Category Archives: Africa

As the world’s second most populous continent, Africa hosts a large diversity of ethnicities, cultures and languages. It has 54 fully recognized nations, ten territories and two de facto independent countries with limited or no recognition. Africa’s population is the youngest among the continents.

Government Response to Tackling Elder Abuse in South Africa

This is Part 2 of a two-part series on elder abuse in South Africa. In Part 1, the main focus was raising awareness of elder abuse. In Part 2, societal responses from both public and private sectors are stressed.

As a result of recent news reports on elder abuse, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) visited KwaZulu-Natal from Aug. 15-19 to examine human rights matters impacting older adults and individuals with disabilities. The five-day visit was led by Commissioner Bokankatla Malatji who manages the portfolio on disability and older persons.

The government’s prompt response to elder abuse suggests that this problem is not being taken lightly. Elder abuse is any form of mistreatment that results in harm or loss to an older person. It is one of many challenges faced by older people in South Africa. In fact, elder abuse is expected to rise as the population ages. This is not necessarily the case but societies that have no regard for elders will need to anticipate elder mistreatment if it is not tackled beforehand. Much like other nations around the world, the silver tsunami has left many nations ill-prepared; even the most developed countries are struggling to find solutions for the foreseeable challenges of the future. It is therefore the responsibility of both public and private sectors to make dignified and healthy aging a leading priority.

Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director (RD) for Africa, states that “only with full, strong political will and commitment by governments, participation of communities, families and individuals can we achieve the vision of a continent in which everyone can live a long and healthy life.” Hence societies must hold governments accountable to ensure expedient and beneficial outcomes.

As the global population continues to age, reaching an estimated 2 billion by 2050, it is imperative that nations take a multifaceted approach to ensure the protection of older adults. Elder abuse is not reserved exclusively for citizens of developing countries. It is a public health problem that goes beyond regions, languages and ethnicities.

WHO believes that in order to adequately address the issue of elder abuse across continents, citizens must utilize approaches that are “placed within a cultural context and considered alongside culturally specific risk factors.” Such methods, with the collaboration of “both primary care and social service sectors,” can enhance the comprehensiveness of future programs, policies and legislation.

Andria Reta-Henke is a Credentialed Professional Gerontologist and Professor of Health Administration.

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Under-Diagnosed and Often Overlooked: Elder Abuse in South Africa

This article is the first part of a two-part series on elder abuse in South Africa. Click here to read Part 2.


This year marks the tenth anniversary of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD). The United Nations established WEAAD to bring communities around the globe together in raising awareness about elder abuse. Although this problem is considered a public health issue, the World Health Organization has recognized that elder abuse remains a taboo which is often underestimated and ignored by many societies. This problem is perpetuated by societal attitudes and a lack of public knowledge about elder abuse. The abuse of older people is often viewed as a personal matter – it is not openly discussed. As a result, the prevalence of elder abuse is under-reported worldwide.

In South Africa, organizations like the Saartje Baartman Centre in Cape Town are helping those affected by elder abuse.  Dorothy Gertse the head Social Worker at the center reports that a growing number of elderly women are seeking assistance due to abuse by younger relatives. Elder abuse is a broad term that is comprised of various acts such as physical, sexual, emotional, and verbal abuse, neglect, exploitation, abandonment, and financial/economic abuse.

South Africa is currently experiencing a rise in economic abuse– individuals are seeking access to financial resources such as pensions and the homes of vulnerable older adults. Gertse states that family members are escorting the elderly to pension pay points and confiscating their finances. The rate of abuse has increased within the last 6 years; Femada Shamam, Chief Operating Officer for the Association for the Aged reports that in the 2010-2011 there were 1458 reported cases; this rose to 2497 cases in the 2012-2013 financial year.

The Older Person’s Act exists within South Africa’s Constitution and outlines the government’s obligation to protect the rights and uphold the safety of older persons. However, Shamam reports that many are unfamiliar with the act, and their role in upholding it. He states, “If you go to the police to report an incident, they wouldn’t know they have the authority to remove the alleged perpetrators.” Thankfully organizations like the Saartje Baartman Centre and The Go Turquoise for the Elderly are creating awareness surrounding issues faced by older persons in South Africa.

