Vienna International Plan of Action on Ageing
The Vienna International Plan of Action on Ageing was the first international agreement on aging adopted by the United Nations (UN). It was drafted during the World Assembly on Ageing (See “World Assembly on Ageing”) in Vienna, Austria, in 1982 and adopted by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) later that same year. The document makes more than 60 recommendations regarding a variety of issues associated with aging.
The country of Malta first raised the issue of aging as one of international importance at the UN in 1968. In 1978 the UNGA passed resolution 33/52 calling for a World Assembly on Ageing to be held in 1982. That assembly was held from 26 July to 06 August of 1982 in Vienna, Austria, during which 17 plenary sessions were held. One hundred twenty-four UN member states were represented at the Assembly. A variety of UN bodies and regional and international organizations also sent representatives. The Assembly resulted in the drafting of the Vienna International Plan of Action on Ageing and the subsequent adoption of that document by the UNGA. The document makes 62 recommendations regarding research and training about aging as well as some critical issues facing older people as individuals and aging societies around the world. The stated primary aims of the Plan of Action are, “to strengthen the capacities of countries to deal effectively with the aging of their populations and with the special concerns and needs of their elderly, and to promote an appropriate international response to the issues of aging through action for the establishment of the new international economic order and increased international technical co-operation, particularly among the developing countries themselves” (UN 1983, 2).
In order to achieve those aims, the Plan sets five objectives. These include the enhancement of understanding of the problems associated with the increased aging of societies, the proposal of educational and training initiatives, and the recommendation of innovative policy measures designed to protect the social and economic security of the aged and to enhance their ability to participate in society and broader economic development (UN 1983, 3). The Plan of Action is designed to examine and respond to issues related to aging on two levels. It seeks to address both problems experienced by older people as individuals and also the problems related to the aging of populations and societies on the national and global levels. The plan’s recommendations are therefore made under two broad categories, humanitarian and developmental issues.
Recommendations of the Vienna International Plan of Action on Ageing
The drafters of the Plan of Action recognized that aging affects individual people and also has broader implications for the societies in which they live, particularly as increased societal aging impacts development. The plan, therefore, makes recommendations in the two categories of humanitarian issues and developmental issues. The plan delineates the two categories as follows: (1) “The humanitarian issues related to the specific needs of the elderly. Although the elderly share many problems and needs with the rest of the population, certain issues reflect the specific characteristics and requirements of this group” (UN 1983, 17) and (2) “The developmental issues related to the socio-economic implication of the aging of the population, defined as an increase in the proportion of the aging in the total population” (UN 1983, 18).
The topics examined under the humanitarian rubric are health and nutrition, housing and environment, the family, social welfare, income security, and employment and education. The topics falling under the heading of developmental issues are more economically focused, such as the impacts of aging on broad economic conditions and in particular on production, consumption, savings, and investment (UN 1983, 17 and 18). Recognizing that policies in individual countries must be tailored around cultural and historical considerations, as well as economic and other factors idiosyncratic to each of them, the Action Plan seeks to provide “broad guidelines and general principles” (UN 1983, 26) rather than highly specific policy prescriptions.
The Plan of Action consists of a total of 62 recommendations. The recommendations are intended to cover a broad range of issues and are spread out over a number of categories. Seventeen recommendations pertain to health and nutrition, one to the protection of older consumers, five to housing and environment, five to the family, six to social welfare, eight to income security and employment and right to education, two to data collection and analysis, six to training and education (for caregivers, researchers, policymakers, etc.), and three to research.
Implementation of the Vienna International Plan of Action on Ageing
The plan also makes a variety of recommendations for its implementation. The suggested roles of individual governments and of international and regional cooperation are detailed separately. It notes that “the success of this Plan of Action will depend largely on action undertaken by Governments to create conditions and broad possibilities for the full participation of the citizens, particularly the elderly” (UN 1983, 86). The plan, therefore, urges national governments “to devote more attention to the question of aging and to utilize fully the support provided by intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations” (UN 1983, 86). The plan also encourages each government to develop national priorities, strategies, and policies related to the problems associated with aging that are broadly consistent with the Plan of Action’s recommendations and to take appropriate and committed actions to follow through with those plans. Additionally, the plan urged the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Department of Technical Cooperation for Development to facilitate technical cooperation across states; for a voluntary trust fund setup for the World Assembly on Ageing to be used for problems associated with aging in the least developed countries; for countries to exchange knowledge and experience on issues related to aging; and for individual states as well as regional and international organizations to periodically assess aging policies and their implementation.
One concrete result of the World Assembly and the Plan of Action’s recommendations was the establishment of the International Institute on Ageing (INIA) in 1988. The Institute was formed as an autonomous organization by an official agreement between the UN and the Government of Malta. The primary goals of the Institute are to provide training for less developed countries and to work toward the fulfillment of the Plan of Action. According to the Institute’s website, it “provides multi-disciplinary education and training in specific areas related to aging, while also acting as a catalyst as regards the exchange of information on issues relating to ageing welfare” (INIA 2018). Many of the Institute’s training programs are offered on-location in the beneficiary country. The INIA conducts data collection and storage, facilitates the exchange of information, and organizes technical cooperation. It also produces independent research and publications (INIA 2018).
