People worldwide are living longer. Today most people can expect to live into their sixties and beyond. Every country in the world is experiencing growth in both the size and the proportion of older persons in the population. The World Health Organization estimates that the world will have 1.4 billion old persons by 2030. Older persons are defined as those with 60 years and above.
This growing population in Sub Saharan Africa is unfortunately getting many governments unaware of how to handle the growing aging population in addition to continuously harnessing their potential. This dilemma was the centre of discussion during the 3- day conference on “Aging and Health of Older Persons in Sub-Saharan Africa’ which took place in Entebbe on Feb 20-23. The State Minister for the elderly, Hon. Dominic Mafwabi Gidudu, who opened the conference called for more research into health challenges faced by the elderly. There are few countries that have Geriatricians and specialized centers for older persons, the Minister noted.
“When we look at social protection, very few countries have instituted social protection programs for older persons yet when people age, they are prone to social shocks and vulnerabilities which need to be cushioned,” Hon. Gididu said. Some of the health challenges facing the elderly is dementia, eye sight challenges, earing problems. The Minister said there is need for research to provide practical guide line on how to respond to such conditions. “We have a big task to educate our people on how to manage this condition least they will continue to stigmatize older persons with dementia,” he added.
Older persons in Uganda constitute 4.3% of Uganda’s population. This number is projected to increase from 1.5 million to 6 million in 30 years. This follows an increase in the life expectancy of Ugandans from 53 to 60 years.
The minister however noted that almost 45% of older persons live in poverty and yet care for young orphaned children.
According to researchers, 2 out of 3 older persons are caring for young children while only one of 5 older persons can access credit, one of 5 older persons have severe disability. The according to researchers are some of the many challenges governments need to address in an effort to improve the livelihoods of older persons and also improve their productivity. Research also shows that there is wide spread illiteracy among older persons with more than 50 % of then being illiterate. In the case of Uganda, only 2.3 % older persons receive a pension. The minister said the government had taken some steps to address some of these challenges through the enactment of the National Policy for Older Persons 2009 which came in place to provide a framework for development of interventions and programmes for older persons.
The government has also put Social Assistance Grants for Empowerment, a cash transfer programme that provides monthly grants to older persons, Hon. Mafwabi said.
The conference was organized by the Department of Population Studies, Makerere University, University of Groningen in the Netherlands, the Federal German Institute for Population Studies, the Max Planck Institute of Demographic Research and the United Nations Department for Social Affairs. While addressing researchers from the various countries, the Principal of the College of Business and Managements Sciences Prof. Eria Hisali, said there was need to slow down lifestyle diseases among the elderly. He said it was important to address the issues of social security, financial security and healthcare for older persons. He said the issues concerning older persons had not attracted a lot of attention because Uganda has a young population. He called on researchers to continue with work in this areas and also educate the population of about issues concerning older persons. Prof. Hisali thanked the Department for organisng the conference and Volkswagen for sponsoring the conference. The Dean, School of Statistics and Planning also joined the Principal in thanking the sponsors and organisers of the conference, especially Dr. Stephen Wandera from the Department of Population Studies, Makerere University.