International Day of Older Persons (1st October, 2018)

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In many part of the continent an elderly person is considered to be above the age of 65 years. It is common knowledge that the number of elderly people is increasing in all continents. Many countries are preparing themselves for this. In Africa though there is need to put in place and polish the policies in existence.

Among the Kalenjin, it was not possible to transition to new age set if the elderly of the existing age set were still alive.  When I was a student in a South African University, I had just clocked 40 years and at some point had to visit a clinic for medical checkup. The nurse attending to me had a variety of questions to ask me. During the interrogation the nurse wanted to know if my parents were alive. When they learnt that they were, it really surprised them. I was to learn later on that many of them had no parents due to apartheid and HIV/AID. I can imagine if I was to go back and inform them that even after leaving South Africa ten years later my parents were still alive and are in the elderly bracket. Unlike Kenya, it was difficult to come across an elderly person in South Africa.

However, Africa is changing fast and urbanization is seems to be taking over even faster. The elderly tend to remain in the rural area and the youth are all flocking to the urban areas in search of jobs and excitement. It is very important to note that Africa is slowly moving away from the African traditional way of life where the elderly were assured of being taken care of by their children. Amongst the Kipsigis community, when parent reached old age, the eldest son was assigned to take care of the male parent during old age and the last born son was assigned the female parent.

Some developed countries, have put in place systems to assist the elderly live an enjoyable life. For instance, In Sweden;

  • More municipalities are choosing to privatise parts of their elderly care
  • Almost all municipalities in Sweden offer ready-cooked meals that can be home-delivered.
  • 2014, home help staff assisted around 221,600 people aged 65 or over
  • Almost half of the country’s municipalities also provide communal meals for the elderly at special day centers, while a few organise small groups of elderly people into teams that cook their own meals.
  • When an elderly person is no longer able to cope with the demands of everyday life, he or she can apply for assistance from municipally funded home-help services
  • Municipalities offer daytime activities for elderly and disabled people in need of stimulation and rehabilitation. These activities primarily target those with dementia or mental disabilities.
  • The elderly also qualify for transportation services in taxis or specially adapted vehicles
  • All Swedish citizens are entitled to a national retirement pension after they retire. People can choose to start receiving their pension between the ages of 61 and 67.

The Kenyan scenario is different, though we expect improvement owing to the fact that for the first time, since independence our constitution mentions the elderly. We have a long way, thanks to the African Tradition, that kept the respect of the elderly intact for a long time.

The constitution of Kenya stipulates that a person above the age of 57 is an elderly person and they have the right to;

  • To fully participate in the affairs of society;
  • To pursue their personal development;
  • To live in dignity and respect and be free from abuse; and
  • To receive reasonable care and assistance from their family and the State.

To make the above mentioned right possible the government enacted a policy for older persons and ageing through parliament in February 2009. The policy was enacted to provide a platform for addressing unique challenges that older persons in Kenya face and recognize their rights. Due to the passing of the policy all persons above the age of 70 years received a cash transfer in the form of a monthly stipend. In addition they were provided with NHIF cover that would be paid by the Government.

However, despite the government efforts the elderly continue to face challenges including - poverty, access to good healthcare, poor housing, Isolation and neglect, mobility, HIV and AIDS, and the non provision of pension.

As we move forward, the government of Kenya should seek to sensitize and put systems in place to assist the elderly; we owe our existence to them.

Compiled by Grace C. Sitienei