The overall objective of WHO's Ageing and Health Programme is to achieve a sustained and continuing improvement in the health status and well being of older persons around the globe, in developing and developed countries alike. During the International Year of Older Persons 1999, with the focus on creating a society for all ages, WHO launched the Global Movement for Active Ageing through a world-wide walk event, called the Global Embrace.
The Global Movement is a new network for all those who are interested in moving policies and practice towards Active Ageing. The challenge is to understand and to effectively promote the factors that keep people healthy. The messages of the Global Movement point to the central role of health in ensuring a fulfilling older age, what the individual can do to remain healthy and active at older ages, and what policies should be developed and implemented at all levels. The Movement also aims to replace prevailing stereotyped images of old age with more accurate images of older persons as contributors to society in many different ways.
The official launch of the Global Movement for Active Ageing took place world wide on 2 October 1999 through a series of walk events and celebrations around the globe. On this day, in time zone after time zone, celebrations marked the fact that people are living longer in better health, thanks to progress in hygiene, nutrition, public health, and living circumstances. Both Fiji and New Zealand were the first to launch the celebration. From there the Global Embrace continued through many cities in Asia. From here walks continued through the Middle East and Africa. In Tanzania, the slogan "Old is Gold" was chosen to serve as a reminder of the important roles older people play in traditional societies. Then the walk went on to Europe where celebrations for Active Ageing took place in many different cities in all parts of Europe. In London, for example, the walk started at historic Tower Bridge and ended at the Royal Festival Hall with entertainment and information booths all along the way. The Finnish City of Turku organized a walking festival to explore the various ways one can walk: on a tightrope, on wooden legs, on one's hands, power walking with skipoles, outdoor and indoor walking, etc. Finally, celebrations reached the Americas. In New York City, the organizers had chosen the theme "Ageing Out Loud" for their walk and celebration in New York's Central Park to let us all know that ageing is something we can be proud of, it is not to be feared but it is a natural part of the life-span process. Throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, many cities joined the walk. In Bogotá, the Colombia, a human chain with 10 000 participants was organized in the main park of the city. Altogether, almost 3000 cities and towns throughout the world joined this event.
The thinking behind this global walk event was quite simple: as there are still negative stereotypes associated with old age in many societies, a participatory event that promotes a positive and active image of ageing helps to dissipate these prejudices and stereotypes. Eliminating ageism is an essential prerequisite for enabling older people to contribute to their societies and for building a harmonious, intergenerational, global community. The walk events enabled health care workers, concerned activists, and policy-makers to initiate a dialogue with the general public on what determines healthy and active ageing. After launching the Global Movement for Active Ageing, WHO's Ageing and Health Programme (AHE) is now compiling evidence of policies and programmes which are models of good practice for Active Ageing. To facilitate information dissemination networking and research on all aspects of Active Ageing, AHE is working to set up a system of information centres on healthy ageing which will ensure that information is exchanged throughout the world.
Contact Irene Hoskins, Ageing and Health, WHO, 20 Avenue Appia, CH-1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland; tel +41 22 791 3486; fax +41 22 792 4839; email firstname.lastname@example.org