The World Health Organization (WHO) position on aging is, as noted a few months back, well-written, incoherent, bureaucratic garbage. In essence it is a call to do nothing meaningful to treat the causes of aging, produced by people distant from the research community, who disregard the last decade of work and current scientific views on aging and longevity. This is unfortunately par for the course for large governmental organizations of this nature. Some researchers and advocates, such as those involved with the International Longevity Alliance, are keen on using the WHO as a megaphone to amplify advocacy for the treatment of aging as a medical condition, however, and so have been working behind the scenes to try to make the WHO position statement less terrible.
The World Health Organisation has revised its Draft Global Strategy and Action Plan on Aging and Health after the consultation with a delegation of experts as well as an extensive online survey. Here we report on the developments of the consultation where some members of our parent organization the International Longevity Alliance (ILA) attended and many of our organization participated in the online survey about aging. The Consultation meeting was organized at WHO headquarters in Geneva following the survey on October 28-30, which brought together all regional WHO offices, delegates from 75 member states and around 35 non governmental organizations. The delegations included a wide range of research institutions, regional, national and international organizations, as well as experts from various WHO technical departments and other leaders in the field of aging research.
Based on the findings of this Global consultation meeting and survey, a new revised Draft Global Strategy and Action Plan on Aging and Health, has been proposed for consideration by the WHO Executive Board. A summary of this consultation is available to view at the WHO website and a PDF of the proposed action plan can be downloaded directly. There is now clear evidence that the longevity community is having a decisive impact. This includes the work done by the Russian and Kazakhstanian delegations and, of course, the ILA letter writing campaign! There were interventions in favor of longevity and biomedical research promotion by many delegations including experts from Algeria, Belarus, Brazil, Finland, Germany, India, Nigeria, Norway, Qatar, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
The good news is that it looks like the WHO agrees that biological aging leads to many of the recognised diseases of aging, whether or not that means aging is a disease itself! So now let's take a look at some of the highlights of this consultation below.
1. The WHO Strategy Vision is reworded here: "25. The strategy's vision is a world in which everyone can live a long and healthy life" instead of "A world in which everyone experiences Healthy Aging" as per the initial draft. This is a historical recognition of healthy longevity as a priority goal at the UN level.
2. The destructive and complex nature of the biological aging process is described, perhaps for the first time at the UN level: "15. The changes that constitute and influence aging are complex. At a biological level, the gradual accumulation of a wide variety of molecular and cellular damage leads to a gradual decrease in physiological reserves, an increased risk of many diseases and a general decline in capacity. But these changes are neither linear nor consistent, and they are only loosely associated with age in years".
This demonstrates that despite using the controversial term "healthy ageing" (while some researchers are calling for acknowledging ageing as a disease), the WHO recognises ultimately that biological aging is counter to good health. The Revised Draft Global Strategy and Plan puts greater emphasis on the goal of maintaining people's health while they grow chronologically older, while keeping functional ability maintenance in case of age-related disabilities as another priority. It is a promising change in stance, that recognises biological aging as a factor of ill health. This seems to proceed a changing view on how aging should be viewed and the consideration that it is amenable to intervention.
Of course we aren't quite finished yet, but all the same there is clear movement in established opinions. Now we have established impetus in the right direction, it is hopefully only a matter of time, before our hard work pays off in terms of medical interventions that will be available to people worldwide. It is becoming increasingly obvious that things cannot remain the same, that aging is a problem to public health, and that it is indeed desirable to do something about it.