Eldercare should be seen as a health rights issue following the disproportionate loss of nursing home residents during the coronavirus pandemic, the emergencies chief of the World Health Organization said Monday. 

Speaking at the United Nations in Geneva, Mike Ryan, M.D., called for policymakers worldwide to “fundamentally rethink the relationship we have with older generations and the way in which we provide care for that generation,” reported Reuters. “We need to see the needs of our older generation as a rights issue — the right to be cared for, the right to social contact,” Ryan said.

In the United States, nursing home residents represent 40% or more of COVID-19-related deaths, with more than 53,000 deaths attributed to the disease according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In some high-income countries, residents have accounted for up to 80% of COVID deaths, Ryan said. Access to healthcare in COVID-19 has not been fair overall, he added. “It has been influenced by gender, by wealth, by age, by social class, by legal status, by ethnicity and so many other things,” he said.