From 3-6 April 2023, Professor Hussein actively participated in the 13th Session of the Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing held during the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Professor Hussein addressed the assembly and country delegates to speak about the social inclusion of older people in the Middle East and North Africa. Drawing on her vast research experience and the considerable efforts the MENARAH network has been conducting in the region to raise awareness of the rights of older persons in the MENA region.
Professor Hussein opened her statement by providing an overview of the fast pace of ageing in the region that is happening within the context of high disease burden and limited opportunities associated with competing policy demands. The intersectionality of ageing and gender is crucial, especially regarding social isolation and loneliness. Professor Hussein highlighted the narrative of respect and treasuring older people as predominant in the discourse when considering the needs of older people. Yet, the actual research shows evidence of a high prevalence of abuse and mistreatment. She explained how such a narrative while appearing positive, might result in treating older people as lacking autonomy and can be a barrier to the ability of older persons to exercise their rights and make their own choices.
Her speech sheds light on the largely ignored and hidden problem of elder abuse in the region. Where recent studies estimate that up to half of older people in the region might have suffered from one form of abuse or neglect. She explains that a combination of factors leads to the lack of attention to such issues, including the reliance of many older persons on support and care from the very people who might abuse them and a lack of awareness and mechanisms to protect older people’s human rights. She provides evidence of how few countries in the regions have active legislative frameworks that explicitly protect older persons’ human rights.
Professor Hussein then discussed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the quality of life and the social and health outcomes of older people. Many have been subjected to acute social isolation and physical and cognitive decline, with some irreversible effects for many.
She provided some policy direction to focus on capitalising on respecting and treasuring older people by creating specific public and social policies to pave the way for practical interventions with tangible results for older persons in the region. Such interventions should be embedded within the community and make the most of the intergenerational ties and social and economic flows. These will address older people’s rights for social inclusion and utilise the youth dividends the region currently enjoys.
For people with health and care needs, developing well-regulated and supported long-term care markets provide opportunities for job creation and necessary adequate services for older people and their families. While appreciating the economic reality and competing demands on governments, innovations and grass-root programmes provide opportunities for cost-effective, culturally tailored interventions. Governments should harness and support such resources through market shaping and setting adequate quality assurance mechanisms.
Professor Hussein concludes by calling for adopting a binding framework that protects older persons’ human rights in the MENA region and can be the catalyst to ensure they live in dignity and can fully engage and participate in all aspects of society.
Watch Professor Hussein’s statement and following discussions at the 13th Session of the Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing, United Nations General Assembly.
Read Professor Hussein’s full statement.SocialInclusion-MENA-Hussein-Final-Statement-1
Founder and Director
Shereen Hussein is a Health and Social Care Policy professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), United Kingdom.
Shereen Founded the MENARAH Network in 2019, through an initial grant from the Global Challenge Research Fund, UKRI. She is a medical demographer with expertise in ageing, family dynamics, migration and long-term care systems. Shereen regularly collaborates with the United Nations, the World Health Organisation and the World Bank in policy and research focused on ageing in the Middle East and North Africa Region.
Shereen received her undergraduate degree in statistics and a postgraduate degree in computer science at Cairo University. She completed an MSc in medical demography at the London School of Hygiene and a PhD in quantitative demography and population studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science, United Kingdom.