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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Stereotyping ageing is regrettable, tragic

19th April 2012
Editorial Cartoon

Few institutions are more informed or authoritative than the World Health Organisation when it comes to global health issues, or so one would presume. Overly simplistic, maybe?

Anyway, it was yet again World Health Day this April 7 although in Tanzania the climax of celebrations to mark the occasion was pushed to Tuesday this week to give way to Easter holidays.

It’s hard to say how many people really saw the day come and go or exactly how they marked it. One thing we can say for sure, though, is that whatever celebrations there were in the country were low-key.

Sad indeed, given that the Day’s topic this year – Ageing and Health – was most pertinent and was supported by a most relevant slogan: ‘Good health adds life to years’.

To illustrate the seriousness of the facts to be found in the Day’s theme, the WHO wondered aloud whether humankind was ready to meet the challenges that global ageing poses.

The UN agency argues that ageing concerns us all, regardless of age, sex or standing in society, and that good health throughout life can help older men and women lead full and productive lives and therefore be a resource for their families and communities.

In communities where such members of society are viewed more as liabilities than as assets, and records show that cases of such stigmatisation have no respect for any particular levels of social or economic development.

Policy makers, politicians, youth, older people and all other segments of society are always expected to help World Health Day campaigns become resounding successes.

They can make this come true by, say, supporting the creation of communities that appreciate and acknowledge that age alone does not rule out older people as agents of positive change or deny them the capacity to lead meaningful lives.

Yet, how many policy makers, politicians, political parties, youth groups, community leaders, civil society organisations (including those established ostensibly to add value to the lives of older citizens), etc., really ever remember to support older men and women in genuine need?

Those interested in helping older people out need not go very far searching for ways to do so, as WHO has long pinpointed areas where such help is most needed and how it could be extended for greatest effect and efficiency.

It says there must be age-friendly conditions that facilitate the life-long health and participation of older people, that these people should be guaranteed access to basic health and other needs, and that society ought to incorporate them in nation-building activities as fully as practicable instead of isolating them or treating them as having outlived their usefulness.

The UN agency says: “It is not age that limits the health and participation of older people. Rather it is individual and societal misconception, discrimination and abuse that prevent active and dignified ageing.”

It is unfortunate that there are still people yet to disabuse themselves of stereotypes associated with ageing – such as older people are “past their sell-by date” and should be left to their own fate. Unfortunate? No, worse: Tragic!

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