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Opinions of Monday, 18 November 2013

Columnist: Alhaji Alhasan Abdulai

Ageing in Ghana; is it indeed a blessing or what?

In Africa, old age goes with wisdom and store of knowledge. However, in Ghana and other parts of the world, ageing is becoming a problematic in the areas of recognition and honor in public and even at home. By law, at 60, all persons in public service must give way to the young ones.

The retired officials are often hounded out first by colleagues who wish to know when their colleague would leave the system. Whether they will leave or not, the retirees are prepared for retirement. After spending their pension entitlements, they are then faced with ageing blues, lack of adequate medical care, perhaps with no good home care and good companionship.

Ghana is known worldwide as a leading hospitable nation. Almost all manner of persons in Ghana and abroad are treated with lots of honor. While in time past, courtesy and honor given to the aged is fast fading off. Even though the aged are old men and women who bear their own names, the generic names for them at home and in the public places are “old man” and “old lady”. In not a distant past, the honor done the aged included the younger persons giving up their seats on public transport and public places, but this is largely not the case today.

The guiltiest of these are some tro-tro drivers and mates and some traders. Heads of department’s, ministers and the heads of state or president (however young and without their knowledge) are often called old men and women.

Ordinarily, there is nothing wrong with an aging person being addressed as such. However, the tag is given to the older persons in a derogatory manner that often makes them sad. Some of the older persons who are on pension, but have to work often regretted venturing out to town to transact business or visit friends and relatives.

The time has come for the government to turn attention on the myriads of problems confronting the aged. The young must be sensitized to know how to treat older persons at home and in the public places by being courteous to them. The ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection under Nana Oye Lithur is capable of dealing with issues of ageing in Ghana.

Older persons after serving the nation deserve to be given all the necessary assistance towards their health and happiness.

Officialdom is aware of this and are said to be preparing to do something about it.

Currently, a policy of ageing is being prepared by government to deal with the problems facing the ageing population.

Mr Moses Asaga, former Minister of Employment and Social Welfare, once said government would present a bill to Parliament on the National Ageing Policy this year to legalize the establishment of the National Council on Ageing.

The policy when passed into law would ensure the implementation of recommendations and coordination of government activities related to the elderly in a more organized approach.

As a follow up, the Ministry would develop and implement a pilot social pension scheme for the older persons without formal social security in 2013 and would be done side by side with the strengthening of existing social security schemes to provide income security for the older persons. But the problem is that internationally, as in Ghana, the number of the ageing is growing rapidly.

Information from the Ghana Statistical Service showed that life expectancy at birth had increased to 60.7 years for males and 61.8 years for females and that life expectancy at the age of 60 had been estimated at 17.03 for males and 19.49 years for females.

Persons in the country were expected to live up to 77.03 years, adding that the 2010 Census results indicated that the population of persons 60 years and above had increased to 1,643,978 representing 6.7 per cent of the total population.

Unlike most other population groups such as children and the youth, there is relatively little interest shown about the situation of older people. The absence of comprehensive information means that ageing is poorly understood and, as a result, adequate resources are not allocated to meet the needs of the older population. The absence of an agreed definition of ‘older person’ to achieve consistency with international conceptual understanding exacerbates the problem as comparative analysis is difficult even where data exists.

Available data, however, indicates that the number of persons over 60 will increase from about 600 million in 2000 to almost 2 billion in 2050 and the proportion of persons defined as older is projected to increase globally from 10 percent in 1998 to 15 percent in 2025. The increase will be greatest and most rapid in developing countries where the older population is expected to quadruple during the next 50 years. In Africa, the proportion is expected to double by 2050. In sub-Saharan Africa, where the struggle with HIV/AIDS pandemic and with economic and social hardship continues, the percentage is expected to reach half the level. Such a demographic transformation has profound consequences for every aspect of individual, community, national and international life.