Andria Reta covers Africa for Global Health Aging. She is a Gerontologist and Professor of Health Administration.

A Snapshot of Violence Against Elderly Women in Tanzania

Photo Credit: Andrea Moroni
Photo Credit: Andrea Moroni

The African Union has proclaimed 2016 African Year of Human Rights, with a special focus on the rights of women. As the continent celebrated International Women’s Day this past March, it not only took the time to commemorate African women, but also to remind and encourage its citizens to address the obstinate gender inequalities that inhibit women from actualizing their human rights.

However, despite Africa’s attempts to reconcile women’s issues, abuse against elderly women remains a serious problem. Violence against elderly women takes many forms that range from sexual violence to property grabbing and other such financial rights abuses. Additionally, extreme violence increases against older women if they are accused of witchcraft.

According to the United Nations, witchcraft accusations are used to warrant extreme violence against older women in 41 African and Asian countries, including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, India, Kenya, Malawi, Nepal and Tanzania. HelpAge International, an organization that works to help senior citizens live a more dignified and healthy life, reports that disabled, poor, vulnerable or widowed older women are often faced with allegations of witchcraft for reason such as:

  • Surviving a husband
  • Being seen as having little economic value or biological productivity
  • Possessing certain characteristics like red eyes or eccentric behavior
  • Miscarrying or losing a child
  • Living alone

HelpAge International has prioritized this issue by implementing projects that seek to challenge norms that are detrimental to the elderly in these societies. The organization has seen a 99 percent success rate and decline in the killing of older women in these areas. However, the killings continue to climb outside of such project areas.

For example, Nyamizi, a 73 year old widow from Sukumaland, Tanzania, was attacked by a man with a machete as she was returning home from work one night. The attacker chopped off her hand and lacerated her head, leaving her unconscious. Nyamizi believes she was targeted by a neighbor whose child had died, and who was told by a traditional healer that she was responsible for the death using witchcraft.

Nyamizi’s story is not unique. The Tanzanian Legal and Human Rights Centre reports that between 2004 and 2009, more than 2,585 older women were killed in eight different regions of Tanzania due to allegations of witchcraft. A follow-up report published by The Dar es Salaam-based Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) estimated that 765 people accused of practicing witchcraft were killed in the east African nation in 2013, 505 of whom were women. This figure has only increased from 630 in 2012.

The LHRC explains that the belief in witchcraft cuts through all strata of society, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, young or old. Therefore, unless this entrenched cultural belief is effectively addressed, allegations of witchcraft will remain a serious threat to the lives of elderly women. In the words of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “As long as one woman’s human rights are violated, our struggle is not over…”.

Andria Reta covers Africa for Global Health Aging. She is a Gerontologist and Professor of Health Administration.

Laughter is the Way to Good Health

“Laughter is a form of internal jogging. It moves your internal organs around. It enhances respiration. It is an igniter of great expectations. So let us laugh our way into good health, into happiness, and a brighter day.” Norman Cousins

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – The old saying, ‘Laughter is the best medicine’, has withstood the test of time. Laughter is good for one’s health and soul. In fact, holistic interpretations of health and wellness would agree that people may well hold the key to good health.

Over the past 20 years, an international movement has erupted in the holistic wellness sphere – Laughter Yoga. Laughter yoga is a simple yet effective technique that combines laughter with yogic breathing techniques to improve quality of life. This revolution is no laughing matter, (pun intended!) and is currently practiced in more than sixty countries with thousands of laughter clubs across the globe.

Photo Credit: Oxfam International
Photo Credit: Oxfam International

The benefits of laughter yoga go beyond just emotional and mental health; scientific research indicates that the human body can also benefit from this exercise. A Vanderbilt University study reported that 10-15 minutes of laughter a day can burn up to 40 calories. Another study from Loma Linda University showed that a sense of humor can protect against heart disease. According to Dr. Madan Kataria, founder of Laughter Yoga University and the laughter yoga movement, some other benefits of the practice include:

  • Good Mood and More Laughter: Laughter yoga helps to change your mood within minutes by releasing positive endorphins, which will keep you cheerful throughout the day and make you laugh more than you normally do.
  • Healthy Exercise to Beat Stress: Laughter yoga is like a cardio workout that brings more oxygen to the body and brain, making one feel more energized and relaxed.
  • Health Benefits: Laughter yoga reduces stress and strengthens the immune system. You will not fall sick easily, and if you suffer from chronic health conditions you will heal faster.
  • Quality of Life: Laughter fosters positive energy, which improves relationships. If you laugh more, your vitality will invite more people into your life.
  • Positive Attitude in Challenging Times: Laughter creates a positive mental state that gives hope and optimism to cope with difficult times.

