“A society that does not value its older people denies its roots and endangers its future,” these priceless words which I hold in high esteem were uttered by the late South African President Nelson Mandela.
Indeed a community’s virtue is judged by how it treats the weakest and most vulnerable among them. While there has been a focus on other deserving groups in our community such as children, women and youth, the weakest of the lot, our elders have been neglected. This neglect is evidenced through the daily challenges they face accessing food and health care.
Prohibitive food prices reflect on the elders’ malnutrition and daily hunger. We have elders who attribute their health to the fact that they cannot access food on a regular basis. Without jobs or any way of earning a living, elders are reduced to begging to survive. Our elders played their part in nation-building and it is now our duty to support them in their old age. Our society cannot abandon its responsibility and duty to the elderly in our communities.
Secondly, healthcare which can be measured by affordability and accessibility has become practically unattainable for the elders who need it most. The exorbitant cost of basic health services has deterred the elderly from seeking to improve their health. Additionally, due to the total imbalance between various counties, some of the elders find themselves living in areas with gravely inadequate hospital facilities.
Our elders suffer from plenty of underlying issues such as hypertension and diabetes that come with age. A simple flu equates to a death sentence. In contrast, other countries have provided medical cover, subsidized transport and food to the elderly. We in Kenya have experimented with the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) for the elderly with very limited success. Health coverage to our elders is both essential and urgent.
With the eruption of a global pandemic, the situation for the elders has gotten worse. The few individuals with their kindly hands extended and upon whom the needy elders relied have suffered as their own income has been significantly curtailed. The entire nation is struggling and the elders bear the brunt of the punctured economy. In terms of healthcare, the seniors face a fearsome degree of mortality. In 2020, our organization, the Mama Ibado Charity saw a nine per cent increase in mortality rates compared to 2019’s six per cent. This is the highest drastic increase we’ve had in our ten years of service. The uncertainty of whether or not they died of coronavirus is attributed to inadequate testing in remote lands.
With the introduction of vaccines, there seems to be a glimmer of hope despite its limited availability. Recently, our volunteers in Isiolo interacted with our valued beneficiaries in order to gather their opinion. The elders unanimously expressed a sceptical, cynical and dismissive view, attributing the vaccine to guaranteed death. Such extreme and unenlightened opinions emanate from a lack of awareness and misinformation. We need to educate and vaccinate our elders quickly before the danger of Covid-19 takes deadly roots in this vulnerable group.
Despite the State’s efforts to implement safety net programs and health insurance targeting the elderly, more needs to be done. The National Government has a vested responsibility to take the lead in collapsing the steep hierarchical gap that places indigent seniors at rock bottom. There is a need to introduce sustainable programs such as various forms of subsidies and insurance for the elders. They can also provide tax concessions to individuals and organizations who actively contribute to charities that support the elderly.
The county governments need to find within them the power to summon up alternative initiatives that will alleviate the pitiful conditions of the elders. In addition to governmental efforts, corporations and wealthy individuals need to form a meaningful alliance with the humanitarian purpose of restoring a dignified life to the elders. Companies can begin by dedicating a certain percentage of their revenue to charity while individuals can sacrifice a small amount of their income to impact destitute lives. Our actions need to be preceded by sincere intentions to support our elders regardless of their multiple identities, be it religion, ethnicity or tribe.
In essence, each one of us with capable stature and stable income has a responsibility to contribute to the wellbeing of elders. Confining them to a nursing home is not an option available to us. It is not only expensive beyond our means, but also disloyalty to our African values and an alien idea.
This article is a national appeal to the Kenyan masses. Let us join hands in reigniting the fire of hope in the hearts of the men and women who sacrificed so much for us and are in dire need of assistance. As the United Nations dictum goes, “leaving no one behind.” The second and third of the seventeen UN Sustainable Development Goals are “zero hunger” and “good health and well-being”. Our collaborative efforts will prove to be a great antidote to their suffering and restore dignity to our elders and our society.
***The writer Ahmed Rashid Jibril is the founder of an independent, non-profit and non-governmental organization (NGO), Mama Ibado Charity (MIC), formed from humble beginnings in 2011 with one objective in mind: Restoring Dignity and Hope to our seniors. Since its initial launch, Jibril and his team of dedicated MIC volunteers have grown the MIC organization from feeding 50 seniors in 2011 in Isiolo County to 650 seniors in Isiolo and Kakamega Counties in less than a decade.