HelpAge International releases report of ‘Unequal treatment’ during COVID-19


Monday, February 22, 2021

Unequal treatment

What older people say about their rights during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Report published by HelpAge International.

HelpAge International is a global network of organisations promoting the right of all older people to lead dignified, healthy and secure lives.

Older people’s health and lives have been at particular risk from COVID-19. Their rights have also been denied. Many governments have introduced restrictions on movement based specifically on older age, denying older people their rights to equal access to livelihoods, care and support, pensions and treatment for other health conditions. Age has been used to deny older people equal access to scarce medical resources, such as ventilators, to treat COVID-19. The rights of older people in care homes have been treated with disregard, resulting in catastrophic numbers of deaths.

Unequal treatment collates responses from a consultation with older people in ten countries – Argentina, Canada, Dominican Republic, Jordan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Philippines, Rwanda and Spain – on their experience of their rights during the COVID-19 pandemic. These countries represent a cross-section of low- to high-income countries. The consultation was carried out in October 2020 by HelpAge International, HelpAge Global Network members and other partner organisations with 101 older people (63 women and 38 men) between the ages of 50 and 96 years, using individual interviews.

This report explores the themes emerging from their responses. It presents the individual voices of the older people interviewed – voices that, despite the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on older people, have rarely been heard in discussions on the pandemic. It does not represent the views or experiences of all older people, or draw conclusions on the impact of public health responses on older people based on gender, disability or other identities, for which further research is required.

What the responses show is that older people’s rights have been negatively impacted by both age-based public health responses that discriminate against them and by population-wide public health measures. They reveal the different experiences of the older people interviewed. Knowing the right people or having access to certain resources has allowed some older people to enjoy their rights more than others, while some have suffered serious harm to their wellbeing from the isolation imposed on them. The responses also challenge ageist assumptions about older people’s inability to adapt, their lack of resilience and resistance to new ways of doing things.

The rights of older people will be discussed at the UN Open-ended Working Group on Ageing. The OEWG will meet from 29 March to 1 April, with governments coming together to discuss how COVID-19 has affected our rights in older age. This report aims to inform the discussions at this and future sessions.

Read the full report here.

Read the Country profile: Canada report here.