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16.10.2005 Health

The Sorry State of Old Age in Ghana

By Public Agenda
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The Executive Director of HelpAge Ghana, Mr. Ebenezer Adjetey-Sorsey, has appealed to the Ghana AIDS Commission to include older people in their HIVAIDS awareness Campaign.

He stated the older people in society stand a greater risk of being infected with the HIV/AIDS virus if the commission does not target them in their educational messages. He said most elderly women especially, are taking care of HIV/AIDS patients in the homes in the rural communities, not knowing the risk they are being exposed to.

He said including the elderly in HIV/AIDS campaigns is therefore crucial considering the fact that some older people are on the streets begging and could be exposed to all kinds of danger. "They are faced with new responsibilities that they didn't plan for", he added.

"You will all agree with me that one cannot ignore his or her child when sick, our culture frowns on that, due to this most elderly people are taking care of their sick children at home, some of whom are HIVAIDS positive" he observed. He added that this practice is mostly going on especially in the rural communities.

Mr. Adjetey-Sorsey, however, disclosed that the older people in the society are fast becoming Ghana's newest mothers and fathers. This situation he said is due to the fact that older people are left to take care of the wards of their children when they eventually die from the disease.

Touching on the national policy on ageing, he called on government to expedite action on the draft national policy on ageing presented to cabinet in March 2003. This, he said will give direction to ageing and facilitate the work of institutions working with and for older people in the country.

According to him the process of developing a policy for the older people started in 1997, led by the then Ministry of employment and social welfare. "The draft which was submitted to cabinet in March 2003 is yet to be passed to parliament ", he said.

He noted with displeasure that up till now Ghana has still not developed a definition of who an older person is. This he added makes it impossible for organizations interested in issues concerning the aged to identify them.

Mr. Adjetey Sorsey said the central aim of the policy is to promote the social, economic and cultural reintegration of older persons into mainstream society to enable them participate fully and as far as practicable in national development and social life, while recognizing their fundamental rights.

"The continuous absence of a law on ageing is creating the impression that ageing is abstract and that older people are irrelevant to national development" he stressed.

In a statement to commemorate the United Nations day for older persons, which fell on the 1st October 2005, on the theme "Ageing in the New Millennium- How Prepared are We"?, individuals were advised to prepare seriously towards their own old age.

The statement stated that, Ghana is progressively changing perceptions and attitudes towards ageing and older persons for the worse. This negative trend, coupled with the dominant negative images, myths and stereotypes heightened in the media about old age are a serious barrier to the human rights of the aged.

Adjetey Sorsey said "ageing is a journey we are all traveling seconds by seconds and so the earlier we began to appreciate and prepare for our old age, the better we stand chances of adding life to our years than years to our life". "Growing old does not mean that life cannot be enjoyable, fulfilling and productive", he added.

Help Age Ghana is a non-governmental, non-religious and non-profit making organization, established in 1988 to promote the prospects of older persons in the Ghanaian society.

Mean while research shows that the number of the older persons is increasing in many parts of the world, including Africa. In 1970, 381,000(5.3%) of Ghana population were older persons (60 years and above). This increased to 719,135(5.8%) in 1994 and it was 1,380,582(7.3%) by the 2000 Census Report.

In other words, Ghana's ageing population numerically has tripled in 30 years. The proportion of the elderly (60 years and above) at 7.3% is a substantial increase from the 5.8% in 1994, which is also a reflection of improvement in health and life expectancy.

The above scenario indicates that older persons are gradually becoming a demographic force to reckon with in Ghana and, therefore, ageing is becoming an issue, which requires serious attention than it had so far received. This is a challenge waiting to transform itself into a problem in the foreseeable future, if left unattended to.

Gradually disappearing are the days when the aged were utilized as a resource, not only in giving advice, but also in dispute or conflict resolution. Poverty, marginalisation, exposure to all forms of abuse, including physical assaults are now the order of the day for older people.

As people grow older, their needs for health care normally increase. But older people in Ghana continue to experience gradual reduction in specialized healthcare services. The situation is worsened by the rising cost in medication and negative attitude of some health care workers towards patients, especially older people.

All attempted solutions to healthcare needs of older people have targeted cost more than the appropriate specialized services. The National Health Insurance is yet to adequately take on board the tertiary care needed by people as they age. Worse, the Health care system has no serious structure for Geriatric Doctors in the system to attend to older people.

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