The elderly have crucial role in nation building

24Jun 2016
Muharram Macatta
The Guardian
The elderly have crucial role in nation building

NATIONALLY, THE population is aging rapidly. Both the number and proportion of people aged 65 years and above are increasing, although at different rates in different parts of the world.

Elderly persons in most parts of our country reside more in rural communities, particularly those who have retired from their place of work.

Aging in Tanzania is occurring against the background of socio-economic hardship, wide spread poverty, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and the rapid transformation of the traditional extended family structure.

Well-being is a positive physical, social and mental state; it is not just the absence of pain, discomfort, and incapacity. It arises from not only the action of an individual, but from a host of collective goods and relationships with other people.
It requires that basic needs are met, that individuals have a sense of purpose, and that they feel able to achieve important personal goals and participate in societal activities.

In Tanzania, those aged 65 years and above make up about 4.3 percent of the total population which was put at approximately 50 million according to 2012 population exercise. The population of elderly (age 65+) in Tanzania is on the increase as the crude mortality rates are gradually reducing.

The roles of elderly in nation building at the various stages of their life cannot be over-emphasized. They are the custodians of culture and tradition, mediators during conflict resolution and contributors in enforcing peace in their various communities.

The younger generation will know little or nothing about culture and tradition if the elderly who are to educate them are not being properly preserved. The elderly have served their motherland when they were young and active.

Most of them resort to begging and appeal through media and prominent television stations for asking the community to obtain funds for their well-being or for the most unaffordable expensive medical treatment being charged by various referral hospitals within or outside the country.

Many elderly reach retirement age after a lifetime of poverty and deprivation, poor access to health care and poor dietary intake. These situations leave them with insufficient personal savings to meet their daily needs.

They are most at times denied of their right to receive their pension at reasonable amounts like their counterparts elsewhere, where they satisfy the elderly needs sufficiently; whereas in our case here resulting on their poor well-being due to poverty and pitiable medical attention.

Therefore, well-being of the elderly is of paramount importance. Our government devotes few resources to health care and primary health care concentrates more on maternal and child health and contagious diseases. The problems of an aging population have not been seen as important in Tanzania because the aged are such a small part of the population.

In most developing countries, formal social security systems have only limited coverage and inadequate benefit payments. As a result, the majority of older people depend on family support networks, a reality that is well appreciated in most parts of sub-Saharan Africa in the past.

However, it is recognised that traditional social security systems are evolving, attenuating and rapidly disappearing due to pressures from urbanisation and industrialisation.

Youths migrate to cities while the elderly move back to the rural areas. Elderly persons in most parts of our country reside more in rural communities, particularly those who have retired from their place of work.

The health care system spends a small fraction of the budget on treating older adult illness and access to care is limited and not a policy priority in most developing countries.

The attitude of health care providers towards older people makes their situation even more difficult. Many older people do not access health services due to inability to prove their age, aggravated by the limited availability of health services, equipment and expertise.

In Tanzania, poverty is rife and elderly persons are more at risk since most of them are no longer in the economically active phase of life and there is adequate national social security to provide economic support in old age.

Access to health care is severely limited both by paucity of health facilities and manpower and by out-of-pocket payment arrangement. Social network is dwindling and traditional family support is decreasing as urbanization and migration take young members of the family away.

Also, social changes are affecting the position of some elderly in the society and leading to a reduction in their social status and influence in the community.

The pattern of seeing elderly people’s welfare as the responsibility of the family had made the government of the country to do little or nothing to provide for their welfare.

In many cases, when they are entitled to pension, this regrettably is not often paid on time or paid after every three months instead of weekly or monthly payments as allocated elsewhere or offered to active workers.

This is because of poor planning and management coupled with lack of interest in the general welfare of aged persons. Also, those who engaged in private sectors that do not have retirement benefits for their workers suffer after their retirement.

In Tanzania, poverty and poor infrastructural development which perpetrated rural communities where most elderly people reside constraint them from achieving good well- being.

Traditionally, the elderly are expected to rely primarily on their families for economic and emotional support. At times if family support mechanism fails, community help may be available.

However, the collapse in family ties and structure also have negative effect on elders who are used to enjoying supports from extended joint families where traditionally the elders are respected and properly catered for.

Due to the youthful nature of Tanzania age structure, government believes that the health problems that manifest among children and youths need more attention than that of the elderly. As a result, very little consideration is given to elderly in Tanzania by both the research community and policymakers.

Average household sizes are large and a substantial proportion of older adults live alone. The economies of the elderly (65 years and above) in communities where an up-to-date study should be conducted are predominantly supported by subsistence agriculture, which provides little or no pension coverage and limited health care services.

Tanzanians aged 65 and over are an important and growing segment of Tanzania population; there remains a gap in knowledge. In Tanzania, there has been limited research on wellbeing of elderly, especially in rural settings where people are most beset by poverty and poor health conditions as well as pre-mature deaths.

This study has to aim at providing a better understanding of the well-being of older people in a community, a rural setting in North-Central, West –South and Eastern Tanzanians including the great isles of Pemba and Zanzibar or Mafia.

The resulting information will provide an insight into the mechanism for examining the relationship between socio-demographic factors and well-being of elderly.

There is also dearth of information on determinants of elderly well-being in the rural communities in the United Republic of Tanzania. Therefore, this study has to be designed to fill these gaps.

The objectives of this study are to; examine socio-demographic differential in elderly well-being, determine the prevalence and identify the predictors of poor well-being among the elderly residence in the study areas.

The first objective has to be designed with the view to knowing the socio-demographic factors that are associated with elderly well-being. The prevalence and predictors of poor well-being among the elderly will assist the populace in knowing the true state of health of elderly in the community.

The vision to advance the well-being of elderly will inform the choice of the study objectives. Studying the differential in well-being of the elderly is obligatory, as this will provide decisive information for planning and evaluating success of health services and interventions.

It will help the planners and policy makers in their decisions and uphold existing framework on elderly care and supports in Tanzania.

MUHARRAM MACATTA is a retired civil servant, a graduate in liberal arts, majoring in economics and political science. He served as a director of internal and international trade, import and export section, with the then ministry of commerce and industries, which later became to be the ministry of commerce and cooperative; and served as principal marketing officer assigned to several marketing boards.

He established state motors corporation and also founder regional offices; and first director of the Saba Saba International trade Fairs.