Dr. Jane Barratt
Secretary General, International Federation on Ageing (IFA)
Older Canadians are massive contributors to Canada’s social and economic health and will remain so as long as we safeguard their rights.
Thanks to modern medicine, Canadians are living longer than ever before and are doing so with incredible mental and physical vitality. These older adults are retiring later, volunteering more, embracing lifelong learning, and, of course, making massive social contributions as family caregivers.
“Older adults make significant social and economic contributions in Canada,” says Dr. Jane Barratt, Secretary General of the International Federation on Ageing (IFA). “They’re the glue that holds the fabric of this country together. They’re resilient. They have ambition and commitment. And yet, the system has failed to address the diversity, strength, and rights of our older population. The rights of older adults are human rights.”
As Canadians remain engaged and active late in life, it’s important to remember that it’s equal access to health care that enables their engagement. Modern medical innovations help older adults to overcome previously debilitating conditions like rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) that would otherwise have limited their ability to contribute.
As Canadians remain engaged and active late in life, it’s important to remember that it’s equal access to health care that enables their engagement.
Equivalent treatment is not identical treatment
Conditions like RA and AMD are of particular concern when it comes to patient rights because they’re treated with complex drugs known as biologics. Biologics are generally impossible for competing manufacturers to perfectly replicate as generics. Instead, we have biosimilars, which are not identical, but are approved for equivalent use in the same conditions as the originator biologics.
For those on biologics, there are important questions to be asked when switching to the more economical biosimilar, such as whether it will impact their health and independence. “The value of biosimilars must be considered beyond the cost savings in a way that incorporates the diverse needs of patients and health care providers,” says Dr. Barratt. “Different provinces have moved in different directions. We have to ask ourselves why, for example, British Columbia has moved toward mandatory switching while Manitoba has a tiered approach. Biosimilars are here, and they’re here to stay, but we need national guidelines that focus on evidence-based science to steer policy decisions.”
Know your rights: protect health equity
The IFA is working to ensure that all older adults know their rights and have equal health care access across the country. The heart of the movement is in education and advocacy, as through initiatives like the IFA’s Eye See You campaign, which is building awareness and recruiting advocates for vision issues such as AMD. “Our mantra at the IFA is that every patient should have access to the safest and most effective appropriate treatment as determined by the physician in consultation with the patient and their family,” says Dr. Barratt. “That’s got to be the bottom line.”
To secure that reality, however, will require that all voices be heard. Current policies don’t always work best for older adults, but advocacy and awareness can correct that. The erosion of rights and health equity is something all Canadians can help advocate against.