Many countries have picked up on this international trend, including Ethiopia where laughter yoga has achieved such popularity that October 31 is declared National Ethiopian Laughter Day. Laughter yoga was first introduced to the Ethiopian health and wellness space in 2002 by world laughter master Belachew Girma. Girma opened the first laughter yoga school in Addis Ababa called Laughter for All Association -Ethiopia. The school provides laughter yoga trainings in “Indigenous Laughter”, which focus on helping people hone their innate, natural laughter through Team Bonding, Stress Management, Positive Thinking, and Peace Building exercises. In addition to traveling around the world sharing his message, Girma visits old age homes in Ethiopia with professional laughter therapists as part of the school’s mission is to improve the quality of life for the elderly through laughter.

While the laughter yoga movement has been greatly successful across borders, it has had a unique impact in the African context. Health care accessibility in most African countries has seen significant improvements over the past ten years although mental health has not received enough attention. According to a study published in International Journal of Mental Health Systems, 79 percent of African countries spent less than one percent of their total health budget to mental health. Therefore, alternative self-treatments like laughter yoga can provide essential support in fighting mental illness.

Although the absence of laughter is not the root cause of all health issues, laughter yoga is a potential solution to the ailments of an increasingly sedentary and isolating lifestyle. The Social Care Institute for Excellence in the UK states that “The range of interventions for alleviating loneliness and social isolation can be grouped into one-to-one interventions, group services and wider community engagement. Those that look most effective include befriending, social group schemes and Community Navigators”. To sum up, social interaction is key to dealing with mental and physiological illnesses that stem from loneliness, and laughter yoga is a tool that facilitates such interaction.

Andria Reta is a Gerontologist and Health Administration Professor.

The African Age Wave – The Future is Now

Photo Credit: Pixabay
Photo Credit: Pixabay

“As we get older, our rights do not change. As we get older, we are no less human and should not become invisible.” These powerful words by 84-year-old South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu illustrate the necessary social, economic, and political shift that needs to occur in order for global sustainability to be achieved. He is in fact a living testament of what the world can expect to see, as the age wave extends itself far beyond geographical borders. In the foreword of the 2015 Global AgeWatch Index, Tutu goes on to say that “No future development goals can be legitimate or sustainable unless they include people of all ages and leave no one behind.” According to the National Institute on Health, “In 2010, an estimated 524 million people were aged 65 or older – eight percent of the world’s population. By 2050, this number is expected to nearly triple to about 1.5 billion, representing 16 percent of the world’s population.” This phenomenon is unprecedented, pervasive, enduring, and has profound implications around the world, especially in Africa where the age wave has gone virtually unnoticed.

The Global AgeWatch Index provides insight on the state of older people in various regions around the world. The Index measures four key domains that affect the welfare of older adults which include, income security, health status, capability and the enabling environment. According to the report, “Despite Africa’s rapid economic growth, poor social and economic wellbeing for older people means most countries continue to rank in the bottom quarter of the Index.” Mauritius ranked 42nd, which was the highest ranking of the region. This was followed by South Africa which ranked 78th, Ghana 81st, Tanzania 91st, Mozambique 94th and Malawi 95th. Although the index sheds light on the disparities that older adults are faced with, it does not tell the entire story for the African continent. Due to lack of data, only 11 of the 54 countries were evaluated.

