Need for more Harry Ramsaroops

Harry Ramsaroop, who for decades ran the Dharm Shala Home of Benevolence for all races died recently at the age of 97. From what his daughter, Kella Ramsaroop, who is now the administrator of the home said, Mr Ramsaroop was in possession of all his faculties and though ill could still walk very well up until his death last week.

Mr Ramsaroop had devoted his life to caring for the less fortunate, following in the footsteps of his father before him. That he lived to just three years shy of 100 years old is a prime example of why there is need for more of the kind of service provided by the Dharm Shala. Guyana needs to produce more Harry Ramsaroops since all-round improvement in the quality of care being provided to seniors can only redound to the benefit of the society.

Unless we die young, we will all grow old. Global statistics point to an annual increase in the elderly over the past few decades. And these figures will continue to grow. Because this is unprecedented, there is no blueprint as to what can or should be done with and for ageing populations. There is a great need for a workable one to be developed now.

Since it is estimated that the number of people over 80 will double by 2050, and that developing countries will have twice as many of these older folks, there are implications for the quality of life of seniors.

In Guyana, paltry and non-existent pensions dictate that the majority of these older people will be unable to take care of their own financial and other needs even with the annual $20,000 deduction from their electricity bills – a discount from government announced in this year’s budget and the annual concession from the Guyana Water Inc.

In a report on ageing which the government put out last year, it committed itself to developing a plan for the elderly during the next five years. Why five years? Why so long? Could a plan for the elderly not be developed in a shorter time frame?

Last year also, government had sworn in the board of directors of the National Commission on the Elderly, whose mandate is to focus on improving the lives of senior citizens in Guyana. Among the priorities that are expected to be addressed by the commission are minimum standards for care homes and facilities for the elderly, security, public transportation, access to services, abuse, and social, educational and recreational programmes. More than one year later, not much more has been accomplished; notwithstanding the fact that the elderly population is growing.

The Ministry of Human Services and Social Security must be fully aware of this growth given that it hands out welfare assistance to old folks on an annual basis. Its almost dilatory approach is therefore inexplicable.

At the very minimum, government’s role should include ensuring that quality care is provided to elderly people who are unable to take care of themselves and that those who can afford to pay for such care get value for money. Regulations to prevent the physical, mental and emotional abuse of the elderly, and which includes neglect must be sternly enforced and as mentioned in these columns before, there is dire need for training of medical personnel in dealing with illnesses specific to ageing. In addition to all of this there must be strong monitoring and evaluation of the programmes outlined.

One thing’s for sure, the pendulum has swung but will not swing back to where it came from. Nascent trends and advances in modern medicine, which are ongoing, have removed even the remotest possibility that the world will have a predominantly young population ever again. The time to address the quality of life of older folk is now before what is an increasingly dire situation becomes much worse.

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