Challenges of old age: Govt to train specialists for elderly patients

16Dec 2018
James Kandoya
Dar es Salaam
Guardian On Sunday
Challenges of old age: Govt to train specialists for elderly patients
  • Tanzania does not have a single specialist doctor to treat the elderly. This is set to change with the establishment of a geriatric dept in public hospitals

DESPITE strides made in the health sector, Tanzania is yet to have a single geriatrician, making it hard for sick elderly people to get appropriate medical attention, the Guardian can reveal.

A geriatrician is a doctor who specialises in the elderly and the diseases that affect them.

Now, the country is currently reviewing the curriculum for health professionals with a view to training such specialists.

Acting Director, Division of Health, Social Welfare and Nutrition in the President's Office, Regional Administration and Local Government, Dr Athuman Pembe, said recently at the Aged Friendly Health Services Stakeholders’ Follow-up meeting held in Morogoro recently.

He said lack of geriatrician doctors has been affecting the elderly and the way health services are offered to the public.
“We also do not have a geriatric department in all health facilities in the country,” he said.

The health expert said despite children and women having specialists, the elderly have been left unattended, hence the urgent need to address the challenge now.

Reports show that elderly people are likely to suffer from various non-communicable diseases (NCD) which contribute to about 60 per cent of their deaths.

“Our goal is to collaborate with other health stakeholders such as HelpAge International to strengthen and improve health services for the older generation, especially when they seek medical attention in hospitals,” he said.

Currently, at least 2.6million older people have been indentified, which is equivalent to 61.5 per cent of elderly people in the country.

According to him, geriatricians are needed for consultation when an older person‘s condition causes considerable impairment and frailty.

He said when people reach the age of 75, coping with various diseases and disabilities becomes a challenge that needs close contact with such specialist doctors.

HelpAge International Country Director for Tanzania, Zanzibar and Malawi Smart Daniel said his organisation was willing to help the country address the challenge facing older people access specialist medical attention.

“Our goal is to ensure that all plans which aim at addressing the challenges elderly people face are accommodated in government action plans to make them effective,” he said.

For his part, Old People Coordinator at the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children Dr Edwin Mung'ong'o said lack of geriatricians posed a big challenge in offering quality health services to older people.

“The government will ensure that there is a geriatric department in all health facilities in the country through collaboration with other health stakeholders,” he said.

According to him, efforts were being made to ensure that national strategies for the provision of quality health services for older people were established.

A report from the US-based Modern Healthcare this year said geriatrics specialty was unable to attract enough future doctors to its fellowship programmes this year even as more students graduate from medical school and the demand for geriatricians grows with a booming aging population.

The report showed that of the 139 geriatric fellowship programmes for the 2018 appointment year, just 35 were filled. Furthermore, the fellowships offered 387 positions for residents, yet only 176 were filled.

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