“A good society is one that takes care of its vulnerable, its aged, its poor and its sick,” said Dr Nata Menabde, World Health Organisation (WHO) Representative to India, on Tuesday in New Delhi, ahead of the World Health Day on April 7.

India, which is often seen as the only young country in an ageing economy, may lose its advantage, as the WHO has projected India's 60 years and above population at 300 million by 2050.

The United Nations body said this population was likely to form 17 per cent of the Indian population by 2050, up from 7.4 per cent at 77 million in 2001.

What's more, the population over 65 years is likely to outnumber children below five by 2017 and will be larger than the number of children below 14 by 2050!

Adding that the ageing population is a valuable human capital, Dr Menabde called for a change in the mindset in terms of looking at the older population as a burden.

She said, “The ageing of the population is not just challenge. It is also a great opportunity for all to benefit from the experience, knowledge and wisdom that age brings.”

While announcing the World Health Day topic of “Ageing and Health” and calling for adding quality to life-expectancy, Dr Menabde said the Government's efforts to initiate universal health coverage was a step in the right direction.

On the feasibility of such an initiative, Dr Menabde told Business Line , “It is difficult, but it is possible. The healthcare sector alone accounts for over 10 per cent of the labour market in many countries. It also contributes to development in terms of turnover, employment generated and many other factors.”

She said the health coverage programme “entails greater health sector reforms in India” starting with standardisation and regulation of services, filling the huge gap in healthcare workforce and financing schemes, among others.

> aesha.datta@thehindu.co.in