WHO and partners are taking action to better identify and address barriers to health care for older Ukrainian refugees in Poland. A recent survey of Ukrainian refugees found that over 70% of those over 65 years of age had experienced difficulties in seeking and accessing health care in the host country. Approaches and solutions being considered would also benefit older people in general across a variety of settings, both urban and rural.
Identifying and addressing the challenges faced by older people, including refugees in the context of the ongoing emergency in Ukraine, has been the subject of a consultation organized by WHO and the Jagiellonian University’s Center for Evaluation and Analysis of Public Policies in Kraków on 20–21 March.
Ukraine is currently facing a severe humanitarian crisis affecting millions of people, both within the country and in the refugee diaspora the war has created, with a disproportionate number of older people impacted. In Poland, over 10% of the nearly 2.5 million refugees from Ukraine are over 65. During the past year, the large-scale movement of refugees from Ukraine has brought new challenges in integrating communities and providing services that enable healthy and fulfilling lives for the older population currently living in Poland. Both WHO and Polish Age-friendly Cities and Communities are committed to addressing the needs of older refugees and the wider population in Poland and beyond.
Like many European countries, Poland has been experiencing a significant change in the age distribution of its population due to factors such as changes in fertility, mortality rates and migration trends. Estimates show that by 2030, 28.8% of the Polish population will be over 60, and by 2050, this age group will make up around 40% of the population. Such a drastic demographic shift means that local policies need to be radically rethought and redesigned to prepare for the future. Many Polish cities have been working to become more age-friendly, promoting the creation of age-friendly environments and facilitating information exchange and learning amongst communities.
The conference also strengthened links between Polish and international members of the WHO Global Network for Age-friendly Cities and Communities, laying the foundations for the development of a national age-friendly cities and communities programme in Poland. This builds on the successful examples in other countries, with active national programmes running. Representatives from Ireland, Norway, Republic of Moldova, Slovenia, and the United Kingdom were present at the meeting and shared their own experiences. Other Polish cities represented at the conference included Gdynia, Kalisz, Katowice, the commune of Kolbudy, Opole, Ostrów Wielkopolski, Poznań, Rzeszów, Stargard and Wrocław.
Kraków has recently joined 10 other cities across Poland as part of the WHO Global Network for Age-friendly Cities and Communities. WHO Representative Dr Paloma Cuchi, joined by Dr Thiago Hérick de Sá, responsible officer for age-friendly environments at WHO headquarters, and Dr Yongjie Yon, technical officer for ageing and health at the WHO Regional Office for Europe, presented the City of Kraków with a certificate to acknowledge the milestone at a ceremony at the city hall.
The conference also brought together a broad range of stakeholders from various sectors, including academia, civil society organizations, and internationally recognized activists such as Anna Okońska-Walkowicz, one of the Healthy Ageing 50 – a UN Decade of Healthy Ageing initiative recognizing 50 leaders who are working to transform the world to be a better place to grow older.
“The rapid ageing of European societies is a fact. Age-friendly cities and communities offer many benefits for all people and provide a great opening for working with older people, listening to them and empowering them to find the most effective solutions to the changes and challenges we all face as we age. Given what we know about the challenges that older refugees have experienced, it is crucial that they receive our support, that they can reach the services they need, and that their voices are heard,” explained Dr Cuchi.