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According to the United Nations, rapid population ageing and a steady increase in human longevity worldwide represents one of the greatest social, economic and political transformations of our time. These demographic changes will affect every community, family and person. They demand that we rethink how individuals live, work, plan and learn throughout their lifetimes, and that we re-invent how societies manage themselves.
In a study done by Help Age International in 2010, it shows that more than 88 percent of homeless older people and 66 percent of those living at home do not have enough to eat. The study also showed that 79 percent of older people eat once a day and 93 percent of them don’t have access to a bath or shower. These statistics haven’t changed much since then. Senior citizens still continue to live in very difficult situations.
Low life expectancy figures mask the fact that there are millions of older people in developing countries. The most rapid increase in the 60+ population is occurring in the developing world, which will see a jump of 225 per cent (to over 1.5 billion people) between 2010 and 2050. Furthermore, 26 million older people are affected by disasters every year.When disaster strikes, older people are among the most vulnerable to neglect, injury, death and disease.
In Ethiopia older people are estimated to constitute about 5 percent or four million people of the current total population of more than 80 million. This is estimated to rise to 10 percent by 2050.
Children, Women and youth issues are the ones that get more attention in our country. Their issues are often discussed on television as well as the radio bringing awareness to the public. They have their own associations where those groups of people can go to in case of a need for solutions to problems they might be facing.
But for older people it is different. They are usually forgotten, we don’t hear about them that often nobody really seems to recognize them as part of the society that needs attention when actually they are one group that needs the most help and attention. It is different when older people are needy than of other age groups.
These people have provided for themselves, taken care of themselves and depended on themselves until they reached a certain point in their life. Then their strength betrays them and they become weak physically, they can no longer help themselves.The people that were once considered the head of the house and providers are suddenly seen as a burden in most cases.
Developed countries have their “retirement housings” where people can take older persons in their family and put them in the houses were they will be living with other old people and taken care of hired nurses. That solution has its own flaws but it seems to be way better than what is happening in Ethiopia. In this country we have the tradition of helping our parents when they get old, we provide for them all that they need like they have done for probably the better part of our lives.
This tradition seems to slowly fading away, especially in poor house holds because of urbanization. It should be taken under consideration that on an individual and family level times are hard, it’s hard to support owns life let alone others.This usually results in old people being thrown out on the streets.
Another overlooked issue is that old people are at risk for being infected with HIV as much as anybody else. But it seems that not much has been done to educate that age group on how to protect themselves from it. In sub-Saharan Africa, 13% of all people living with HIV are now aged 50 or over. Another shocking statistic is that in some countries in East and Southern Africa, 40-60pct of children affected by AIDS are cared for by older people. But most of their contributions are not appreciated.
Because of lack of attention and support senior citizens have taken matter into their own hands and established the Ethiopian Elderly and Pensioners National Association (EEPNA) in 1998. Since its conception, Help Age International has provided technical and financial support to EEPNA. But it seems that Help Age is the only organization that has shown constant support. Perhaps if the government also showed a bit more interest in the issue of the elderly then surely everybody else would also be encouraged to get involved, the media would cover more stories about them and we would begin recognizing the benefits of paying attention to this vital issue.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Aging which focuses on older persons and development; advancing health and well-being into old age. As the proportion of older persons in society grows, the bold vision it puts forward of building a society for all ages is more relevant than ever. As October 1st is International Day of Older Persons, let’s all try and ensure the wellbeing of older persons and do what we can to help them to age with dignity and grace.