ACHEST’s Director of Non-Communicable Diseases and Healthy Ageing Dr David Okello has called for the need for public education and awareness on ageing as a natural process.
While making a virtual presentation on “Ageing Societies; Implications for Uganda” to the Rotary Club of Kampala on October 29, 2020, Dr Okello noted that it was important to promote the behaviour of better ageing, in order to address possible challenges that could affect the future senior citizens.
“Ageing is a natural process and part of life, with clear pathways from the womb to the tomb. What we do earlier affects us later in life. The relatively young population in Uganda should be encouraged to start now to plan for later years in life,” remarked Dr Okello.
Old age is defined by the United Nations as a person who is over 60 years of age. Global projections show that the world is ageing. Almost 700 million people are now over 60, and in 2050, there will more persons over 60 than children in the world.
Dr Okello noted that population ageing constitutes one of the most significant demographic transformations of the21st century.
In Uganda, life expectancy in 2020 is estimated at 64 years. The cohort of the current predominantly young people is predicted to grow and become older persons with rapid population ageing.
Regrettably, the challenges are enormous for older persons in Uganda. Dr. Okello observed that with society in transition, the social support system is weak if existing at all.
“The society in Uganda is in transition. There is mass movement from the rural areas to the cities. The traditional care and support by the family and community that was commonplace in the past are no more. In many of our communities, old people are increasingly left to fend for themselves. Hospitals in Uganda and other healthcare institutions do not have dedicated programs for older persons,” explained Dr. Okello.
He thus urged Rotary to play a role to advocate and champion service support for the ageing population and to fight ageism.
“Social support system is needed. Older persons are prone to loneliness and isolation due to a reduction of friends and social circles. There is reduced independence, physical activity and resource availability. We need a mindset change to have more acceptance towards the elderly.
The government also needs to design public policies and legislation that address the needs of older persons, Dr. Okello observed further.
He acknowledged that although the government provides a stipend for senior citizens aged 80 years and above, the money was too little. The good news is that older persons are increasingly gaining national recognition. The National Policy for Older Persons (2009) provides for the establishment of a National Council for Older Persons to coordinate various stakeholders involved in the implementation of programs for older persons. There is also a plan to have a special representation for older persons in the Parliament of Uganda.
From a medical perspective, Dr. Okello explained that waning body immunity combines with other effects of ageing to make older people more vulnerable to both communicable and non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Health problems of older persons include impaired vision, impaired hearing, chronic pain, high blood pressure, cognitive impairment, depression, muscular-skeletal degenerative illnesses, and disability. Older persons are also more susceptible to disease outbreaks, including the current COVID-19 pandemic.