National Center on Elder Abuse Blog: Reflecting on WEAAD

by Alexandre Kalache

WEADD: The Future

Much progress has been made as testified by colleagues who spoke before me at the World Elder Abuse Awareness Day - Toward a Global Framework on its 10th Anniversary webinar. However, much more needs to be done now that we contemplate the future of WEAAD - say, for the next ten, twenty years.

In the absence of a concentrated effort, Elder Abuse will assume intolerable proportions. If we wish to truly address global elder abuse, we must fully consider the demographics and respond to the unprecedented increase in the numbers of older people in the developing world (83% of the global total of 2 billion in 2050). Current focus continues to be both led by developed countries and focused on developed countries. We have been unable to mark the 10th WEAAD anniversary with a truly global presence, neither at this webinar nor on the 15th June in Washington.

By and large we are still preaching to the converted - we need a strategy. I suggest a three-pronged approach:


  1.      • "Colonize" other agencies` agendas - the day that other organizations and institutions start to talk about elder abuse we can celebrate. For instance, a recent report on violence against women by WHO has given ​scant consideration to abuse and violence against older women.

  2.      • Effectively harness social media and social marketing; e.g. elder abuse in Brazil gained prominence when the issue was inserted into the story-line of a prime time TV soap opera that (over many weeks) followed one of the central characters ( a young woman ) abusing her grandparents.

  3.      • At the root of elder abuse is ageism and discrimination coupled with the lack of legal frameworks. The sad fact remains that there exists no specific hard case law on the human rights of older persons at the international level. There has been little progress in the discussions toward the adoption of a UN Convention on the Rights of Older Persons - mostly due to a unified opposition from developed countries. Moreover, the anticipated adoption of an equivalent convention at the level of the Organization of American States has only been achieved within the context of attempts to block it from the two most developed countries in the region. We must make our elected representatives more accountable!

Special tribute and thanks to Elizabeth Podnieks, a giant.​

International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (INPEA) has done a terrific job over the years, before and after launching WEAAD and I would like to acknowledge the immense dedication and energy that Susan Sommers has brought and continues to bring to her job over the years.

It was my privilege, as World Health Organization (WHO) Director, to support INPEA's work and, in particular, to conceive and work with INPEA on the seminal "Missing Voices" study - a landmark and key reference of enduring relevance.

Thanks for the vision and the championship. WEAAD is now acknowledged in dozens of countries throughout the world!

-Alexandre Kalache, MD, PhD

About the Author: Following his medical training in Brazil and his MSc and PhD in the United Kingdom, Dr. Kalache held research and teaching positions at the Universities of Oxford and London for almost two decades. During this period he founded the Epidemiology of Ageing Unit (1983) and created the first European Master degree in Health Promotion (1991) at the UK`s foremost school of public health. From 1995-2008 he directed the World Health Organization`s global ageing program from its Geneva Headquarters. During his years at WHO he launched the Active Ageing Policy Framework and the global movement on Age-Friendly Cities among other enduring initiatives. In collaboration with INPEA, of which, e was a founding member, he also implemented the first international multi-centric study on elder abuse - resulting in the publication “Missing Voices”.

In 2012 Dr. Kalache took up the inaugural Presidency of the International Longevity Centre-Brazil in his birth city of Rio de Janeiro - an autonomous think tank integrated into a worldwide consortium of ILCs now active in seventeen countries. He assumed the Co-Presidency of this global alliance of International Longevity Centers, headquartered within Columbia University, in 2014. Dr. Kalache serves concurrently as Global Ambassador of HelpAge International, Senior Policy Advisor at the New York Academy of Medicine and sits on an array of boards ranging from the World Economic Forum to the Gulbenkian Foundation. He routinely advises on ageing issues to national, state and municipal governments, civil society organizations, the private sector and the media.