This year (2020) marks the 75th Anniversary of the United Nations and the 30th Anniversary of the International Day of Older Persons. This year has also been quite a challenging one as it has seen the emergence of COVID-19, which has caused an upheaval across the world, more so on older populations.
The WHO has stressed the importance of recognizing older persons’ contributions to their own health and the multiple roles they play in the preparedness and response phases of current and future pandemics.
International Day of Older Persons 2020 which was observed on October 1, highlighted the role of the health care workforce in contributing to the health of older persons, with special recognition of the nursing profession, and a primary focus on the role of women – who are relatively undervalued and, in most cases, inadequately compensated.
The 2020 observance also promoted the Decade of Healthy Ageing (2020-2030) and helped to bring together UN experts, civil society, government and the health professions to discuss the five strategic objectives of the Global Strategy and Action plan on Ageing and Health while noting the progress and challenges in their realization.
According to the WHO, the global strategy is well integrated into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), while ageing issues cut across the 17 goals, especially Goal 3 which aims to “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being of all at all ages”.
As stated by Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (Director-General, WHO) “acting on the strategy, is a means for countries to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and ensure that every human being regardless of age will have an opportunity to fulfill their potential in dignity and equality”
There is no doubt that among the more pressing issues affecting older persons are health concerns and the quality of care being provided to them on a daily basis. According to who by the year 2050, 1 in 5 people in the world will be aged 60 and older. It is therefore crucial for governments to put systems in place which would allow for older persons to obtain the health services they need.
WHO’s new 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.
Director of the Department of Ageing and Life course at WHO, Dr John Beard, noted that older adults are more likely to experience chronic conditions and often multiple conditions at the same time. Yet today’s health systems generally focus on the detection and treatment of individual acute diseases.
He reasoned that 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. He noted that this will require much better integration between care providers.
According to Beard, integrated care can help foster inclusive economic growth, improve health and wellbeing, and ensure older people have the opportunity to contribute to development, instead of being left behind.
Considering the higher risks confronted by older persons during the outbreak of pandemics such as COVID-19, policy and programmatic interventions must be targeted towards raising awareness of their special needs.
Here in Guyana, there is need for more to be done in terms of raising awareness about the issues affecting the older population and/or to lobby for more support for them. There is need for effective and targeted programmes aimed at ensuring our elderly are well taken care of. For example, there is need for more special care homes, retirement homes, special transportation and priority treatment for our elderly.
Of importance too is the need for increased focus on long-term health care of older adults suffering from mental disorders, as well as to provide caregivers with education, training and support.
That said, we are pleased that the Government has recognized and taken the necessary steps to ensure that pensioners receive a decent and livable monthly pension. It is also encouraging to note that the water subsidy was restored. We urge the Government to continue exploring ways in which the older folks would live a healthy, satisfying and comfortable life.