quotes Extending healthspan: A call to action for a healthier, more prosperous future

29 November 2023
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Updated 29 November 2023

Extending healthspan: A call to action for a healthier, more prosperous future

In the quest for longevity, our focus has often been fixed on the pursuit of extending life at all costs. But what value does a longer life hold if it is marred by illness, disability and decline? Healthspan, the period of life lived in good health, is the truest measure of a life well-lived. It is time we pivoted our attention from merely adding years to our lives to adding life to those years.

Today, we stand at a crossroads where the promise of a longer life expectancy does not imply a healthier life. The World Health Organization lays bare a stark reality: On average, the last decade of our lives is spent battling poor health. This is a global issue; here in Saudi Arabia, for instance, individuals can expect to spend over 10 years of their lives in a diminished state of health. This is not an inevitable decree of aging but a clarion call for a seismic shift in how we view and manage the process.

The numbers are telling. As life expectancy has increased, healthspan has decreased. We are living longer, but not better. Aging populations are burgeoning, with predictions of one in five people being over 60 by 2050.

Even in youthful nations like ours, the average age is escalating and the proportion of individuals vulnerable to chronic diseases is rising. But it is not just a health issue; it is an economic and social time bomb.

The demographic shift towards an older population will see fewer working-age individuals supporting a larger retired community. This could potentially destabilize economies and healthcare systems.

However, this is both a challenge and an investment opportunity. Increasing healthspan can yield extraordinary returns — a mere 12-month extension could save trillions in healthcare costs and lost productivity, fueling economic growth and social stability.

Despite its immense potential, the financing for healthspan research is a trickle when it should be a torrent. The US National Institutes of Health allocates less than 1 percent of its budget to the biology of aging. This, when chronic diseases associated with aging are costing hundreds of billions of dollars annually.

Fortunately, the tide is turning. Visionaries around the world are recognizing the importance of healthspan. The UN’s Decade of Healthy Aging initiative, the commitment by both the UK and Singapore to extend healthspan by five years, and Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 all herald a global awakening.

The science behind the biology of aging is no longer an enigma, and interventions to delay age-related diseases are in active research.

That means accelerating this research to increase the number of safe and effective treatments entering the market, attracting more funding to the field of aging and expanding the number of companies operating in this field that has so much potential for exponential growth.

As a Riyadh-based, global, not-for-profit organization, the Hevolution Foundation already provides grants to researchers here in the Kingdom and around the world as we continue to incentivize independent research and entrepreneurship.

This is vital in helping drive a global, collaborative push to fund the science that can transform our golden years into a period of vibrancy and participation. Our aim must be to forge a future where every individual can live both a long life and one which is healthy, productive and fulfilling.

Extending healthspan is more than just a health imperative; it is a societal necessity and an economic strategy. We have the knowledge, technology that was previously unavailable and the economic incentive. What we need now is the collective will to turn the possible into the inevitable.

Convening the Global Healthspan Summit in Riyadh Nov. 29-30 will be a vital step in accelerating the required transformation. As an international forum on an unparalleled scale, it will serve as an epicenter for insights, networking and potential real-world solutions. It will catalyze a global movement that will empower us to bring lasting change.

Let us choose to not just age, but to age well.

  • Haya Khaled Al-Saud is the Hevolution Foundation’s vice president of organizational strategy and development. Her distinguished career includes roles at the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, both as director of the Saudi national center for genomics technology and director of the Saudi national pre-marital screening program. She served as a member of the national biotech strategy advisory committee at the strategic management office, and as a member of the national nutrition committee at the Saudi Food and Drug Authority.