The world’s oldest known man has been discovered in Chile still alive and well at the grand old age of 121.  According to his Chilean ID card and official records, Celino Villanueva Jaramillo was born on 25 July 1896.

Back when Jaramillo was born, Nicholas II was Tsar of Russia, Victoria became Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, Grover Cleveland was US President and Wilhelm II was German Emperor and King of Prussia.  He has certainly experienced significant political change in his lifetime and extraordinary technological change.

Marta Ramírez agreed at age 63 to take in the destitute 99 year old after his run-down shack in the coastal village of Mehuin had burned down because he “looked frail” and had no one else to look after him.  She probably didn’t foresee that he would still be alive more than twenty years’ later.  Jaramillo never married nor had any children to care for him through his extensive retirement. 

The Guardian, who visited the 121 year old to interview him, reports him to be almost 90% blind due to his (operable) cataracts, 85% deaf and toothless.  Despite his longevity, he has not had the easiest or most affluent life; before retiring at the age of 80 he worked as an agricultural labourer, living in estate houses.  After his retirement he grew vegetables and sold them to shopkeepers.  Despite details of Jaramillo’s youth being sketchy, one doubts that he made a habit of green smoothies or multivitamins.  There are no details of his religious belief, though 58% of Chileans are Catholic and 72% are Christian. 

He has previously had some official recognition of his extraordinarily long life: For his 115th birthday in 2011 Chile’s billionaire president, Sebastián Piñera, personally flew down to Valdivia accompanied by the minister of social development, Joaquin Lavin, their plane loaded with generous gifts for Chile’s oldest citizen in an effort to illustrate their commitment to the elderly. 

Unfortunately the gifts did not include state-provided specialist geriatric care and Jaramillo relies on Chile’s stretched public system.  As with Jaramillo, primary care-sensitive conditions such as poor vision, hearing, and dental care are among the most common unmet health needs of the older population.

With a fertility rate of only 1.75 births per women, like so much of the world Chile faces an ageing population and a workforce increasingly unable to afford their parents’ pensions. 

However, it is nice to know that Jaramillo, who is possibly the world’s oldest living inhabitant, is being looked after by a family who seems to have no obligation to him, simply because he has no one else.  It is the sort of human decency you would hope would be shown.

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...