We were recently in touch with Namara Arthur Araali, Director of Health Nest Uganda, a nonprofit organization based in Entebbe that seeks to promote the dignity, equality, and independence of older people at a community level. Read what Namara has to say about older people in his area and the impact of COVID-19.
When the country was locked down due to COVID-19, it disrupted group meetings with older persons. As a result, loneliness, isolation, and neglect increased. The community reported increased deaths among older persons due to a lack of access to health care services, especially those with non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like diabetes and hypertension. Starvation due to lack of food was also reported. Some older persons depended on their household members for food and others would do casual jobs to earn food, but everything was locked down.
Health Nest Uganda mobilized different stakeholders to respond to the above. We worked with Entebbe Hospital and the President’s representative in the area to deliver NCD drugs to older persons within their community. Our main challenge was the lack of accurate electronic data to identify older persons who needed refills, and transport for health workers. Our plan is now to build an electronic data capability so that we do not face the same challenge in the future and to empower our community volunteers who are retired health workers to participate in refills for the drugs.
To reduce starvation, Health Nest Uganda combined resources with the Lions Club of Entebbe to purchase 2000 kilograms of maize flour and 172 kilograms of sugar for the most vulnerable older persons. This was not enough as most of the older persons have a high number of dependents they look after. In one extreme case, we found an older person hiding from her grandchildren due to lack of food to feed them. Most of the income-generating activities they had started got disrupted because of the pandemic.
We have now embarked on intergenerational training in backyard gardening in order to ensure food security and where possible income generation. But, unfortunately, older persons are considered risky borrowers by banks here. As a result, older persons are considering starting their own saving scheme with a slogan – If They Can Not Lend Us Let Us Lend Ourselves.
To promote sanitation and hygiene as a way of preventing COVID-19 among older persons, Health Nest Uganda with the support of HelpAge Uganda supported 2,300 older persons with bar soap. We also supported our community volunteers with masks and sanitizers.
To counter isolation, loneliness, and fear, Health Nest Uganda has helped older persons with smartphones to start a COVID-19 response WhatsApp group where COVID-19 related information is shared including updates. For those without smartphones, we are using community radios and a mobile megaphone to deliver age-friendly COVID-19 related information using the local language.