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Poverty & SDGs

Q&A: Ageing Africa Left out of COVID-19 Policies

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the needs of the ageing population in various African countries were not adequately addressed. However, since the pandemic a recent survey has shown that the pandemic has further compounded the existing health challenges, further increasing neglect of older persons.Credit: Dolphin Emali/IPS

Nearly three quarters of respondents in a survey across 18 African countries have claimed that their countries’ COVID-19 responses are gravely lacking in addressing the ageing population.

The survey, conducted by the Stakeholder Group on Ageing (SGA) Africa, found that factors such as inadequate social protection, health care infrastructures and multi-sector engagement mechanisms on ageing on all levels are contributing to these countries’ woeful lack of policies geared towards the ageing population.

On Thursday, SGA organised its second webinar on the Rights of Older Persons in Africa with a focus on the “Inclusion of Older Persons in COVID-19 Policy Response and Development Agendas”.

“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the needs of older persons in various African countries were not adequately addressed,” Dr. Emem Omokaro, co-chair SGA Africa, told IPS after the webinar.

“Unfortunately, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has further compounded the existing health challenges due to the shift in government attention from those existing challenges to containment of the COVID-19 pandemic, which further increase neglect of older persons.”

Full excerpt of the interview below:

Inter Press Service (IPS): What did this webinar aim to address?

Dr. Emem Omokaro (EO): COVID -19 is a global health, social, economic and psychosocial pandemic. Its intense activity and the mortality toll among the geriatric population have been evidenced by disaggregated data. The SGA Africa survey on the impact of COVID-19 containment and mitigation initiatives exposed social injustices, deepening inequalities, inadequate — or in some countries — non-existing healthcare and social protection infrastructure.

In Africa, the impact is materially more intense, with a prolonged systemic tendency to leave older persons behind. For a COVID-19 recovery, we cannot afford to continue as usual. The fundamental question for SGA Africa then became, what can we do differently? How do we influence the approach of ministries, departments and agencies of governments, organisational and agencies in their intervention efforts? How can we bring compassion, passion, research and data, to influence political decisions? How can we influence African member states to deliberately set up multi-sector stakeholder platforms for collective and intersecting decisions, and to set up common structures of engagement for older persons centred policy actions?

IPS: How has the ageing population in the 18 African countries (as mentioned in your brief) been affected by COVID-19?

EO: When the question was asked, responses from the various participating countries showed clearly there were certain older person-specific issues that the strategies did not fully cover. Some of the issues include: access to medical care, abuse and violence, lack of social protection for older persons, lack of research/information about older persons, voices of older persons not [being] heard, access to nutritional intervention services, age discrimination, neglect in the distribution of palliatives, and inadequate sensitisation for older persons.

The health and economic impacts of the virus are borne disproportionately by poor people. For example, homeless people who lack safe shelters, and people without access to running water, among others.

Specifically, the impacts of COVID-19 on older persons include the following:

  • increased mortality rate among older persons;
  • older Persons with pre-existing health challenges who lack access to health care;
  • neglect and maltreatment of older persons in care homes and other institutions;
  • disruption of older persons’ social networks and support systems;
  • increased incidences of abuses of older persons;
  • isolation, neglect and loneliness due to social distancing;
  • social protection has been grossly affected; and
  • erosion of the means of livelihood of older persons due to the lockdown.

IPS: How does it affect the ageing population when they’re not included in policy responses to COVID-19?

EO: Older men and women can be perfectly healthy even though their metabolic rates may slow down and their strength declines. Some mental activities also slow or change completely. These changes and declines occur at different levels and at different rates. In favourable environments, the changes will hardly be apparent, and the benefits of old age may often mean that life improves and older persons are happier, and unsure of its veracity and essence.

COVID-19 is more than a health crisis, but a human, economic and social crisis; attacking the core of the human society–as it heightens inequality, exclusion, discrimination, xenophobia, vulnerabilities and global unemployment in the medium and long terms. It affects all segments of the population and it is particularly detrimental to those in the most vulnerable situations, including people living in poverty situations (especially women), older persons, and persons with disabilities, youth migrants, and refugees among others.

IPS: In what ways have the governments responded to specific needs of the ageing population in these countries under the current pandemic?

EO: There were varied responses. Some African countries, including Togo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Madagascar indicated that their countries had not made much progress in terms of older person-specific programmes.

Expectedly, the majority of African countries made tremendous progress in the implementation of containment and mitigation services to older persons. A few African countries that made outstanding progress in older person-specific containment and mitigation services are Rwanda, Kenya and South Africa.

The responses in these countries indicated that they’d accomplished measures such as sensitisation of social distancing, provision of food to older persons, food distributions to older persons, advocacy for older persons’ voices to be heard, building of older persons care homes, and access to medical insurance.

IPS: From the concept note, it’s clear that there’s a large focus on regional partnership to address this issue. Why is a partnership so crucial to addressing the issue? In what ways can it enhance the efforts to improve the situation? 

EO: Establishment of partnership with national, regional and international agencies and bodies is very crucial in the fight against ageism and as well in the achievement of [Sustainable Development Goals] SDGs Agenda 2030 and [African Union] AU Agenda 2063. Older persons are diverse and ageing is multi-sectoral.

Partnerships are crucial for resource mobilisation, exchange of information and knowledge, new technology, and capacity building. It is necessary to have inter-agencies and multi sectoral -older persons centred interventions. Specifically, partnership will promote effective coordination efforts towards multi-sector and comprehensive response to ageing and older persons during and post COVID-19. SGA Africa is advocating for a policy directive on an intervention methodology which commands all United Nations Agencies with countries in Africa to build the multi-agency mechanisms on ageing.


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