It is evident that population ageing will become a major issue in developing countries which are projected to age swiftly in the first half of the twenty-first century. The proportion of older persons is expected to rise from 8 to 19 percent. The fastest growing group of the older population is the oldest old, that is, those who are 80-years-old or more. In 2000, the oldest old numbered 70 million and their numbers are projected to increase to more than five times than over the next 50 years. Another major demographic difference relates to gender. Older women outnumber older men. The gender dimension of ageing must be a priority for global and national policy action.

There are also rural and urban demographic differences in ageing. Currently, overwhelming proportion of older persons in developed countries live in areas classified as urban while the majority of older persons in developing countries live in rural areas. This trend is expected to continue in the future.

In Ghana, the situation is not very different. Available statistics from the population census of 2000 and other surveys on population indicate that the majority of people in Ghana (64%) live and work in rural areas where the greater proportion of older persons also reside.

Available data indicate that older persons aged 65 years and above constitute 5 per cent of the Ghanaian population (GSS, 2002). This figure is among the highest in Africa. Most of these elderly persons reside in rural areas. There is also evidence to show that the aged in Ghana has been increasing over the years. The 2000 Population and Housing Census Report indicate that the proportion of the elderly (65 years and above) formed 5.3 per cent of the population, an increase from 4.0 per cent in 1984. The percentage increase of the aged population between 1960 and 1970 was 12.5 per cent. This decreased to 11.1 per cent between 1970 and 1984. However, between 1984 and 2000 the figure increased to 32 per cent. The ageing of the population is also reflected in the increase of the median age from 18.1 years in 1984 to 19.4 years in 2000. It is established that the ageing of Ghana’s population has been precipitated by rapid fertility decline and improvements in public health services, personal hygiene, sanitation and nutrition.

Another important issue of demographic concern is that the proportion of the elderly population in Ghana as a developing country is growing much more rapidly than those in the developed countries. In the developed countries, the demographic transition process leading to an ageing population took place over the span of about a century (Angel and Angel, 1997; 1982; Olson, 1994), giving ample time to prepare and cope with the increased numbers of elderly persons. In addition, the process of industrialization after the Second World War was enhanced by the “Baby Boom” in these countries which made it possible for them to utilize effectively the large youthful population that entered the labour market at the time.

In Africa, this process of demographic transition is occurring in a few decades (Mbamaonyeukwu, 2001). Though the transition provided large numbers of youth, it was not accompanied by the needed process of industrialization to absorb the youth. As a result, Africa is not able to effectively utilize its window of opportunity, which is the youth, for development to benefit the aged.

Regional demographic dynamics in Ghana follow similar trends. In all the ten regions of the country, older persons aged 65 years and above have been increasing. Most regions however have a greater proportion of surviving females above 65 years than males. The age structure of districts are also characteristic of the population experiencing rapid growth with some districts as high as 8.8 per cent with larger proportions of older persons aged 65 years and older accounting for 4.1 per cent.

3.2 Ageing and the development challenge

In recent past older persons were accorded a high-ranking place in the traditional Ghanaian society, but in the process of social change resulting from urbanization, migration and other global issues, traditional norms have been affected in several ways. These social transformations as well as poor infrastructure development in the rural areas have affected the patterns of social interactions and relationships in families and communities and consequently how they relate to older persons. Thus migration in all forms create social distance and, with it, social disengagement and a systematic reduction in certain forms of interactions with families. The situation of migrant workers and ageing is also of great concern.

Older persons in Ghana are showing gradually signs of loneliness, poverty and neglect. The impact of this social neglect is however felt the most among older women (Apt, 1996) who are overburdened with widowhood rites and responsibilities, social and cultural discrimination (e.g. witchcraft) and in recent time the care of HIV/AIDS orphans and people leaving with AIDS. Thus not only are older people at risk of contracting HIV but they are the main providers of care in some cases to those affected by AIDS and for orphaned children.

The issue of ageing is important and a matter of concern to all who would definitely grow old. Therefore as we give support to children and youth there is the need for the government with the help of parliament and the civil society bodies in Ghana to expedite action to offer the needed assistance to ageing.