Government must consider older persons plight

Friday May 22 2020

 

By Yedidia Nyakahangura

According to Uganda National Bureau of Statistics, the country has the world’s youngest population, with more than 78 per cent below 30 years.

It should, however, be noted that Uganda is slowly becoming an ‘elderly country’ due to the country’s progressive reduction of infant mortality and the declining birth rates and rising life expectancy.

Currently, the population of older persons aged 60 years and older is 1.5 million. Many older people in Uganda struggle to bring in an income and are vulnerable to sliding into poverty.

Many live in chronic ill health or have disabilities that limit their ability to live independent lives. The Covid-19 restrictions such as closing schools, borders and banning international flights and public transport with only essential services left to operate has increased the burden on older persons who are stuck with grandchildren upcountry while their sons and daughters are confined to towns.

In Uganda, older people look after 60 per cent of orphan children. With the lockdown, the burden has now heightened. They are now challenged with having enough food for their grandchildren as well as accessing learning materials besides supervising their learning.

This can be even more challenging for older people who have low literacy levels. The ban on public transport has had the most impact on the lives of older people since many prefer this mode of transport to access markets, healthcare facilities, social-care services and other support.

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Findings indicate an increase in prevalence of disabilities and dependence on other people for help among older persons. Disabilities pose a negative impact on older person’s capacity to participate in normal daily activities, making them dependent on others for their survival. Hence, this translates into the need for a caregiver throughout their life time.

Although the national policy for older persons emphasises family members being primarily responsible for supporting and caring for older persons, the reality is that family structures are changing. Recent research finding showed that one in 10 older persons is living alone in Uganda.

With restricted mobility, and no one to send for basic needs, older persons’ lives are more vulnerable than ever before. Inaccessibility of medication inevitably increases mortality of older persons.
The lack of transport has also substantially reduced the support older persons and PWDs were receiving from their children from major towns.

The various stakeholders and organisations who work for older people have limited approaches to engage with the government and deliver services to older persons and those under their care.

The government needs to come up with modalities of how older people can continue to benefit from the Senior Citizens Grant and the Expanding Social Protection Programme, which provide cash payments to older people.

Currently, older people cannot access these funds due to the social distancing restrictions. This leaves older persons with no alternative source of income for their livelihoods.

Through Village Health Teams, the government needs to utilise a community-based model to support older people through door-to-door provision of information and the urgently needed prevention and protective kits .

Yedidia Nyakahangura

Criminologist

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