Accessibility links

Cameroon Slowly Losing Tradition of Caring for Elderly at Home

Societal changes are causing Cameroon to consider more care centers for the elderly as fewer people adhere to the tradition of "at-home" elder care for family members.

Ndula Pascaline, of Yaounde's Bethanie Viacam center for old, invalid and abandoned persons, says it was once a social taboo in Cameroon for people to place their parents in assisted-living homes, but now, whether its because of a lack of funds or disinterest, more people are disregarding that tradition.

Pascaline says as many youth head to cities to find work, they feel they are left with no option other than to leave their parents at home in villages or at care centers.

She says another group of elderly that are often abandoned are those who are accused of practicing witchcraft.

Needs of the elderly

A 2013 study by the Central African Economic Commission and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights found that just 10 percent of Cameroonians have social insurance plans that help take care of them in their old age.

Richard Ndi Tantoh, director of the nongovernmental organization Ecumenical Service for Peace, piloted the study. He says it is imperative for the government to take care of the needs of the elderly.

"We are going to engage stakeholders with this study so that they see what exactly is happening with the elderly around Africa. So that at least we should begin to reflect on how we can set up a system which will be able to rehabilitate elderly persons," Tantoh said. "They are people who spent their lives working to build a country and I don’t think it is good for the country to abandon them when they are at old age."

Still, some elderly say they are being abandoned by family members when they begin to succumb to health issues.

Ngah Gisselle, 72, has been at Yaounde's Bethanie Viacam center for four years. She says she was abandoned by her family and two children who, according to cultural tradition, are supposed to take care of her.

Gisselle says a kind stranger brought her to the center when she started suffering from chronic heart infections.

When she recovered, she was told a Jesuit priest brought her to the center. She credits the center's care for her present health.

Jobs elsewhere

The center is home to 45 elderly people, including former teacher Jean Etoundi, 84, who says his daughter brought him to the center because her career -- a job in Cameroon's economic capital, Douala -- meant she could no longer live with and care for him.

Etoundi, who is paralyzed, says his daughter sends money for his care.

Some of the elderly in Cameroon say they never had sufficient means to prepare for retirement and old age, especially after Cameroon's currency suffered a 50 percent devaluation in 1994 and state workers saw their salaries cut by 60 percent.

Social worker Mbiybe Rosaline says such conditions made it difficult for many people to prepare for retirement.

"When they leave work and they go back to the village, they don't have what they need to take care of themselves, especially those who did not prepare towards their old age, Rosaline said. "So we are trying to see how we make a society that is inclusive, that will make everybody feel comfortable."