The welfare of the elderly is not known to be an issue that dominates discussions at the national level in this country. This is quite unfortunate as in certain countries, there is an ongoing dialogue between policy makers and other actors as to what more could be done to ensure that senior folks lead healthier and happier lives. Leaders look for ways and means of offering more to its senior citizens, whether it is in the area of pensions, care homes, or better health care services etc.
In Guyana, this is not the case. Even though the state has taken some steps to make senior citizens’ lives easier, there is still a very far way to go in creating a more comfortable, convenient and stress-free life for this vulnerable group.
Older folks are given a minimum pension which could hardly sustain them, resulting in some of them being abused by uncaring relatives or neighbours etc. In terms of care, if children or other family members are not around, older folks are left to care for themselves, most times resulting in their health deteriorating and eventually dying. Also, as it relates to transportation, with the exception of travelling on the ferries, there is no other preferential treatment given to this segment of the population as they are made to pay their way and endure the same hassle as younger people do. This should not be; as these persons have given their best years of service towards the development of their country. The least a nation could do to repay its elderly folks is to ensure that they are given basic privileges to live a comfortable life.
The authorities should begin the conversation with the relevant stakeholders as how best to care for older folks and identify priority areas for attention, based on availability of resources. At present, not much is being done to raise awareness on the issues affecting the older population and/or to lobby for more support for them.
For example, in terms of access to health care, the authorities should make it a priority to relook at the issue in its entirety and to explore ways in which this could be improved. They should put systems in place which would allow for older persons to obtain the health services they need in an affordable and convenient manner. WHO’s guidelines on Integrated Care for Older People recommend ways community-based services can help prevent, slow or reverse declines in physical and mental capacities among older people. The guidelines also require health and social care providers to coordinate their services around the needs of older people through approaches such as comprehensive assessment and care plans.
WHO had correctly pointed out that today’s health systems generally focus on the detection and treatment of individual acute diseases. However, if health systems are to meet the needs of older populations, they must provide ongoing care focused on the issues that matter to older people – chronic pain, and difficulties with hearing, seeing, walking or performing daily activities. This will require much better integration between care providers.
Also, there is a need for special care and retirement homes in regions across Guyana. Older folks want to be sure that they have a comfortable and safe place to enjoy their final years.
As it relates to pensions and public assistance, even though the rates had gone up over the years, they are still insufficient when compared to the cost of living, especially considering the fact that the water and electricity subsidies were taken away by the present administration. If we are going to ensure that the senior folks enjoy their golden years, then they must, first of all, be entitled to a decent and liveable financial assistance at the end of the month.
With this country being on the cusp of becoming an oil-producing nation, it is hoped that more resources will be allocated towards effective and targeted programmes aimed at ensuring our elderly are well taken care of.