While this report offers an empirical snapshot of the challenges faced by older adults in Africa, 65-year-old Dominic Ologi of Nairobi, Kenya personifies the plight of income security, one of the four key domains. His story parallels others throughout Africa. Ologi spent 30 years working in both private and public sectors, and when he retired nearly 10 years ago, he was faced with a harsh realization – he could not afford to remain without employment. His circumstance required that he goes back to work, and now at 65, Ologi is running a tap water kiosk. He is unable to enjoy his golden years just yet. Analogous to many Kenyans, Ologi is without savings and receives 7,500 shillings ($75) a month from his state pension. According to the South African financial services firm, Alexander Forbes, more than 40 percent of Kenyans cannot afford to retire and must continue working, and another 40 percent rely on family for support. Ologi’s story is not the exception, but in fact the rule. Based on this data, eight out of 10 Kenyans will experience similar hardships.

Conclusions about the Index can be drawn from what it states as well as from what it is missing. On the one hand, Africa is on its way to ratifying a charter on human rights that will outline specific obligations to older people. This effort signifies a more serious commitment to the urgent need for improvement that Africa now seeks to address. On the other hand, I could not help but think about the unquantifiable elements that would show Africa and the treatment of its elders in a more positive light. From firsthand experience, I have witnessed the level of respect given to elders in Africa remains unmatched. Elders continue to be the nucleus of entire communities, and are often sought after for wisdom and guidance. The African proverb, “A village without the elderly is like a well without water” illustrates the value placed on their contributions. Although Africa has a long journey towards developing an infrastructure that supports the needs of its older people, in some ways, it is miles ahead of the rest.

Andria Reta is a Gerontologist and Health Administration Professor.

 

Is Gogo the New Mama? How HIV/AIDS and globalization are increasing the role of older caregivers

Precious, a woman who looks well beyond her sixty-six years of age, sits in her yard in rural Zimbabwe watching over her three grandchildren, ages four, six and seven. “Gogo, gogo!” the youngest one beckons his grandmother, as he chases after his older siblings who are in search of guava fruits. Precious’ son, Michael, left for South Africa for work shortly after he married Mary, a girl from the same village. Michael contracted HIV in South Africa and transmitted it to Mary during one of his visits back home. While Michael was able to access antiretroviral drugs and continues to generate a small livelihood – a portion of which he sends from South Africa to Zimbabwe every few months – Mary died from AIDS shortly after the birth of her third child. Michael and Mary’s three children are now under the full-time care of Precious. [1]

Photo Credit: Blue Skyz Studios
Photo Credit: Blue Skyz Studios

Precious’ story is similar to those of many other grandmothers in Sub-Saharan Africa. The fact that Zimbabwe, Malawi, Kenya and other parts of the region are suffering from an Orphan Crisis is a topic of much debate internationally. The new systems of care that transnational economic structures are creating, and the pressing problem of HIV/ AIDS, continues to garner growing attention. For example, 2007 saw the first United Nations-led Global Summit on Grandparents and Kinship Caregivers. Sub-Saharan Africa currently has 17.9 million orphans, a large number of whom are being brought up by elderly grandparents.

A study conducted among the Luo ethnic group in Kenya demonstrates that older caregivers face severe strain while taking on parental roles in the lives of their grandchildren. For instance, grandmothers have noted going hungry on a regular basis to help feed the 1-9 orphans they care for. Many cannot sleep through the night as they have to nurse young infants. There is also the perpetually looming stress of being unable to provide financially for the children. This is especially hard when the children are HIV positive and require medical attention.

Another study in rural Uganda shows that caring for young children creates both physical and mental stressors, negatively impacting older caregivers’ health. The inability to participate in a livelihood livelihood generating activity causes grandparents to borrow from other households, which stigmatizes them in the societies they live in. In addition, children in the care of elderly are more likely to be victims of abuse as the elderly are often unable to protect them from these negative influences. All these factors culminate in weight loss, poor health and depression among the aging.

The preferred method of care for orphans in Sub-Saharan Africa is community-based as opposed to institutional. Keeping the child in a familial environment, and the village or tribe they come from, is key. While this method is certainly ideal, given the strain it places on the bulk of caregivers – grandmothers – there needs to be stronger social nets, such as feeding programs and free education, in place to help both caregivers and orphans live relatively successful lives. While certain NGOs provide stipends for food and education to such families, they do not have nearly enough capacity to address the issue of caregiver strain at the pace at which it is growing. It is important, thus, to consider the larger picture and understand how globalization and national policy can mitigate rather than exacerbate the issues that older caregivers face.

