On the occasion of International Day of Older Persons, the World Health Organisation today called for greater efforts in South-East Asia Region to expand COVID-19 vaccination coverage among the older population who remain at the highest risk of severe disease and death from the virus. Nepal is among 11 countries in the WHO South- East Asia Region.

"The older population continues to be highly vulnerable in the ongoing pandemic. Protecting them against the deadly COVID-19 virus should be our priority. By vaccinating the elderly population as part of high risk groups, countries can effectively reduce deaths and hospitalisation," said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region, in a press release.

According to the WHO, all countries in the region have prioritised the elderly populations for COVID-19 vaccination right from the time they launched the vaccination drive. While a few countries are progressing towards a reasonably good coverage of their elderly population, concerted and focused efforts to improve coverage of the elderly will be required in all countries of the region to achieve high coverage to protect these vulnerable populations. As countries further accelerate COVID-19 vaccination, they must closely look into all issues impacting access to these lifesaving vaccines for this highest risk population and address them, the regional director said.

The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective in preventing severe disease and death. Protecting the most at risk population would not only help in reducing the disease burden, but also limit the impact on the health systems. "Throughout the COVID-19 response, we must continue to protect and enhance the health and well-being of older people by ensuring they have access to essential health services," she suggested.

On the International Day of Older Persons, the WHO has also called on countries and partners to intensify action to foster healthy ageing. All older people must be empowered to fulfil their potential and live with dignity and equality in a healthy environment.

It takes a holistic approach to health and well-being for older people, going beyond organ and disease-centric approaches, it said.

'Digital equity for all ages' is the theme of this year's International Day of Older Persons, which is especially relevant to policymakers in health and health systems. Key innovations in telemedicine, m-health and e-health initiatives – many catalysed or expanded by the pandemic - must be accessible to all older people. Such innovations should outlast the pandemic, accelerating region-wide efforts to achieve universal health coverage, as per the WHO.

A version of this article appears in the print on October 2, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.