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Older adults and COVID-19. Does the WHO need to prioritize those most vulnerable to the virus?

April 23, 2020  · 3 min read

COVID-19 has gone global – no border, wall or body of water seem to be able to stop it’s spread as it has now reached virtually every corner of the planet.

Though all segments of the population need to be deeply concerned about catching COVID-19, and no one is immune nor should feel invincible, it’s older adults, who seem to be in the virus’ crosshairs.

A recent article from VOX took a look at four global where the virus has spread:

Seniors (70 years old and older)

The important stats on older individuals:

  • In Spain, out of 6,152 cases from this group, 3,388 people have been hospitalized, a 55 percent hospitalization rate; 199 went to the ICU, a 3.2 percent rate; and 705 people ages 70 and older have died, a 11.4 percent fatality rate.
  • Italy, China, and South Korea have reported fatality rates from 6.2 percent up to 20.2 percent for people in this age range.
  • I’ll use the 75-and-older numbers from the CDC: For ages 75 to 84, hospitalizations (30.5 percent), ICU stays (10.5 percent), and deaths (4.3 percent) are already high, and the key metrics go up even higher for people 85 and older; 31.3 percent hospitalized, 6.3 percent in the ICU, 10.4 percent fatality rate.

One note: The ICU stays could be lower for the oldest people if the disease progresses so quickly that they don’t even have an opportunity for intensive care.

Bottom line: There is no need to belabor the point, as I think one thing most people know about Covid-19 is it hurts older people the most. The data bears this out: People in this age group are the most likely to be hospitalized and to ultimately die during this pandemic. March 23 - Vox

And recently, Dr. Jane Barratt, Secretary General of the IFA recently published a response in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) demanding the prioritise the needs of older people in its response to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

In response to the Open Letter, we request the following specific actions by WHO.

1) Its main webpage for Country and Technical Guidance - Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) must include a specific tab leading to guidance of specific relevance to older people. This would lead to the WHO guidance on long-term-care facilities and will also include information about other guidelines for other older people that will be published as a matter of urgency.

2) WHO must immediately appoint a senior member (ADG Level) to lead on older people issues across WHO. Since WHO’s regrettable decision to close its Department of Ageing and Life Course in 2018, it does not contain a senior member with an exclusive responsibility for older people. The newly appointed leader on older people’s health should be provided with a budget, staff and authority to take lead on this issue.

3) WHO must urgently mainstream awareness of older people's specific needs and vulnerabilities across all departments and activities dealing with COVID-19.

 If you are a journalist looking to cover how COVID-19 is impacting older adults and why that demographic needs to be the focus of governments and healthcare officials – then let our experts who are monitoring this situation around the world help.


Each expert is available to speak with media, simply click on any of their respective icons to arrange an interview today.


Dr. Mine Durusu-Tanriover is the author of more than 40 peer-reviewed articles, Dr. Durusu-Tanriover's research area mainly consists of acute care and adult vaccination.


 Dr. Jean-Pierre Michel is a full Professor of Medicine at Geneva University Medical School and head of the geriatric ward – 124 acute care beds including an intensive care unit of 4 beds at the Geneva University Hospitals - Switzerland.

Professor Mañas is the Head of the Department of Geriatrics at Hospital Universitario de Getafe (Madrid), President of the Research Committee at Hospital Universitario de Getafe and Professor "ad honorem" of the Department of Medicine of the School of Medicine, Facultad de Medicina de la Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, Spain.

Dr. César Misael Gómez Altamirano is Deputy Director of Coordination and Operation of CONAVA.

Dr. Jane Barratt is the Secretary General of the International Federation on Ageing comprising government and non government members in 62 countries and representing some 50 million older people.

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