In addition to the establishment of the INIA, the UNGA followed up with the Plan of Action by adopting the “United Nations Principles for Older Persons” in 1991. This document laid out shared principles regarding the independence, participation, care, self-fulfillment, and dignity of older persons that should be recognized as normative around the world. Though this document does not offer policy recommendations, it does lay down fundamental principles to guide the policies of all states.
Despite positive accomplishments, many of the changes that it was hoped the Plan of Action would bring about remain unfulfilled (Ebrahim 2002; Butler 2002). Robert Butler of the International Longevity Center wrote nearly a decade after the Plan of Action was adopted that “although both the Assembly and the Plan raised the level of awareness of nations of the unprecedented aging of populations and had some influence on the policy of a few nations, it did not have the hoped-for impact” (Butler 2002, M770). It was primarily due to those unfulfilled hopes that a second assembly was held in 2002 and an additional plan adopted.
Subsequent Developments Following the Vienna International Plan of Action on Ageing
In April 2002, the United Nations Second World Assembly on Ageing was held in Madrid, Spain, with the primary objective of updating the Vienna International Plan of Action on Ageing (See “Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing”). Two primary documents emerged from this assembly, a Political Declaration and Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA). The Political Declaration announces the decision to adopt the MIPAA as well as a commitment to work, on both the national and international levels, “on three priority directions: older persons and development; advancing health and well-being into old age; and ensuring enabling and supportive environments” (UN 2002b). The declaration also reaffirms the Vienna International Plan of Action on Ageing and the UN Principles for Older Persons while also seeking to go beyond them. The MIPAA declared its primary aim as ensuring “that persons everywhere are able to age with security and dignity and to continue to participate in their societies as citizens with full rights.” The drafters intended the plan “to be a practical tool to assist policy makers to focus on the key priorities associated with individual and population ageing” (UN 2002a, 10).
Future Directions of Research
Future research is needed on several fronts. First, research regarding the degree of implementation of each of the recommendations detailed in the Vienna International Plan of Action on Ageing by its various member states should be continually monitored. Where recommendations have not been implemented, research to determine why not and how they can be more effectively actualized, or whether they should be replaced with more up-to-date and better recommendations, are necessary for further progress. As information and knowledge grow about best practices for ensuring the health, well-being, and prosperity of aging populations, recommendations should be reconsidered and improved as appropriate. Finally, additional research on how international organizations can promote and advance efforts to ameliorate the problems associated with population ageing is crucial to the improvement of future efforts. Due to the persistence of these problems, new and more effective approaches to their solution, and to holding member states accountable for implementation, are necessary (Cox and Pardasani 2017).
The Vienna International Plan of Action on Ageing was a groundbreaking international agreement on the need to address the problems associated with aging, both for individuals and for societies, along with proposed means to do so. It was the first agreement of its kind and did much to raise awareness of global demographic change and the multitude of challenges that such change presented. Some progress has been made, such as the institution of the INIA, but much is left to be done.
A report by the UN Secretary-General noted in 2011 that aging policies were inconsistent around the world and “do not generally indicate the presence of comprehensive legal, policy and institutional frameworks for the protection of human rights of older persons.” It went on to point out that many countries continued to lack systems of accountability and that implementation of those policies that were in existence was often insufficient. Finally, the report said, “At the international level, there is still no dedicated international protection regime for the human rights of older persons. Existing human rights mechanisms have lacked a systematic and comprehensive approach to the specific circumstances of older men and women” (UN 2011, 79). These problems remain. The Vienna International Plan of Action on Ageing, and its successor, the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, will likely remain important documents that will serve to document a broad consensus on principles and as a blueprint for action as populations across the globe continue to age over the remainder of the century.
- INIA (International Institute on Ageing) (2018) Mandate – International Institute on Ageing. https://www.inia.org.mt/about/mandate. Accessed 28 Oct 2018
- UN (United Nations) (1983) Vienna international plan of action on aging. New York, 1983. www.un.org/es/globalissues/ageing/docs/vipaa.pdf. Accessed 25 Nov 2018
- UN (United Nations) (2002a) Madrid international plan of action on ageing, 2002. https://www.un.org/development/desa/ageing/madrid-plan-of-action-and-its-implementation.html. Accessed 1 Dec 2018
- UN (United Nations) (2002b) Political declaration. http://www.un-documents.net/ac197-9.htm. Accessed 1 Dec 2018
- UN (United Nations) (2011) Follow-up to the second world assembly on ageing: report of the secretary-general. A/66/173, 22 Jul 2011Google Scholar