Tag Archives: Andria Reta

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.

Advertisements

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.