On Saturday, Oct 1st 2016, the world marked the international day for older persons. This year, the focus was on saying no to ageism.
Ageism is discrimination based on age. All around the world, older people are viewed as a group of people with nothing to offer. We forget that they have lived long lives and hence, have acquired a wealth of knowledge, wisdom and experience along the way that they can share. We forget that they are human beings too, who have rights. Rights to whatever we have rights to.
As Nigerians, we respect the elderly and care for them. It is an integral part of our culture. We greet them. We cannot sit down if they are standing, hence we vacate our chairs so they can sit. We obey them. We do not call them by their names. If they are holding something, we collect it from them, because we do not want them to carry anything that’s heavy. And so much more. How nice.
As a country, however, the reverse is the case. We are utterly disrespectful. Despite the fact that Nigeria is projected to have the largest population of elderly people in Africa very soon, there is nothing put in place for the older people. Many Nigerians have died waiting for a pension that is not even on the way. Geriatric medicine, which is the area of medicine that focuses on caring for the health of the elderly people, is absent in the curriculum for medical training in Nigeria. Hence, geriatric doctors are very few. Nigeria has no plan or policies to cater specifically to older people. We have maternal and child health care centers, adolescent and youth friendly centers, but only one geriatric center in Nigeria. If that is not ageism, I do not know what is.
In other words, if I am old and I have a health problem, it will be extremely difficult to find someone in my country who is trained specifically to cater to me. I will not be able to find a health center meant for me, unless I travel to the one located in Ibadan. Does that mean I will be serving a country that has no plans to protect me in the future? Yap. That is what it means.
The good news is that the geriatric center; Chief Tony Anenih geriatric center is really cool. It is located at University of Ibadan Teaching Hospital, Oyo State. They have all forms of services meant for the elderly; Nutrition, Physiotherapy, mental health, rehabilitation etc. People aged 60 years and above are qualified to register and all the services are provided at a discount rate from the medical services provided in the main hospital. There is a plan set in place to build a day care center away from the hospital for them to socialize with others, learn and carry out several fun activities. Let’s hope this plan comes to fruition soon.
Since, the center was opened, they have received such an influx of patients that they are close to being overwhelmed. This goes to show that this center is extremely essential and one is not enough. We need centers like this in every state. We need to start taking of our elderly. We need to fulfill their right to life and good health, by creating an enabling environment that ensures these rights can be fulfilled. We need to respect our elderly.
In the meantime, while we sit down, forget that we are the government, and wait for the “government” to change things for us, let’s keep encouraging our parents and grandparents to eat well, be physically active, and go for regular screenings, so they can have as little need for the scarce geriatric doctors as possible. Let’s also adopt these healthy behaviours. Because, like it or not, we will be old too.