Last year, the Global AgeWatch Index published a report on the quality of life for elders in 91 nations. The report included several factors such as income security, health and well-being, employment and education. African nations did not fare well. South Africa was the highest ranked African nation at number 65 while Ghana, Morocco, Nigeria, Malawi, Rwanda and Tanzania came in at numbers 69, 81, 85, 86, 87 and 90 respectively. Other African nations were not included in the report because there was not sufficient data. With South Africa leading the pack in elderly well-being, it helps to decipher the various ways South Africa deals with its senior citizens.
South Africa has the second largest and most developed economy in Africa with the old age pension reaching 72% of the older population. The pension system is the second most distributed of the African countries that are in the Index. Namibia is the first at a whopping 167.3% although there was not enough data in other areas to include the nation in the report. While South Africa performed moderately well in income security, the nation ranked low in elderly health status. There are only eight registered geriatric doctors to serve an older population of 4 million in South Africa. Since 1994, dramatic changes have taken place in the structure of health services. The government prioritized maternal and child healthcare because of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the 90’s.
Although South Africa was ranked at number 65, Bolivia, one of the poorest countries on the list was ranked at number 46. This shows that higher-income does not always correlate with better quality of life. In fact, some lower-income countries that invested in aging saw positive impacts. Bolivia, for instance, implemented a national plan on aging and free health care for older people, which vastly improved quality of life.
The rankings illustrate that limited resources need not be a barrier to countries providing for their older citizens, that a history of progressive social welfare policies makes a difference, and that it is never too soon to prepare for population aging. This is important for African nations because the elderly are a significant boon. African nations can do better by learning from each other as well as non-African nations. The outcomes may vary but the collective goal is to improve the elders’ quality of life for present and future generations.
Sophie Okolo is the Founder of Global Health Aging.