The recent disclosure that the Federal Government plans to establish six regional geriatric centres in tertiary hospitals across the country is encouraging. According to Dr. Saidu Dumbulwa, the Coordinator, Healthcare Package for Improving Quality Care on Ageing Population in Nigeria (HEPIQ-C), the government’s plan is to improve the health status of senior citizens. He also stated that establishing geriatric centres would advance elderly people’s health and address some developmental issues relating to them. It is one project that will boost the living standards of the vulnerable adult population. Over the years, the health needs of the elderly have not being prioritised by the government. Unlike what obtains in most Western countries where adequate policies are put in place for the enhancement of the wellbeing of the elderly, Nigeria has no national social security system that advances the cause of its senior citizens and other vulnerable groups. Whereas a country like South Africa gives its elderly citizens some financial support through its nationalised pension system, the elderly in Nigeria are not so fortunate. Elderly persons in Nigeria depend so much on their family members and loved ones for their welfare and other needs.
Unfortunately, senior citizens, who have served the country meritoriously, are abandoned to their fate when they become old. Some of them are denied their pensions by state governments. Arising from these ill-treatments, many of them have slumped and died in long queues while awaiting their pensions.
The pitiable conditions of elderly citizens trying to access healthcare in public hospitals are disheartening.
Other challenges being faced by the older people in Nigeria, according to the health authorities, are lack of affordable health insurance, out-of-pocket health expenses, absence of age-compliant public buildings, transportation challenges, lack of education, inadequate information, lack of community and family support, as well as poor social support and rehabilitation. There is no federal or state ministry saddled with the duty of addressing the challenges of the elderly in Nigeria.
This is probably why the establishment of geriatric centres may appear like a drop in the ocean. All the same, it is commendable.
It is gratifying that the government seems to be gradually coming to terms with the pathetic state of vulnerable groups in the country. We are glad that the government is becoming aware of the need to enact policies that would cater to the needs of the elderly.
We recall that in 1989, the military government of General Ibrahim Babangida developed the national social development policy which was aimed at providing a framework for protecting elderly persons from moral and material neglect and provide public assistance when necessary. However, the policy did not do much to address the living conditions of senior citizens.
The Nigerian government, as part of the recommendations from the regional World Health Organisation’s (WHO) meeting in Addis Ababa in 2016, instituted an actionable strategy that could improve the health status of the elderly. Subsequently, the Federal Government came up with the Healthcare Package for Improving Quality Care on Ageing Population in Nigeria (HEPIQ-C), to address the needs of the elderly. As a result of this, the government increased budgetary allocation and involvement of development partners, with a view to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The centres will enable the elderly access personalised services and an excellent doctor-to-patient ratio, among others.
We urge the government to ensure that this policy, which will guarantee senior citizens a healthier, happier and longer life, is faithfully executed. Unlike many other promising policies in the past, this should not be allowed to die.
We advise that government should work towards having such centres, not just in the six geopolitical zones, but across the country to cater to the health needs of old people. There is need to ensure that the facilities are adequately equipped.
It is hoped that there would be a synergy between the federal and state governments on the project. Besides, government should pay more attention to the primary healthcare system, which accounts for 80 per cent of the nation’s disease burden.