HelpAge strengthens health systems by making them more inclusive of older people. HelpAge's multi-year initiative in Ethiopia, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe, is designed to do just that—to increase access to quality health services. Individual stories from the Better Health project provide insight into both the progress that has been made and the challenges that lie ahead.
Dr. Issan works at Bishoftu General Hospital's NCD clinic that HelpAge and our partners opened in Ethiopia. She sees around 40 patients a day, most of whom are older, and often works long hours in order to see them all. “This NCD clinic is very important. The quality of the treatment here is much better than anywhere else. Normally, older people don’t get one-to-one, in-depth appointments and then follow up appointments.” While treatment has improved, challenges to accessing medicine still remain. “Older people who don’t have children find it difficult to travel to health clinics. There also isn’t a pharmacy nearby so if the medicines they need are out of stock here, they will have to go somewhere else to buy them.”
Domingu is a Better Health volunteer caregiver in Tete, a city in Mozambique. With a bicycle provided by HelpAge, he goes from village to village, visiting older people in their homes and assisting them with daily activities such as helping them taking their medicine or bringing them food. “As people grow old, they get accused of being witches. It’s because they are poor and they can no longer work – the younger generations need to support their own children and caring for their parents puts an extra strain on the family. That’s why you accuse someone of being a witch – poverty. We are trying to show younger generations that older people are still part of the family, that they do contribute, that they are important.”
Estela is a farmer whose livelihood has been deeply affected by the drought. A widow with adult children that live far away, she also struggles with the loneliness and isolation of living far away from family. A Better Health volunteer, Paulino Carvalho, provides Estela with support.
“Paulino went to the local health clinic and told the staff that I’m old. He showed them my ID card. Now I don’t have to pay for medicine. When I’m feeling sick, Paulino visits me with porridge, water, and medicine. He looks after me. He’s like family to me.”
Naume Ngirazi is a primary care nurse at Gudo rural health center in Zimbabwe. Through Better Health, she received training on how to treat geriatric conditions and NCDs. “I have noticed an increase in people coming to the clinic looking for help to manage various NCDs. The most common ailment is high blood pressure, which is often linked to stress. This is a big problem now with the current environment in Zimbabwe, where lots of older people are caring for orphans but do not have the money to feed them.”
A key element of Better Health is advocacy for policy and legislative changes that improve older people's livelihoods and access to healthcare. One of the greatest policy successes was the adoption of the Zanzibar Universal Pension in Tanzania, which provides a pension to Zanzibaris over the age of 70. Fatima started receiving the pension a few months ago, which equals to roughly $10 USD a month. She spends about half of her pension income on food and the other half on supplies for her business selling tomatoes and peanuts. “Before the pension, life was very difficult, and I didn’t have any way to support myself. Once I get the pension I buy food and stock for my business.”
How you can help
Advance the well-being and inclusion of older people around the world.
HelpAge USA is the U.S. affiliate of HelpAge International. Through our global network of over 120 partners and affiliates in over 70 countries, HelpAge implements programs and policies that improve the health and livelihoods of older people in poor communities. From advocating for the rights of older people to improving healthcare access, HelpAge works to ensure everyone who reaches old age can live a healthy, safe, and secure life. To learn more about HelpAge programs as well as the health and humanitarian challenges of an aging world, visit www.helpageusa.org.