Opinion by Moses Iraguha
Thirty-one (31) years ago, the United Nations General Assembly voted to commemorate the International Day of older persons every first of October.
This holiday is an opportunity to celebrate our senior citizens and raise awareness about issues affecting them.
It is a day where we should not only celebrate older people around the world, but it is also a day where we should focus on some of the issues that older people face today and plan for the future.
It should also be noted that the composition of the world population has changed and is changing dramatically.
According to United Nations, there were 727 million persons above 65 years in the world in 2020 which is projected to double, reaching over 1.5 billion in 2050.
This is not any different for the Ugandan population, where the population of older persons has risen from 1.1 million in 2002 (4.5%) to 1.3 million in 2010 and is projected to increase to 5.5 million by 2050.
We will no longer be a youthful society
Our current life expectancy in Uganda is 62.97 years”, Iraguha said, which is low compared to our East African counterparts. However, what we know is that the healthy life expectancy of people today is much higher than it was, 10, 15, 20 years ago.
“We shouldn’t rest on our laurels because the consequences of this, will be experienced in our families, communities and health systems and it will be profound, Iraguha noted
Policies and institutions have not kept pace with the gains in longevity and health.
An example is the past two years, which have been unprecedented in the health of the global population, the Corona pandemic has hit hard our health and psychosocial lives laying bare serious pre-existing gaps in policies, and systems.
In this period the isolation of older persons was exacerbated. Families were hard hit and unable to support at-risk and needy older persons and the pandemic created a lot of scares among older persons of the impending death.
“It’s like our society has taken the biblical words in Psalms 90:10 literally: The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away”, said Iraguha.
From issues of abuse, discrimination, poverty, the COVID-19 pandemic, No age group was most affected like the older persons. They have been identified as the most vulnerable group to the virus.
The situation was worsened by the community perception of older persons as dependents.
This affected older person’s ability to play their roles and responsibilities. Yet, older persons contribute significantly to their families and communities, thereby strengthening society.
“The number of times I find older men and women taking care of their grandchildren as the rest of the members go out to far distant places to fend for the family is uncountable”, said Iraguha.
It was also worrisome, that frail older persons with medical conditions like cancer, hypertension and dementia face a tough life because of the inability to access health services and basic needs.
On a positive note, the Government of Uganda has in the past, made small steps in addressing issues of older persons.
Examples include the publication of the National policy of older persons in 2009, National Programme Plan of Action for Older Person 2010/2011 – 2014/2015 and the creation of 5 parliament seats for the elderly.
Also, the United Nations gazetted the period between 2021 and 2030 as a “Decade of Healthy Ageing”.
This is an obvious call for our older persons/senior citizens/grandparents/parents to have unprejudiced access to good-quality essential health services which can be categorized in prevention; promotion; curative, rehabilitative, palliative and end-of-life care; safe, affordable, effective, good-quality essential medicines and vaccines without causing financial hardship because access to health promotion activities and disease prevention services through a person’s life span can prevent functional limitation and is essential to healthy ageing. However, inadequate funding impedes the full realization of healthy ageing.
Let us celebrate the elderly, while we still have them.
Social Worker working with Doctors for Global Health: Kisoro Elders Project