[1] This particular story is fictional. It is based on the lives of many women living in the rural Zimbabwe.

Sachi Shah is a recent graduate with a degree in International Development and Economics from Sarah Lawrence College, New York. She currently works as a grassroots campaign organizer, and is actively seeking opportunities in the international public health sector.

Africa Must Prepare for Aging Population Now

Photo Credit: United Nations Photo

As countries like Japan and Italy prepare for the challenges of an aging population, African countries are focusing on the need for youth empowerment. Youth make up the next generation of workers, parents, and leaders in Africa; hence investing in them is top priority for the continent’s transformation. While empowering youth is important, African nations cannot ignore the outcome of greatly increased birth rates.

Since Africa is the most youthful continent in the world – two-thirds of the continent’s 1.1 billion people are younger than 35 – what will happen when the youth become elderly citizens? And what will happen to elderly citizens if the continent does not plan for increased birth rates now? The rise in the number of elderly citizens may take a strain on families and the incidence of aging-associated diseases like cancer will hit an all time high.

This situation is especially complex because agencies like the World Health Organization and United Nations Population Fund support the use of contraceptives to space out births’ for maternal and child health. The use of contraceptives is a controversial issue in Africa as opponents may argue that contraceptives will prevent women from having children. Proponents for contraceptives may find the concept ludicrous although in countries like Germany, where the use of contraceptives is widely accepted, women have fewer children or no children. Having children or not is one’s personal choice; the concern is the result of choices that a nation made.

West African nations are among the continents most fertile – the average woman in Niger has nearly seven children in her lifetime. With the current youth population, increased birth rates and use of contraceptives, African nations are facing an unforeseen future. Currently, aging Africans are facing new problems including the changing practice of extended families taking care of elderly members. Children are now migrating to other nations for better opportunities, leaving their parents to care for themselves. If African governments do not address current problems as well as prepare for the increased birth rates, it is likely that the future will bring many challenges to the aging population and continent as a whole.

African countries that currently have large youth populations are poised to experience a potential demographic boost to their economies. While such countries will see this population age into the workforce, they will also experience rising proportions of seniors with this group. It is critical for governments to plan now for the future with smart government policies. Training citizens to embrace the aging process and raising awareness of the challenges associated with this stage of life is important. Companies should also be encouraged to work with the elderly so as to improve their health, lifestyle and wellness.

Equipping older adults with coping skills, and encouraging people of all ages – especially the youth – to not smoke, do more physical activity, and practice moderate alcohol consumption and good nutrition will pay good health dividends later in life.

Sophie Okolo is the Founder of Global Health Aging.

A Call to End Elder Abuse and Neglect in 2015

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Elder abuse continues to be a worldwide problem. This year, former minister of social welfare, Paurina Mpariwa, accused the Zimbabwean government of neglecting the elderly. Since the Older Persons Act was signed into law, the government has failed to implement the provisions including protection from all forms of abuse such as physical and psychological harassment and social neglect. Due to the global prevalence of elder abuse, the world observes World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) on June 15 each year. WEEAD provides an opportunity for communities around the world to promote a better understanding of abuse and neglect of older persons. This event is achieved by raising awareness of the cultural, social, economic and demographic processes affecting elder abuse and neglect.

The significance of elder abuse as a public health and human rights issue has been acknowledged by the United Nations International Plan of Action. Elder abuse diminishes the quality of life of elders. For instance, neglect is a type of abuse that can be inflicted either by the elder’s caregiver or oneself. Signs of neglect include malnutrition and dehydration, poor hygiene, noncompliance to a prescription medication, and unsafe living conditions. In Africa, this abuse can cause the elderly to leave their homes and families. Since old age homes are not widespread and elder abuse is rarely reported, the elderly end up living on the streets. Elderly street begging is common in Africa and there are very few health systems that currently address the problem. In addition to being a marginalized and vulnerable group, elderly street beggars are at risk for diseases, malnutrition, and mental health issues.

