By Aisha Tamba
The World Health Organisation Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti has revealed that more than 17 000 people aged over 55 years have lost their lives to COVID-19, accounting for over 50% of the COVID-19 deaths in the region.
In her statement for the International Day of Older Persons 2020, Dr Matshidiso Moeti asserted that to address the disproportionate burden of COVID-19 on older people, “we must all play a role in shielding our elders, including by practicing the preventive measures of wearing masks, keeping a physical distance and frequently washing our hands.
“This year’s theme is ‘Pandemics: do they change how we address age and ageing?’ because we know that older people are at higher risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19, ” she added.
She further highlighted that in Africa, people are living longer than ever before. “There are around 54 million people aged over 60 years in sub-Saharan Africa, representing 5% of older adults worldwide. The population of older people in sub-Saharan Africa is projected to reach 67 million by 2025 and 163 million by 2050.”
She noted that in recognition of the profound social and economic impacts of population ageing globally, 2020 has been designated as the start of the decade of healthy ageing.
“This is an opportunity to invest more in living long and healthy lives, to combat ageism and enhance the autonomy of older persons, including by building resilient health and social systems that incorporate the needs of older people.”
She stressed that the key challenges in the African Region include the lack of comprehensive long-term care systems, low coverage of social protection schemes, and inadequate data to shape policy interventions.
She disclosed that WHO is working with 40 African countries to build capacity for the integrated care of older people, an approach that centers on community-based care, early detection and management of declines in physical and mental capacities, and supporting household caregivers. “In line with the Global strategy and action plan on ageing and health 2016–2020, twenty-three African countries have multisectoral healthy ageing policies and strategic plans.”
She said continuity of other essential services for older people is also important, adding that many African countries are offering multi-month prescriptions for people with chronic diseases to reduce the frequency of visits to health-care facilities. “In some countries, such as Mauritius, health workers are reaching out to older people in their homes, to ensure that services, like the seasonal flu shot, continue to be delivered.”
She pointed out that with restrictions on movement and gathering, social isolation of older people is also a concern. “We can contribute to addressing this by picking up the phone to call our senior relatives and offering to assist older people in our communities or keep them company.
Going forward, we are increasing the focus on integrated, people-centred care in the African Region, to address the needs of different population subgroups, including older adults,” she concluded.
The International Day of Older Persons is an annual celebration of senior citizens around the world and a chance to take stock of the opportunities and challenges related to the ageing population towards ensuring societies are accommodating of all ages.