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Over 76 Million Older People Lack Vital Care

  • Joe DeCapua

HelpAge International says universal healthcare needed for millions of older people around the world. Credit: HelpAge

HelpAge International says universal healthcare needed for millions of older people around the world. Credit: HelpAge

Monday, April 7th, is World Health Day. An NGO is using the occasion to warn that 76-million older people around the world are being excluded from vital health care. HelpAge International is trying to raise awareness through its Age Demands Action campaign.

Amleset Tewodros, the group’s Country Director for Tanzania, said, “Age Demands Action is a campaign that empowers older people to directly engage with their leaders – in this particular case with the Ministry of Health officials – to demand the access to services, the health services, to be appropriate, age friendly, accessible to older people. So it gives older people an opportunity to present their demands and their requests to their relative policy and decision makers.”

She said millions of older people around the world are not getting the care they need for diseases and chronic conditions.

“There are a number of noncommunicable diseases that are showing steady growth among older population groups -- for example, diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, prostate cancer and respiratory diseases.”

Amleset said that the current emphasis in healthcare is on communicable and childhood diseases. She says healthcare programs usually do not have a lifelong healthy aging approach. Lack of respect and discrimination can also be barriers to adequate health care for older people.

“Old age is associated with diseases,” she said, “So older people are not treated for the illnesses they present, but rather they’re looked at – Oh, you are old and resources are limited. Those should be directed to young people, to children. So, these are some of the constraints that are limiting older people’s access.”

In many developing countries, Amleset said, the emphasis is on building infrastructure and hospital admissions, which can be expensive. As a result, she said, less attention is paid to health promotion and prevention, especially for age-related diseases and conditions. What’s more, many healthcare workers may not be adequately trained to help older patients.

The HelpAge International official said universal healthcare would help solve many of these problems.

“Universal healthcare would help in the sense that it will provide equity in terms of access to healthcare for all population groups. If healthcare has to be paid for, a lot of these people who lack funds to pay for consultation, who lack funds for transport, who lack funds for paying for the cost of drugs are constrained by their inability to benefit or to access basic healthcare, which is fundamental for their survival.”

Amleset said that political will can overcome concerns about cost.

“We have experiences in a number of countries where we have seen positive progress, which did not require a huge investment. It is an issue of commitment and policy adjustment – making sure health policymakers, programmers do take into account the specific needs – the unique needs – of older population groups and provide appropriate, affordable and accessible healthcare. That is the message,” she said.

HelpAge International also warned the life expectancy in nearly 40 countries is either remaining static at 60 or has fallen. It said community healthcare is vital to ensure older people maintain a good quality of life.”

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