The Nigerian population is undergoing demographic transition, with a rising population of older persons. The population of older persons in Nigeria is estimated to be around six million, while a continuous increase is projected as a developing country in the second stage of demographic transition, with its high birth rate and lower death rate.
There are usually three main challenges confronting this age group. The first is poverty due to loss or reduction of earning power. The second is the increasing prevalence of chronic diseases, with the accompanying increased healthcare utilization and financial burdens. Elder abuse has also been gaining attention as a major social problem.
Tackling these challenges requires multidimensional approach, including collaborations among stakeholders, hinging on strong government and political commitment, which is critical for effective implementation of any policy.
Given the challenges facing the elderly and how these challenges are often not reported in the media like other issues affecting other segments of the population, it is essential to engage all stakeholders, including governments, institutions, organisations, civil society groups, private sector, community leaders, youths and youth groups, health-care providers, researchers, caregivers, families, older people, and the general public towards developing capacities for translating internationally agreed policy frameworks into practical realities and ensuring that older persons in Nigeria enjoy income security, access to healthcare and not subjected to abuse.
Poverty among the elderly has been a global concern as stipulated in the political declaration and Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing at the Second World Assembly on Ageing in April 2002. People in sub-Saharan Africa are among the poorest in the world, not only in terms of real income but also access to social services, with the risk of poverty growing with older age and much higher among women than men.
The incidence of poverty among older persons is not only based on income; it also depends on factors such as health, education, and labour market opportunities. Thus, poverty is a multidimensional issue with probable causes such as personal factors: low income, unemployment, lack of education, lack of financial planning; social factors: lack of support from children/family or community, and government factors: poor pension programmes, poor health systems, including lack of health insurance, poor social protection and non-existent social security systems. The rural urban migration in Nigeria is also a contributory factor, as the expansion of underdeveloped cities is associated with a growing population of poor older persons.
The health problems of the older persons are usually chronic diseases and comorbidities like cardiovascular diseases, endocrine/metabolic diseases, diseases of the musculoskeletal systems, nervous disorders, dental and ocular diseases, diseases of the genitourinary system and mental health problems, including physical injuries due to falls. All these create the need for increased utilization of health services and take a huge toll on the already dwindled finances of the older persons.
A significant percentage of older persons in Nigeria have huge financial burdens arising from greater healthcare needs and increased out-of-pocket health spending despite diminished incomes, with many unable to afford out-of-pocket payments for health costs, including prescription drugs. The limited financial capacity to absorb increasing medical bills is associated with severe consequences on access and utilization of health care and may result in financial catastrophe. Also, apart from the financial constraints on the part of the older persons, there are no functional government policies concerning the care and healthcare provisions for the elderly.
As a newspaper, we are pleased to see a bill in the National Assembly specifically targeted at addressing the needs of this group of Nigerians. We are particularly delighted that the bill seeking improved living condition for older persons has passed second reading at the Senate.
The bill tagged, Older Persons (Rights and Privileges) Bill 2019, sponsored by Senator Ezenwa Francis Onyewuchi (Imo East) was read for the first time on November 7, 2019. It seeks to provide certain rights and privileges for older persons in order to ensure health and economic reliefs and protection for their social and civil rights.
Essentially, it will strengthen the protection of the rights of older persons, identify the peculiar human rights situation of older persons by reason of age, distinct from other population cohorts and address other matters such as systemic and interpersonal prejudice, stereotype and discrimination against older persons.
The bill will also compel all sectors to integrate older persons in development and to ensure age-friendly environment as well as prescribe punitive measures where their rights are denied.
We urge the National Assembly to pass the bill into law in order to provide a better life for our elderly countrymen and women who have spent their youthful energy building this country. Having given this country all their youthful energy, a grateful nation cannot afford to abandon them at the most vulnerable time of their lives.