Digital equity for all ages – a global problem

  • Feedback By Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana (Bangkok, Thailand)
  • Inter Press Service

Asia and the Pacific are home to the world’s oldest population – and rapidly aging. When the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted in 2015, 8 percent of the region’s total population was 65 years or older. By 2030, when the agenda ends, it is estimated that 12 percent of the total population – one in eight – will be elderly. Forty-four percent of all older people in the region will be women and their share will increase with age.

Asia and the Pacific have made great strides in connecting the region through information and communication technology (ICT). At the same time, it is still the most digitally divided region in the world. About half of its population does not have access to the Internet. Women and older people – especially older women – are less likely to be digitally connected.

Covid-1 has shown how technology can help prevent the spread of the virus, sustain daily life, support business continuity and keep people socially connected. It also showed that those who are excluded from the digital transition, including the elderly, are at increased risk of permanent backwardness. Digital equity for all ages is, therefore, more important than ever.

The next few years provide an opportunity for Asia and the Pacific to build on its success in population growth and rapid digital transformation, to learn from the tragic consequences of the epidemic, and to encourage and strengthen the inclusion of older people in the digital world. The 2022 Fourth Review and Evaluation of Madrid’s International Plan of Action for Aging and the further expansion of the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway will allow countries to develop policies and action plans to achieve digital equity for all ages.

Within this policy, the gap between digital literacy and the narrow digital skills of older people is particularly important through peer-to-peer or intergenerational training programs. In a rapidly changing digital environment, a life-style approach is needed to develop, strengthen and maintain digital literacy.

Moreover, providing accessible, affordable and reliable internet connection for people of all ages must be a priority. Expanding digital inclusion of older people through digital infrastructure, geographic coverage and targeted policies and programs will enable greater social participation, empower older people and enhance their ability to live independently.

As outlined in the Madrid Plan of Action, the technology could reduce health risks and promote access to healthcare for older people, for example, through telemedicine or robotic surgery. Supporting technology devices and solutions can support more and safer mobility for the elderly, especially those with disabilities or those living alone. Social media platforms can promote social interaction and reduce social isolation and loneliness.

The ESCAP Guidebook on the use of information communication technology to meet the health-care needs of the elderly has documented good practices from this region. It includes policy recommendations and a checklist for ICT mainstream policymakers on policies that affect the elderly.

Although older people are among the least digitally connected population groups, they are the most vulnerable to cyber threats. Therefore, it is important to set up adequate security measures, raise awareness and teach older users to be vigilant online.

As we commemorate the International Day of the Elderly of the United Nations 2021, let us remind ourselves that the risks and vulnerabilities posed by the elderly during the epidemic are not new. Many older people in the region lack access to social security such as universal health care and pensions.

Covid-1 recovery is an opportunity to set the stage for a more inclusive, equitable and age-friendly society, committed to human rights and driven by the promise of the 2030 Agenda so that no one is left behind. Digital equity for all ages, highlighted in the 2030 Agenda, is outside the national interest. Greater digital collaboration between governments and stakeholders is conducive to inclusive and sustainable development and better construction. At the regional and sub-regional levels, digital collaborations can effectively create con conventions and share good practice, learning lessons and policy recommendations. These, in turn, can complement national level policy and decision-making for the benefit of all ages.

Armida Salsia Alisjahban He is the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

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© Inter Press Service (2021) – All rights reservedOriginal Source: Inter Press Service

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