Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Digital equity for all ages

Digital equity for all ages

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Women look at a phone as they attend a training session to get retirees up to speed with digital devices at the Xiaojiahe University of Old Age in Chengdu, the capital of China’s Sichuan province, in November last year. AFP

Digital equity for all ages

The growing number and share of older persons in Asia and the Pacific represent success stories of declining fertility and increasing longevity; the result of advances in social and economic development. This demographic transition is taking place against the backdrop of the accelerating Fourth Industrial Revolution. But Covid-19, with its epicentre now in Asia and the Pacific, has exacerbated the suffering of older persons in vulnerable situations and demonstrated the fragility of this progress.

Asia and the Pacific is home to the largest number of older persons in the world – and rapidly ageing. When the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted in 2015, eight per cent of the region’s total population was 65 years or older. By 2030, when the Agenda comes to an end, it is projected that 12 per cent of the total population – one in eight people – will comprise older persons. Fifty-four per cent of all older persons in the region will be women, and their share will increase with age.

Asia and the Pacific has made much progress in connecting the region through information and communication technologies (ICTs). At the same time, it is still the most digitally divided region in the world. Approximately half of its population lacks internet access. Women and older persons – especially older women – are the least likely to be digitally connected.

Covid-19 has demonstrated how technologies can help fight the spread of the virus, sustain daily life, support business continuity and keep people socially connected. It has also shown that those who are excluded from the digital transformation, including older persons, are at increased risk of being permanently left behind. Digital equity for all ages is, therefore, more important than ever.

The next few years provide an opportunity for Asia and the Pacific to build on its successes with regard to population ageing and rapid digital transformation, learn from the tragic consequences of the pandemic, and promote and strengthen the inclusion of older persons in the digital world. The 2022 Fourth Review and Appraisal of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing and the further elaboration of the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway will allow countries to develop policies and action plans to achieve digital equity for all ages.

Among those policies, it is particularly important to promote digital literacy and narrow digital skills gaps of older persons through tailored peer-to-peer or intergenerational training programmes. In the fast-changing digital environment, developing, strengthening and maintaining digital literacy requires a life-course approach.

Moreover, providing accessible, affordable and reliable internet connectivity for persons of all ages must be a priority. Expanding digital infrastructure, geographical coverage and digital inclusion of older persons through targeted policies and programmes will improve access, enable greater social participation, empower older persons, and enhance their ability to live independently.

As highlighted in the Madrid Plan of Action, technology can reduce health risks and promote cost-efficient access to healthcare for older persons, for instance, through telemedicine or robotic surgery. Assistive technology devices and solutions can support more and safer mobility for older persons, especially those with disabilities or living alone. Social media platforms can promote social interaction and reduce social isolation and loneliness.

The ESCAP Guidebook on using Information Communication Technologies to address the health-care needs of older persons has documented good practices from around the region. It also includes policy recommendations and a checklist for policymakers to mainstream ICTs in policies affecting older persons.

While older persons are among the least digitally connected population groups, they are among the most vulnerable to cyberthreats. It is, therefore, critical to establish adequate safety measures, raise awareness, and teach older users to be cautious online.

As we commemorate the UN International Day of Older Persons 2021, let us remind ourselves that the risks and vulnerabilities experienced by older persons during the pandemic are not new. Many older persons in the region lack social protection such as access to universal health care and pensions.

The Covid-19 recovery is an opportunity to set the stage for a more inclusive, equitable and age-friendly society, anchored in human rights and guided by the promise of the 2030 Agenda to leave no one behind. Digital equity for all ages, highlighted in the 2030 Agenda, goes beyond national interests.

Greater digital cooperation by governments and stakeholders is instrumental for both inclusive and sustainable development and building back better. At the regional and subregional levels, digital cooperation can be fruitfully leveraged to build consensus and share good practices, lessons learned, and policy recommendations. These, in turn, can supplement national level policy and decision-making for the benefit of all age groups.

Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana is UN undersecretary-general and executive secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)


  • Prince Norodom Ranariddh passes away at 77

    Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the second son of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk and former First Prime Minister of Cambodia, has passed away in France at the age of 77. “Samdech Krom Preah Norodom Ranariddh has passed away this morning in France just after 9am Paris-time,”

  • Cambodia purchases 4 million Molnupiravir tablets

    Cambodia has arranged for the purchase of four million US-made Molnupiravir pills – enough to treat 100,000 Covid-19 patients – even though the current rate of daily infections in Cambodia remains low. The medicine will be distributed to state hospitals, pharmacies and private clinics, according to the Samdech

  • Rise in planned flights lifts travel hopes

    Six airlines have applied to resume flights in December, while two others have put in for additional flights and routes, according to State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA) head Mao Havannall on November 29. These account for 43 new weekly domestic and international flights in December, up 16

  • Is Cambodia’s travel sector in for another cheerless holiday season?

    The travel and tourism sector was heaving back to life as borders started to reopen, promising a festive vibe for the holidays and New Year. But Omicron and other Covid-related issues are threatening to close the year on a bleak note ‘Seems [like] Covid-19 won’

  • Cambodia, Thailand to discuss border reopening

    Cambodian authorities from provinces along the Cambodia-Thailand border will meet with Thai counterparts to discuss reopening border checkpoints to facilitate travel, transfer of products and cross-border trade between the two countries. Banteay Meanchey provincial deputy governor Ly Sary said on November 22 that the provincial administration

  • Cambodia planning new border checkpoint at Thma Da

    Cambodia is looking into the possibility of opening a new Thma Da Border Checkpoint with Thailand to boost trade and tourism. The Ministry of Public Works and Transport said on December 4 that Minister of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol led a technical working group