OUR FOCUS: How is COVID-19 affecting older persons throughout the world?

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AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins and United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres discuss COVID-19 and its global impact on older populations.

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AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins and United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres discuss COVID-19 and its global impact on older populations.

In an interview with AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins, António Guterres Secretary-General of UN answers the question:
What are the implications for older people as we see this COVID-19 spreading all across the world?

“Globally, people 80 years or more, see 5 times the fatalities than the global average. This is a pandemic that basically affects older people.” Guterres continues, “Governments have the responsibility to take measures to much better protect older people. To be honest, I’m shocked with what has happened…in my countrythe same here, the same everywhere—in these care homes and institutions. In which we have seen in some situations absolutely devastating. This is something that really breaks my hearts; and I feel an enormous responsibility in making governments, civil society, businesses to understand that older people must be an absolute priority in the way we fight the COVID-19 ... We thought it was important in this policy brief to help people do the right thing, and respect older people, and also listen to their voices.”

Read the Full Policy Brief (PDF)

One of the key areas highlighted in the report is also the disparities and what Guterres himself has seen around the world. “There are deep inequalities in the world. Inequalities in income, but also inequalities in education, inequalities in healthcare, inequalities [in] all aspects. There is this rejection of who is different—and we need to fight it—and to fight it in a very deliberate way. Elderly people are extremely vulnerable to these forms of discrimination, these forms of segregation.”

Guterres emphasizes, "The United Nations is based on respect for diversity. Diversity is richness; it’s not a threat. But for diversity to be successful in society and to benefit everyone, there needs to be a massive investment in social cohesion."


“How might we be more successful garnering all of our resources together to push this agenda, not only at the UN but at the World Economic Forum, and among all these other organizations around the world?”


“We need a new generation of social protection policies. Every single person is entitled to be recognized as a human being and the dignity of that human being to be fully respected is essential.”

Joann Jenkins and Antonio Guterres side-by-side during an interview about COVID-19 and the elderly population

The pandemic has raised levels of isolation for individuals across the world, which shines a light on our low-income, vulnerable populations. An issue we need to address. Guterres explains, "Lots of communities have created mechanisms in which the community is providing the conditions for people not to feel isolated. But here, there is one responsibility I would like to underline, and that’s the responsibility of families. Let’s make sure that each one of us assumes our responsibility to those we love, to those we care [for]."

Human contact is so essential to our survival

Jo Ann Jenkins

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres family photo
Guterres gets personal on the topic of family and staying in contact with his mother during the pandemic. While self-isolating in New York from his home in Portugal, he admits "It’s not easy to be alone for such a long period." Photo: UN Photo/Mark Garten

When asked what Guterres thinks we should learn from the crisis we are facing at this moment, he replies, “I think we should learn how fragile the world is, how fragile our society is. We need to unite and we need to have solidarity."

"Look at the demographic evolution that took place already in most of the developed countries. The relationship between age and life will change. There will be more and more people in the 70s, in the 80s, and in the 90s; and more of them able to fully develop their activities as citizens and to fully contribute to the society," he continues.

"And it would be absolutely absurd to neglect them because they are now an essential part of that society. My appeal is that for all those with responsibilities at all levels to recognize that the contribution of older people is absolutely essential for a better world."

One responsibility I would like to underline... is the responsibility of families.

Antonio Guterres

For information about AARP's collaboration with the United Nations, contact:
Erica Dhar, Director of Global Alliances, AARP