By Chijioke Okoronkwo
The status and well-being of elderly persons in the African society was recently brought to the front burner at a recent stakeholders’ conference in Abuja.
The organisers of the conference say that the meeting became imperative as the population of elderly persons across the world has been increasing at an exponential rate.
In fact, statistics made available at the conference indicate that the population of aged persons — persons with ages from 60 years and above — is expected to increase from 59.8 million in 2012 to 64. 5 million in 2015.
The stakeholders’ meeting, tagged “Inauguration Ceremony and International Conference of the African Society for Ageing Research and Development (ASARD)’’, was organised by the National Universities Commission (NUC), in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Speaking at the event, Prof. Julius Okojie, the Executive Secretary of the NUC, advocated the creation of civic centres for the aged in society.
According to him, ageing is an irreversible process but its attendant loneliness remains a major problem to older persons.
Okojie said that one of the major goals of the conference was to create an institution for ageing, where research, seminars and other ageing-related issues would be handled.
“We used to have a communal life where old persons were adequately taken care of but nowadays, loneliness is a major issue in ageing.
“We will advise that government should create some civic centres where elderly people can be kept busy with routine visits of nurses and doctors.
“We want a sustainable agenda for ageing; somebody should, however, coordinate all the activities.
“In Africa, the population of older persons aged 60 years and above has been rapidly growing and was expected to increase from 59.8 million in 2012 to 64.5 million in 2015, the close of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).’’
Okojie, however, gave the assurance that the NUC and other major stakeholders would play critical roles in improving the capacity of institutions and individuals to understand the care needs of the older persons.
He said that NUC had developed a Gerontology programme in 12 Nigerian universities with Benchmark Statements and Minimum Academic Standards for Post-Graduate Diploma (PGD), Master of Science (M.Sc) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD).
Besides, the NUC secretary said that the commission had consulted widely with relevant stakeholders to define and develop a Master of Science (M.Sc) programme in Geriatrics.
Gerontology is the study of ageing and older adults, while Geriatrics is the branch of Medicine that deals with the problems of ageing and diseases of the aged.
“The commission has also engaged strategic stakeholders in the past four years to coordinate and focus on the programmes’ multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral approach to teaching and research in order to develop community intervention models on ageing.
“To stimulate research policy dialogue and to harness scientific research outcomes for evidence-based interventions in ageing, the NUC, through its collaborative work with the Dave Omokaro Foundation in Gerontology and Geriatrics, founded ASARD in 2012.
“This is designed to create the necessary platform to elevate the visibility of ageing programmes and research in Nigerian universities.
“ASARD has taken on the responsibility to formally and consistently promote dialogue on the medical, social, economic and cultural implications of ageing,’’ Okojie said.
In her remarks, Dr Emem Omokaro, LEADS Scholar, Ageing Studies Development, NUC, said that ASARD was an African think-tank platform for experts to exchange information on care for older persons.
She said that the expected outcomes of the conference would identify research priorities, institute joint research projects across universities and share knowledge to policy makers, among others.
Omokaro that said recent research indicated that African countries fared poorly on issues regarding the well-being of elderly persons.
She said that the research, which was conducted by HelpAge International, showed that Nigeria had dropped in the rankings.
According to Omokaro, only Mauritius and South Africa have put in place policy frameworks that respond to the rising challenges posed by the remarkable increase in the population of older persons.
“HelpAge International AgeWatch Index’s annual ranking of countries, based on the well-being of their elderly persons, uses internationally comparable data on health.
“These are indicated by life expectancy at 60 and also healthy life expectancy at 60; income security indicated by pension coverage and poverty level; capabilities in terms of skills and continuing productive engagement at 60.
“Enabling environment, indicated by safety, access to transportation and housing as well as general psychological well-being of older persons show many African countries, including Nigeria, occupying almost all of the last 10 positions.
“The recently released 2015 Global AgeWatch ranking shows that Nigeria has dropped in ranking from 85th to 86th position in the survey of 96 countries,’’ she added.
Omokaro said that population ageing, which was formerly a concern for only developed countries, had also become a challenge to developing countries.
According to her, ASARD aims to build a globally relevant Africa-oriented ageing network that will stimulate critical thinking and structured approach to tackling challenges inherent in population ageing.
An elder statesman, Alhaji Maitama Sule, who was the Chairman of the occasion, said that a good government would always strive to rely on the input of young and old citizens in day-to-day governance.
“This is because it is necessary to combine the experience of the aged with the exuberance of the young.
“Africa should, nonetheless, introduce policies that take care of the aged,’’ he said, adding: “The aged should not be dumped in old peoples’ homes so long as they are alive; they need to be catered for.’’
In his keynote address, Prof. Hilary Inyang, the President of Global Education and Information Services (GEIS), Charlotte, North Carolina, in the U.S., said that environmental exposure was one of the greatest contributors to mortality in Africa.
According to him, the immune systems of elderly persons are weaker and as such, they are more vulnerable to the dangers of environmental exposure.
He recommended formulation of a national and regional research agenda to capture the peculiarities of each country and the creation of a research centre to provide a multi-disciplinary approach to issues of ageing.
Dr Tim Menakaya, a former Minister of Health, lauded the organisers of the conference for taking into congnisance the plight of elderly persons in society.
“This assures us that we have a society that recognises old people; a think-tank to re-engineer ageing-related issues in this country.
“This conference recognises the importance of health in ageing and also fine-tunes ways of tapping from the experience of aged persons.
“We need to support healthy ageing and the aged,’’ he said.
A communiqué, jointly signed by Okojie and Dr Rui Vaz, the Country Director of WHO, made certain recommendations:
“That there should be a policy to facilitate social pension development and implementation through greater productivity at the national level.
“That policies on ageing should reflect the realities of Africa’s ageing experience.
“That the policies should evolve through participatory process involving all stakeholders; emerge out of domestic political agenda and respond to local prioritisation of needs.
“That policies should ensure that key frameworks for the implementation of policies on ageing include continued advocacy; mobilisation of people, materials and funds; supervising, monitoring and evaluation.’’
All in all, the central message of the event is that since elderly persons have spent the better part of their lives contributing to the growth of the society; pragmatic efforts should be made to improve their well-being and care. (NANFeatures)