community who might need help to cope with measures taken as a response to COVID-19. Action to support those who are in vulnerable situations and solidarity are equally essential components of our collective response. More than ever, this pandemic demonstrates the need for societal cohesion, solidarity between and within generations and community resilience.
Alongside the tremendous efforts of public authorities to deal with COVID-19, the ongoing crisis has prompted high levels of volunteerism and mutual cooperation. Local communities play a vital role in making sure care and support is delivered to those who mostly need it. Among others, several AGE members are at the forefront of efforts to spread information and provide support to older people better cope with self-isolation, access food, medicines and essential services and deal with loneliness.
Protecting the most vulnerable, leaving no one behind!
As clarified by the World Health Organisation, COVID-19 is not an older persons’ disease. We are all vulnerable and interdependent during the pandemic. However, older persons are more likely to get severely ill if they are infected with COVID-19, which is why they are considered a high-risk group.
Policy and public health responses need to take due account of the adverse impact the pandemic has on the older population and to develop adequate measures to protect and support older persons.
Older persons in vulnerable situations are at most risk of being disproportionately affected by the crisis. We are particularly concerned by the situation of:
- Older persons in need of support who may be left unattended due to measures of physical distancing and shortage of care workers due to the pandemic. States must take additional social protection measures to track and reach out to those who need support. are in vulnerable situations so that support reaches those who
- Older people in residential care facilities are at a higher risk for adverse outcome and for infection due to living in close proximity to others and underlying comorbidities. Reports of abandoned or even dead older persons in care institutions are alarming. People in institutions should have access to medical, social and palliative care on an equal basis with the general population.
- Read our paper ‘COVID-19 and human rights concerns for older persons’
- Read the report of the Fundamental Rights Agency on COVID 19, which includes a section on older persons and refers to AGE work
The protection of people in vulnerable situations inevitably requires adequate protection of professionals who support them. Health professionals, social and domiciliary care staff must have access to personal protective equipment, such as masks and gloves, to protect themselves and the persons they care for. They should also be able to benefit from psychological support to enable them to continue their tremendous efforts.
Older people’s rights must be equally upheld
Thanks to our advocacy Commissioner Dalli clarified in a recent statement that ‘the European Commission is committed that the rights of all, including older Europeans are respected throughout this crisis’ then continue with the paragraph about triage.
Whereas some older persons will have comorbidities that may impact their chance of surviving intensive medical intervention, age alone should never be a criterion for medical triage. In countries where healthcare professionals will not be able to provide the same level of care to everyone due to lack of life-saving equipment, triage protocols must be developed. Protocols based on non-medical criteria such as age or disability, deny persons their right to health and life on an equal basis with others.
Social contacts are necessary to maintain people’s health and wellbeing. As more and more countries are in lockdown and quarantine measures are imposed, the risk of isolation is more real for some than others. Older persons who live alone, those in residential settings and individuals who lack access to digital media or the necessary skills to benefit from them may encounter particular challenges in keeping in contact with their loved ones.
The lack of social contacts due to long-term confinement measures can lead to higher risk of adverse health outcomes. Practical and emotional support through informal networks, health and social care professionals is crucial, especially for those most at risk of exclusion.
Refusing ageism, praising older persons’ contribution
On many occasions since the beginning of the crisis, older persons have been pictured as frail, worthless, or a burden to society. We have also witnessed an unprecedented amount of ageist comments in the media in the past weeks.
‘Exclusive emphasis on older persons’ vulnerability ignores their autonomy’, said the UN Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons. As reminded by the EU Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, ‘there is no place for ageism in the EU’. Such comments must not be tolerated, as they breach older people’s inherent dignity.
Ageism denies the important contributions older persons make to society and that the current crisis has also brought to the fore.
Older persons are valuable members of our societies. They contribute in numerous ways to their families and their communities. In several hard-hit member states, medical staff and professionals in other essential sectors (food stores, transport, education, social and home care, etc.) have been called back from retirement or have volunteered to help overcome the crisis.
The pandemic must not be the cause for division. Rather it should become the springboard for more visibility to older people’s contributions and their equal rights as human beings. The COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder that the rights and dignity of older persons can be undermined unless strong safeguards are in place.
In the aftermath of this crisis, it will be more important than ever to discuss ways to strengthen the protection of older people’s rights and to fight ageism within the EU and at global level.
To know more about AGE’s work during COVID-19, give a look at:
- AGE COVID-19 general page
- AGE report on COVID-19 and human rights concerns for older persons
- AGE members’ good practices and initiatives during COVID-19
For more information on AGE work on human rights in older age, please contact Nena Georgantzi, email@example.com