The face of the future is an older one. Longevity is the new name of the game. With life expectancy steadily rising, it is estimated that by 2050–in 38 years time—there will be as many people over 60 in the world as there are young people. This unprecedented global demographic transformation is one of humanity’s major achievements. It should be seen as a public health achievement, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says, and not as a social or economic liability.
In his message to mark International Day of Older Persons, which was observed on Monday, October 1, he called for the well-being of older persons to be ensured and for nations to enlist their meaningful participation in society so we can all benefit from their knowledge and ability.
The UN’s Secretary-General call is perhaps particularly aimed at developing countries, where often poverty and near destitution are an outcome of old age–which is the case in Guyana, notwithstanding the recent move to rehire retired teachers, which is to be commended.
The fact that the day set aside to acknowledge this increasing section of the population passed without a murmur is stark evidence of the above. It’s as if the still meagre $10,000 a month in old age pension (which the government was forced raise, by the way), and whatever sum is grudgingly given by the National Insurance Scheme to some is all that our older folk need.
Care homes for the elderly are scarce. There are several in the city, but just recently, a letter writer pointed out that there is dire need for such facilities on the Essequibo Coast. A similar situation no doubt exists in Berbice and other areas of the country. One hopes that the private sector or a philanthropist would take up this challenge because it is obviously not on the government’s radar at the moment.
Incidentally, ensuring their well-being does not equate to rounding up homeless or poor elderly people and putting them into homes. There are aged retirees who may want to retain some independence, but who are unable to afford, on their pensions, to own their own homes or even maintain their existing ones.
It should be noted that while some of our elderly can barely keep a roof over their heads, the government trots around patting itself on the back over its billion-dollar ‘housing’ drive, which in many instances involves handing out bushy underdeveloped plots of land, lacking such basic amenities as roads, water and electricity. It would have been much more commendable if, on its own, or in partnership with one of the many ‘developers’ who have been granted the wherewithal to sell overpriced houses in gated communities, the government could have built affordable condo-style homes/flats for active older folk.
In addition, where are the programmes for the elderly? What activities can they become involved in as a community? Why are they only remembered at Christmas when all and sundry come forward with the annual hamper or lunch? Does anyone wonder how they exist during the rest of the year? One wonders whether the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security has an elderly welfare unit and what it does–apart from hand out pension books, that is.
Given the worldwide rise in cases of Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia as well as Guyana’s increasing ageing population, would the Ministry of Health care to say what plans it has to deal with these illnesses? Like accessing specialized training for doctors, nurses and other caregivers for instance?
For the average person, the concept of growing older in this country must be truly depressing when one considers the above. Old age is certainly not golden and there really isn’t much to celebrate.
One would scarcely imagine that President Donald Ramotar and at least two of his numerous advisers are, by virtue of being over the age of 60, older persons. In fact, so are Cabinet members: Prime Minister Sam Hinds, Cabinet Secretary Dr Roger Luncheon, Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee, Minister of Agriculture Dr Leslie Ramsammy and Minister in the Ministry of Local Government Norman Whittaker; and there might be others. Perhaps none of these people has ever looked at a downtrodden elderly Guyanese and thought, “There, but for the grace of God go I.”