COVID-19 Update

Health and protection of elderly persons (>60yrs) in light of COVID-19 pandemic crisis

The author is; Nakabuye Brendah; BSc Nurse working with Kiruddu National Referral Hospital

The COVID-19 pandemic is a health and human crisis threatening the health and well-being of millions of people around the world. The most affected individuals are the elderly above 60 years whose life is basically dependent from social and family support. Studies have shown that during this crisis, most of the elderly people in developed countries have been neglected by their caregivers due to lockdown measures that negatively affect economic capacities as well as influencing priorities that ensure only survival which leaves the old unable to sustain themselves on basic needs including food, security and primary health care.

In Uganda, only 1.7% of the elderly have pension and retirement packages while other (98.3%) are unable to independently live healthy and dignified ageing life due to reduced capacity for income generation which leads to a growing risk of Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) resulting into chronic poverty among elderly persons. This leaves most of them relying on children, neighbors and religious charity organizations for basic needs including food, medical care among others. Unfortunately, the COVID 19 crisis measures have caused loss of jobs to family members that previously supported the elderly, as well as affecting access to health care and good nutrition due to limited and expensive transport means.

Since 21st March 2020, when Uganda confirmed her first COVID-19 imported case, as more cases have been on the rise, COVID 19 community impact including job insecurities, poor run of trade, food insecurity especially in towns have also doubled and the impact is felt more by previously vulnerable groups including elderly people. UNDP consultations with districts stakeholders have indicated that health service providers are already overstretched by COVID 19 preventive measure demands and restrictions hence are not able to efficiently respond to other pre-existing non-COVID-19 health needs including NCDs and chronic poverty that affects most elderly people in Uganda.

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The World Health Organisation (WH) warned about neglect of underprivileged people including elderly members of community, refugees, children among others that could evolve from COVID 19 related impacts on social and economic power of societies and nations which could potentially lead to loss of lives from non COVID 19 reasons like hunger, neglect of chronic illnesses, Psychological breakdown among others. This Uganda responded by livelihood support of 25,000UGshs for elderly above 80 years as well as food support to some parts of the country during maiden days of COVID 19 in the country. However, the financial support reaches the minority of elderly population, added to it still being too insignificant to cause tangible contribution to quality health care and supply of basic needs for elderly people. Despite the food relief, the need has since then grown day by day leaving some elderly with no alternative options especially where COVID 19 disrupted means of income.

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We may be able to protect elderly population by lockdown and social distancing, however, this doesn’t remove the threat of their pressing problems like NCDs, nutritional needs and chronic poverty, hence without addressing these, still it is difficult to have them well and healthy following post-COVID 19 time since these other challenges are equally lethal to them as is COVID 19. Hence there is a need for government of Uganda, Non-Governmental Organizations as well as humanitarian organizations to come up with strategies of supporting the elderly in areas of need especially quality health care access and cost coverage for treatment of commonly affecting chronic illness, nutritional food support among other needs during this COVID 19 era in order to ensure that these can also go through this world crisis successfully without succumbing to negative forces of COVID 19 pandemic and its control measures.

The author is; Nakabuye Brendah; BSc Nurse working with Kiruddu National Referral Hospital

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