2015 – CARE FOR THE ELDERLY_5.1

2025 – 150102: The Uganda Reach the Aged Association(URAA)

Advocacy and the Older Persons in Uganda

Background

The population of older people world-wide is increasing dramatically, with the most rapid growth taking place in developing countries, including Africa.  Their number is projected to shoot to 2 billion by 2050, up from 200 million as of 1950. According to the 2002 Housing and Population Census, older person in Uganda currently comprise 6.1% of the total population (about 1,500,000) as compared to 4.1% (686,260) during the 1991 Census.  Their population is therefore growing at an annual rate of 7.4% and will double to 3 million in less than 10 years.

Situation of Older Persons in Uganda

In traditional society, older persons were revered and respected for their wisdom and experience.  Their counsel was sought in times of crises and formed the final decision that could be made.  They were also the vehicles through which traditional mores (customs and behaviour) and values were passed from one generation to another.  Social gatherings could not be held without the presence of older persons.  However, those traditions have been largely discarded today, and there is evidence that Uganda’s older persons do not enjoy the privileged position they once were assured of. Much as they play an important role in society, they are not acknowledged.  The prevailing negative attitude towards them leads to a lot of suffering of this group of people.

High levels of poverty

Old persons are the poorest members of society.  64% of them survive on less that US$1 a day.  They do not have access to a regular income and majority do not benefit from social security provisions.  They are discriminated against and denied employment opportunities once they reach retirement age.  Relatives grab their land and other property leaving them destitute and with no means to fend for themselves.

Housing

The majority of older persons live in semi-permanent or makeshift structures, usually grass thatched with mud walls; the homeless ones move from place to place, sometimes occupying abandoned structures.  The dilapidated state of the houses they occupy puts them and their dependants under danger as they threaten to collapse over them especially during the rains.  The walls, floors and roofs are full of cracks, exposing them to cold and harmful animals and insects.  Some of the diseases they suffer from are related to the poor conditions they live in.  Lack of personal effects such as bedding and adequate clothing aggravates the problem.

Food and Nutrition

Most older persons depend on one meal a day; others survive on a meal for two or more days.  Usually this is one type of food only.  Lack of a balanced diet leaves many emaciated and exposed to diseases that could be avoided.

Water

Research also revealed that lack of clean water is another crucial problem for older persons in Uganda.  They are forced to travel long distances to find clean water.  Dependence on contaminated water puts their health at risk.

Health

Health problems are common in old age.  These ranges from venereal diseases, backache, joint pains, hearing problems, and jigger infestation, among others.  Health care is inaccessible due to high cost and long distances to medical centres.

Neglect, Abuse and Violence

Older persons are increasingly abused physically, socially, economically and psychologically by their families and/or communities.  They are segregated and marginalised leading to loneliness, loss of self-esteem and economic deprivation.  Older women are abused sexually and physically, the latter following allegations of witchcraft practice and sorcery.  A number of older persons lose their lives and property, or are maimed for life.  There are no mechanisms in place to protect the rights of older persons resulting in their continued abuse.

Physical disabilities Among Older Persons

Many older persons suffer from one form of disability or another.  Physical disability accounts for 56% of the cases, while visual impairment accounts for 39%.  Impairment leaves older people dependent due to the inability to engage in income generating activities that would alleviate their poverty situation.

Causes of the above situation:

Lack of a Government Policy on Older Persons

There has been a lack of a national policy on older persons to guide government and donor action.  Their issues have therefore not been given the attention they deserve leaving them marginalised, with little or no access to services and opportunities that would improve their standards of living.  A lot of effort and political will is needed to ensure the successful implementation of the national policy on older persons once it is in place.

HIV/AIDS:

Older people are sexually active and at risk of HIV infection.  In addition older persons, have taken over the care of infected adults and orphaned grand children.  The care role aggravates their poverty, while putting them at risk of infection from direct contact with sick relatives.  AIDS claims the lives of younger family members who older people would otherwise depend upon for support.  AIDS has so far resulted in over 1.7 million orphans in Uganda; 50% of them are under the care of older persons.

Weak Older People Organisations:

The ability of older persons to create awareness about their issues has been minimal.  Their organisations are not strong enough to lobby for their needs and rights, leaving many of these unaddressed.  Organisations that have emerged to assist older persons lack a voice, are uncoordinated and poorly funded.  Consequently, the impact of their activities and programmes has gone largely unnoticed.  Moreover, older persons are not represented in National and Local Government structures thus their needs and concerns are never catered for.

