Elisha is the Executive Director of Tanzania's Good Samaritan Social Services Trust (GSSST), a non-profit dedicated to providing affordable healthcare to people of all walks of life. GSSST works closely with HelpAge on improving health services and advocating for policy change.
Income security is a major problem for older people in Tanzania. Only 4% of older people receive a pension. The other 96% have no regular, reliable income. This means many must continue doing physically-demanding work such as farming. But as people age, they are less able to do manual labor and their incomes shrink because of it.
The Government of Tanzania is supposed to provide free healthcare to older people at public health facilities. However, long distances mean older people may not be able to get to a health center and, too often, the medicine they need will be out of stock. The only option then is to buy it at a private pharmacy, but many older people cannot afford to pay.
Negative attitudes are also a major obstacle to older people's health. They are often ill-treated or neglected in health facilities. My own mother-in-law died of dehydration in the hospital. The doctor had written the prescription and the medicine was there, but the staff were attending to younger patients and never administered the medicine.
I’m most proud of the positive impact we’ve had on advancing Universal Health Coverage in Tanzania. We are working smarter, not harder and have achieved better results because of it.
GSSST has helped implement integrated health care services. We trained nurse assistants on caring for geriatric conditions; older people on how to be home-based caregivers; and peer educators on reducing the impact of HIV/AIDS. We’re also providing free health care services to older people.
Although the term ageism was coined 50 years ago, very little has changed since then in terms of negative attitudes toward older people. Governments promise to do things for older people, but their commitments often fall short in practice. That’s why we’re mobilizing older people to take the lead and demand action. When it comes to older people’s rights and entitlements, we’re making the government listen and holding them to account. We won’t wait another 50 years for things to change.
Elisha and Amarsanaa Darisuren of Mongolia represent their organizations at the 7th UN Open-Ended Working Group on Aging in New York.
We need the government to recognize older people’s rights and support a UN Convention for the Rights of Older People. We’ve already seen much progress. Through our advocacy, the government set up a ministry of older people’s affairs. I hope our activism can lead to even greater impact for older people’s rights at the national, regional and global levels.
Read More about how the HelpAge Global Network works to advance the rights of older people.