Afghanistan’s Rising Elderly Population Impacts Social Services
KABUL - Already doubling their population in the past decade, the number of elderly residents in Afghanistan is set to grow sharply posing unique contributions and challenges to the country’s social services.
The Afghan Mortality Survey (AMS), undertaken in 2011 and released in May 2012, reported that average life expectancy in the country rose from 45 for women and 47 for men in 2006 to 61 and 62 years, respectively.
The elderly currently make up 6 per cent of the country’s population, up 200 per cent in the past ten years.
“The change of percentage in the elderly population has a direct correlation with general health conditions, nutrition in childhood, changes in lifestyle, better management of households and reductions in the miseries of life,” said Minister of Public Health, Suraiya Dalil.
Health workers say that disabilities linked with old age, such as weak eye sight, slower mental capabilities and memory loss, have grown.
“Over 65 per cent of people above 50 years of age are suffering eye problems while about six per cent reported abnormal behavior,” said Dr. Dalil.
The growing percentage of these health factors pose challenges for social and economic policymakers.
“The needs of seniors are different. They mostly suffer from non-communicable diseases and chronic problems. In order to address the needs of the elderly population, prevention of non-communicable and chronic diseases should be included in the national programmes,” said Dr. Shadoul Ahmed, WHO Representative in Afghanistan.
To meet some of these challenges, the Afghan Ministry of Health has created a special department charged with developing an action plan to combat diseases such as diabetes, cancer and cardiac illness – all which are shown in higher numbers among the elderly.
In addition to planning for healthier elders, health officials say that families and communities need to recognize the valuable contributions the elderly can provide. The role of elders in supporting and maintaining social relations and sustaining extended families is deeply rooted in Afghan culture.
Health officials say that they are also witnessing something of a backlash against the elderly, who are seen by some struggling families as an economic drag. Officials say that such negative perceptions need to be discouraged through awareness-raising campaigns, including through religious sermons in mosques, social gatherings and media outlets.
“We want to help teach Afghans on how to grow older and better so they can enjoy longer, active and happier live,” Dr. Ahmed.
By UNAMA Kabul