Lack of Information:

In Uganda there is lack of information on the rights of, and existing opportunities and services for older people.  Issues on ageing are also undermined.  The community therefore does not appreciate their older members, leaving them out of planning, decision making and resource allocation processes, and in service provision.

Rural – Urban migration:

As the younger generation migrates from villages to towns in search of employment, they leave their children under the care of older family members without offering the necessary financial support.   Grand parents use up their meagre resources on their grandchildren; many of them drop out of school for lack of school fees.

Family Structure and Relationships:

Socio-economic changes in the country have weakened family structure, denying older persons adequate care and provision.  Family bonds have been weakened by the high cost of living, HIV/AIDS, and urbanisation, which has led families to live far from villages where many older persons live.

Conflict and Emergencies:

The special needs of older persons in disaster situation are not understood by aid workers and are therefore not catered for.  They are not given priority to access services.  When populations are migrating from disaster zones, older persons are left behind due to their slow mobility, or they are left to look after children and adults who are too sickly or week to move.

Discrimination by Service Providers:

A negative attitudes towards older persons has led to their exclusion from important services such as education and training, health, loan facilities from financial institutions, among others.  These need to be countered through awareness raising about the important role of older persons in development and in the community as a whole, the more so as Uganda does not have a social welfare scheme.

What needs to be done:

There is need to undertake awareness raising campaigns to sensitise professionals and educate the general public on the needs and rights of older persons.
Organisations working with and for older people need to have their capacity strengthened to create a strong voice for the rights of older people and to call for the implementation of the national policy on older persons once it is complete.
More research on ageing is needed to provide essential evidence for the formulation of relevant policies.
Existing policies and programmes of the government, donor community, civil society and private sector need to be reviewed to incorporate issues of older persons.

URAA’s Work:

The Uganda Reach the Aged Association (URAA) was formed in 1991.  The Association co-ordinates the activities of age care organisation in Uganda established to tackle the problems of older people, and to lobby for the mainstreaming of their issues into development agenda in order to bring a lasting improvement in their lives.  URAA advocates for the improved quality of life and preservation of the dignity of older persons in Uganda.

The Association is a member of HelpAge International, a world-wide network heading global action on ageing.  URAA is leading efforts to improve the situation of older persons in the country in several ways.

Development of Policy

URAA is working closely with the Ministry of Gender, Labour and social Development to ensure that a national policy on older persons is in place and implemented.

Advocacy

URAA leads efforts of age care organisations in advocating the rights and needs of older persons in Uganda.

Information and Research

URAA is to establish an information centre and databank to carry out and support research in ageing and development issues.  This will avail information on older persons to stakeholders for planning, decision making, resource allocation and service provision purposes.

Strengthening Older People Organisation

URAA plans to establish a training centre in its efforts to build the capacity of older people’s organisations in planning and management of programmes.

Improving the Social Economic Position of Older Person

URAA has in place a three-year strategic plan (2003-2005) to strengthen programmes aimed at improving the living standards of older persons in Uganda.

Specific components of the programme include improving income of older people through training in income generation and provision of credit.  The most vulnerable older persons taking care of HIV/AIDS orphans are provided with shelter.  There are plans to improve the nutrition status of older persons through heifer projects and other innovative activities.  Training in useful skills and counselling will be undertaken; and the most needy and vulnerable older persons will be provided with relief supplies.

Are you aware?

Over 1,500,000 old men and women in Uganda are experiencing poverty, loneliness and isolation.
Older women and men suffer from poor health, due to inadequate health facilities.

Older Women and men live in dilapidated houses, whilst others sleep outside.

Remember that old age is everybody’s problem.  We shall all grow old one day. The help you give today will be extended to you in the evening of your life. Help break the negative barriers, by supporting the efforts of THE UGANDA REACH THE AGED ASSOCIATION to alleviate the burden of the needy older persons. Donate generously.  No contribution is too big or small.

Please send your donation(s) to: –

The Chairman OR Chief Executive Officer
The Uganda Reach the Aged Association The Uganda Reach the Aged Association
P O Box 14125
P O Box 6775
Kampala Kampala
Uganda Uganda

Tel:  256 41 270183/4
Tel: 256 41 286585
Email:  ugreach@utlonline.co.ug
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