Zimbabweans Now living longer Says WHO

ZIMBABWE is experiencing a shift in its population dynamics amidst indications that the proportion of older persons in Zimbabwe is on the increase, a situation which  calls for more focused and sustained investments into their health, a  top World Health Organisation (WHO) official has said.

By Michael Gwarisa

In an exclusive interview with HealthTimes, World Health Organization (WHO) Zimbabwe National Programs Officer for Family and Reproductive Health, Dr Trevor Kanyowa said life expectancy has continually risen and is currently estimated at an average of 61 years compared to an average of 57.5 years in 2015.

According to the Inter Censal Demographic Survey Report of 2017, people aged 65 years and above constitute about 6% of the population. This means there are an estimated 814 354 older persons in the country based on the total population estimate of 13 572 560.

“Population ageing is happening much more quickly than in the past. It took France almost 150 years to double its aged population from 10% to 20%. Today countries such as Brazil, China and India will have slightly more than 20 years to double their populations. For Zimbabwe, it is estimated that by 2035 the population of those above 60 years old will have risen to between 10-30% of the total population,” said Dr Kanyowa.

He added that there were two main reasons for the rise in proportion of the population that is ageing.

“First, people are generally living longer overall. This is mainly because there is now increased survival from the younger to older ages. Second, the fertility rates (the number of children born or likely to be born to a woman in her life time) in countries has been lowering.  This means that the number of those younger is not rising that fast and as a result the proportion of those that are older rises.”

He however said having such a bulge in the aged populace brings with it numerous health disorders associated with ageing.

“In Zimbabwe, the following conditions have been prominent; non-communicable diseases such as hypertension, stroke, cancers, arthritis, diabetes and mental health conditions. Communicable conditions like tuberculosis and HIV infection have also been noted. Injuries especially arising from falling are also common.”

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe has come up with various measures to address the ageing burden with the aim of increasing access to health services.

“In many ways Zimbabwe is prepared to address issues of ageing.  The country has launched a National Strategy on Healthy Ageing (2017-20), which clearly articulates the vision and strategic plan towards improving the health of the aged.

“The Ministry of Health and Child Care also has a dedicated unit and focal person to oversee issues of healthy ageing. It is the Ministry’s policy that health services for the aged are provided for free. The Ministry is also working to ensure that health facilities are age friendly, for example by building ramps where there have only been staircases for ease of movement,” said Dr Kanyowa.

He added that other sectors have significantly contributed to healthy ageing. For example, the Ministry of Public Service Labour and Social Welfare has worked on the rights of older people, their social security and protection.

“The Ministry of justice, legal and parliamentary affairs is crafting age sensitive legal policies.  The media, both print and electronic is facilitating advocacy and awareness on issues of ageing. And civil society organizations are supporting tradition and culture, and the family structure which includes the aged.

“However, a lot still needs to be done to improve the health of the aged. There is need to boost the number of health professionals with the special skills required to look after the aged.  Medicines needed to treat common conditions associated with ageing need to be continually available. There is need to disaggregate routine health data for the aged to improve planning for targeted interventions. There is also a wide need to remove ageism (stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination against people based on their age).”

WHO is also developing a comprehensive Global Strategy and Action Plan on Ageing and Health which should guide Zimbabwe’s efforts to improve health and ageing. The Strategy and Action Plan builds on existing activities to address 5 priority areas for action.

  1. Commitment to Healthy Ageing. The country needs to show sustained commitment and action to formulate evidence-based policies that strengthen the abilities of older persons.
  2. Aligning health systems with the needs of older populations. Health systems need to be better organized around older people’s needs and preferences and integrated across settings and care providers. Actions in this area are closely aligned with other work across the Organization to strengthen universal health care and people-centred and integrated health services.
  3. Developing systems for providing long-term care. Systems of long-term care are needed in Zimbabwe to meet the needs of older people. The country therefore needs to develop governance systems, infrastructure and workforce capacity to attend to issues of healthy ageing.
  4. Creating age-friendly environments. The country needs to take actions to combat ageism, enable autonomy and support Healthy Ageing in all policies and at all levels of government.

Improving measurement, monitoring and understanding. The country needs to work on focused research, new standards of measurement and analytical methods in order to respond to a wide range of ageing issues.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) definition, ageing refers to those persons who are 60 years or above. However, according to the Older Persons Act of 2012, Zimbabwe an “older person” is as a citizen of Zimbabwe aged sixty-five years or above.

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