It is unfortunate that elder abuse also happens in institutions of care like nursing homes and more. In Cape Town this year, an old age home was investigated for the alleged abuse of the elderly. According to the Department of Social Development, the allegations ranged from deaths due to poor treatment and human rights violations. The Department also stated that if there was a need to go to court, they would obtain an order to close the old aged home. As professionals in aging and health, these issues are troubling because they still persist with no lasting solution. Elder abuse can happen in families and institutions of care; places where elder abuse should not happen. Although the old age home in Cape Town was unregistered, which is a huge grievance, the main goal is for everyone to have dignity and respect for each other irrespective of age. Without this mindset, elder abuse can persist despite policy recommendations, health interventions, etc. The United States is a good example.

WEAAD serves as a call-to-action for individuals, organizations, and communities to raise awareness about elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Everyone should make elder justice a priority by launching various initiatives such as old age homes or shelter homes in Africa. The shelter home provides greater protection and psychosocial assistance to the elderly especially those that are in family abandonment situations. These homes will help to decrease the incidence of street begging among the elderly since the elderly leave their own homes due to elder abuse. The shelter homes will also contribute to the elder’s social and economic conditions and thus retrieve the respect to people submitted to various abuses. In the long run, the elder’s quality of life will be improved.

Let’s take a stand against elder abuse and protect seniors today!

Sophie Okolo is the Founder of Global Health Aging

Old and Forgotten: The Crisis of Africa’s Elderly

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Africa is currently the most youthful continent in the world. At least 35 per cent of its more than one billion population is between the ages of 15 and 35. While investing in the youth is a priority for the continent’s transformation, the elderly should not be forgotten. As Africa’s population grows, the number of older people also increases therefore it is important to highlight the issues that affect this population.

Traditionally, extended families have taken care of elderly members but since that is changing, aging Africans are now facing new problems. The United Nations Population Fund estimates that around 50 million people above the age of 60 account for around five percent of Sub-Saharan Africa’s population. In the past, most of them turned to families for help but the practice is becoming less widespread. It is difficult to convince people that the elderly in Africa are in need of help. Issues affecting this population are not popular because either everyone is just focusing on children, which is important, or they are under the notion that the elderly live happily with their extended families. It becomes more difficult when even development policy debates marginalize issues related to the elderly. For example, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) focuses only on women and children.

Despite these issues, society should not give up on the elderly because they need our assistance. There are many ways to help the elderly in Africa such as organizations can partner with local hospitals to train volunteer healthcare assistants who will visit the elderly in their homes and ensure that they receiving the care they need. Other complex issues can be tackled efficiently. For instance, there are at present senior citizens who cannot afford sufficient medical care in South Africa. The situation is more problematic because advocates for the elderly state that the services for senior citizens have dramatically decreased in the last two decades.

According to Anita Powell, Southern Africa reporter for Voice of America, few among South Africa’s rapidly growing elderly population are faring well, health wise, due to economic insecurity which is linked with worse health outcomes. Elderly advocates insist that Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s most famous senior citizen, is not the standard by which South Africa’s treatment of its weakest members should be judged. Unlike other aging South Africans, Mandela spent nearly two weeks in a Pretoria hospital for a lung infection, and received the best possible medical care. The nation’s growing elderly population is increasingly marginalized by a government that has focused its health care on young people and women. While child health is very important, the health care needs of the elderly should not be overlooked especially in a nation with only eight registered geriatric doctors. Despite these issues, it is good to know that South Africa’s pension system was the second most distributed of the African countries in the Global AgeWatch Index, the first-ever overview of the well-being of older people around the world. Without a formal pension system, the prevalence of poverty among older persons will likely increase. Currently, there are no formal systems in most other African countries.

It is critical to provide proper assistance and support to combat poverty and economic security for today and tomorrow’s seniors. Africa’s elderly still contribute to development, civic life, and the economy in many ways including caring for grandchildren when the middle generation has died or become very sick from HIV/AIDS. Ultimately, they need to be rewarded. This video portrays the work of the Ikaheng Daycare Centre for the Aged in the South African Township of Ikaheng.

Sophie Okolo is the Founder of Global Health Aging.

Quality of Life for Elders: Lessons from South Africa and Bolivia

Photo Credit: Pixabay
                                                                                               Photo Credit: Pixabay

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.