World News

WHO calls for 'rethink' of elderly care after COVID-19 losses

FILE PHOTO: A logo is pictured outside a building of the World Health Organization (WHO) during an executive board meeting on update on the coronavirus outbreak, in Geneva, Switzerland, February 6, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

GENEVA (Reuters) - The World Health Organization’s emergencies chief said on Monday that we need to fundamentally rethink our relationship with the elderly after huge losses to COVID-19 in nursing homes across the world “robbed us of a generation of wisdom”.

In a speech about the human rights implications of the COVID-19 pandemic at the United Nations in Geneva, Dr. Mike Ryan urged countries to see elderly care as a “rights issue”.

Fatality rates in care homes have been high, partly because the elderly are more vulnerable to the disease but also because the response has been lacking, leading to some centres being overwhelmed, with bodies left unattended in rooms even in some rich countries.

“We need to fundamentally rethink the relationship we have with older generations and the way in which we provide care for that generation,” said Ryan. “We need to see the needs of our older generation as a rights issue - the right to be cared for, the right to social contact,” he said.

Fatality rates in care homes have been high, accounting for up to 80 percent of COVID deaths in some high-income countries, Ryan said, without naming them.

In the same speech, Ryan also called for better protection for prisoners, migrants and healthcare workers.

“Access to healthcare in COVID-19 has not been fair,” he said. “It has been influenced by gender, by wealth, by age, by social class, by legal status, by ethnicity and so many other things.”

Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Alex Richardson