Op. Ed: Free Healthcare For The Elderly

On 18/Dec/2018 / In Articles

At the first National Summit on Healthy Ageing which took place in Abuja on Wednesday last week, the federal government said it plans to extend free healthcare services to all Nigerians over the age of 60 years. It also said it will establish regional geriatric centres at tertiary health institutions for clinical care. These, it said, are in line with the United Nations’ declaration of the Plan of Action on Healthy Ageing by 2020.
The theme of the summit was “Promoting the healthcare agenda of the present administration on vulnerable populations with focus on the aged.” Minister of Health Prof Isaac Adewole, who represented President Muhammadu Buhari at the summit, said the initiatives hope to extend free medical services to people over the age of 60 years. He said there would be a training of healthcare workforce through effective collaboration and technical support of international organisations. He also said there would be research on chronic diseases of the aged and community-based health-social support.
The minister added, “We are aware that some states give free healthcare services to under fives and women. We hope to extend these services to people over the age of 60 years. We must make healthcare services available to our senior citizens as part of the government appreciation and social responsibility and a way of recognising their immense contributions to national development.”
Director of Hospital Services in the Federal Health Ministry Dr. Joseph Amedu said at the summit that the National Policy on Healthy Ageing was the first of its kind in Sub-Saharan African and it would serve as a policy model for the provision of healthcare to the aged in Africa. Chairman, Governing Board of University of Abuja Teaching Hospital Sam Jaja said Nigeria ranks 86th among 96 countries in the global age index 2015, which ranks countries by how well their older populations are faring. The index covers 91 percent of the world population of those aged 60 and above.
This is a dismal ranking indeed, so the launching of this concerted action plan on healthy ageing and catering for the elderly in society could not have come at a better time. Even though much is said in national discourse about the youth, comparatively little is said about the elderly. Elders may be far less in number than youths but they constitute a critical element of the population as the repository and custodians of the society’s history, social values and indeed many skills.
It is not just a matter of pay back for generations that toiled for decades for to build the country. It is also because the society and polity still have a lot to draw from the elderly, if only it can maintain them in relatively good health. Aged persons are susceptible to noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and cancer. In so far as this country does not have specialised health care services to cater for the elderly, they mostly survive on their meager savings and the support of family members to get medical care. The difficult economic conditions in the country and the mass unemployment among the youths, who should bail out the elders, means another avenue of support is badly needed.
It will be recalled that similar initiatives were launched by a previous administration in this country. For example, in 2014, the Jonathan administration launched a National Policy on Ageing. The then Minister of Women Affairs Hajiya Zainab Maina said at a National Summit on Ageing and Older Persons that it was to provide a framework for the care of elderly and vulnerable persons in society. Needless to say, not much was heard of the initiative since then.
We urge the Health Ministry and Presidency to take this program seriously and not to consign it to the dustbin like its predecessors. A good program of care for the elderly will help to reduce corruption in the society because there will be less concern about saving for a rainy health day.
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