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Urbanization Weakens Traditional Family Care for Elderly in Ghana

Under the traditional family system in Ghana, members of an extended family depend on each other for mutual support. But that’s changing.

Professor Chuks Mba works at the Regional Institute for population Studies of the University of Ghana. He said in the traditional setting, the elderly lived together with their family. They were also regarded as people of wisdom and gave advice to other adults while contributing to childcare.

Chuks say today, urbanization and modernization are said to be weakening the family support base and making older people more vulnerable.

“As the young people grow up, their inability to find means of subsistence in the rural setting force them to move to urban centres, so increasingly the elderly people are left on their own. Secondly, young people feel that elderly people are old and do not know modern things, so they are abandoned. They no more go to them for advice,” he said.

Chuks said issues such as lack of adequate social protection and health care are heightening the plight of the elderly.

“With advancing age and increasing frailty, they are essentially dependent on others, and because many who are supposed to care for them are in the urban areas or outside the country, they are actually destitute and poverty stricken,” he said.

Even for those who retire on a pension, the situation is not much different. A 65-year-old retired public servant whom I choose to call Sam said the life style of most elderly people leaves much to be desired. He said at his age, he continues to rent a house and finds it difficult to get by.

“The reason is that the pension given you is so small -- a pittance --, so you are compelled to continue renting a house. You cannot build with that money. You can imagine how it is. So in actual fact a pensioner becomes like a pauper,” he says.

Sam receives about 100 dollars a month and even for that has to go through a lot of stress at the bank where the payment is lodged.

“It isn’t that you go there and your money is given to you on that particular day, but (there is) postponement all the time,” he says.

Gaining access to health care is another problem. Indeed, government-ensured free health care for the aged covers only those who are 70 years and older. Sam said he uses part of his pension to pay his medical bills, adding that life is just not bearable for the elderly.

Estimates by the UN put Ghana’s older population at 7 point two per cent of the country’s 20 million people. The figure is projected to reach over 13 per cent by 2015. Chuks said this can have serious implications for development. He said government has to provide better health services and other amenities for the elderly.

The government of Ghana has instituted a day in July on which old people are feted. Chuks said every family and every home should grant such recognition to the elderly on a daily basis.