“Left even further behind”: The United Nations World Data Forum and COVID-19 data ageism.

Oct 18, 2020 | All posts

By Peter Lloyd-Sherlock, University of East Anglia

The United Nations World Data Forum has a great blog series, including 54 informative postings since the start of 2018.

All of these blogs are excellent as far as they go, but none deals with older people. By contrast, five exclusively focus on gender and data issues. This is surprising when blog topics include how to “Integrate intersecting inequalities to leave no one behind”.

On October 8, 2020, the Forum posted a blog on “Who is being left behind in COVID-19 data?” 

It is genuinely an excellent piece, in terms of what it does say. But once again, it demonstrates an utter neglect of the current crisis of COVID-19 data ageism. Zero reference is made to either age or older people, yet just about every other form of diversity imaginable gets at least a name-check. For example:

“..the lack of disaggregated data and diversity-sensitive analysis needed to measure COVID-19’s impact on different gender, racial, and ethnic groups, as well as on people with disabilities makes it difficult to facilitate targeted policies”.

My spirits were momentarily raised when I saw a reference to “the institutionalized groups”. Were care homes for older people now on the UN World Data Forum’s radar? This still excludes about 97% of older people who live elsewhere, but would at least be a start.

My hopes were rapidly quashed as my eyes moved across the page and I read:  “the institutionalized groups, for example, those living in places of detention”. Although that may be an apt description of some care homes, I don’t think it was intentional.

The blog quite rights discusses the plight of many groups left behind in COVID-19 data, but somehow neglects older adults who account for over 75% of global COVID-19 deaths. It would seem older people have been left even further behind those groups who are recognised as left behind.

By the way, none of the UN World Data Forum’s 13 excellent webinars held since April 2019 make specific reference to older people either.

The United Nations World Data Forum’s 2020 Virtual Conference will take place between 19 and 21 October 2020. It aims to “satisfy demand for the latest data solutions and thinking to support the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and now more urgently for the monitoring and recovery from COVID-19”.

How this the Forum addressed the evident crisis of data on COVID-19 and older people? The Forum’s six thematic foci are set out in detail, but none refers to older people. However (fanfare, please!), one of the many sessions listed in the programme is “Ageing 2.0: livehacks for better data and living”. The Ageing 2.0 Network is an excellent initiative, with a focus on applying innovation, IT and enterprise to improve the lives of older people. It’s great they are included in the 2020 Virtual Conference and I hope their session goes well. But Ageing 2.0 does not have a remit to address the current scandal of COVID-19 data ageism.

Here’s hoping that the United Nations World Data Forum quickly shifts from being an unwitting facilitator of COVID-19 data ageism to challenging it.

In the meantime, please check out the online data resources provided by the Global Platform for the Rapid Generation and Transfer of Knowledge on COVID-19 and older adults in low and middle-income countries: https://corona-older.com/