Africa’s Elderly Faces New Crisis

In Elderly on September 10, 2012 at 11:19 pm

As Africa’s population grows, so does the number of older people. Traditionally, extended families have taken care of elderly members but that’s now changing, meaning aging Africans are facing new problems. The United Nations Population Fund estimates that around 50 million people above the age of 60 account for around five percent of Sub-Saharan Africa’s population. In the past, most of them turned to their families for help but that practice is becoming less widespread.

Unfortunately, convincing people that the elderly in Africa are in need of help is no easy task. Even development policy debates tend to marginalize issues related to the elderly. One example is The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that focuses only on women and children. Despite these issues, we should not give up hope because the elderly need our help. This video highlights the current situation in Zimbabwe:

Culled from Deutsche Welle

  1. Dear Sophie and Ifeoma. Very happy to see you launch into the global health blogosphere with this first post. Good luck with Global Health Africa.Looks like a great initiative. Kind regards from Thailand.

  2. Great to see your attention to older people and the MDG’s. Keep these good posts coming!

    • Yes, older people are also at risk of HIV infection and can well infect others. Older people especially in poor rural areas have been recycled to parent OVC and their ailing daughters and sons. Sure, we need urgently to put older people’s issues conspicuously and very boldly on the planning map.
      Thank you for this important highlight.
      Michael Kanyingi. – CCS/ HelpAge Project , Kenya

  3. All the best on your blogging. Will try to keep in touch

  4. This is an extremely important issue to raise, for several reasons. First, following the demographic transition, comes the epidemiologic. Which means that NCDs become increasi ngly more important, a fate that shows in most parts of the world. And, together with the still significant impact of infectious diseases, high maternal and infant morbidity and mortality, it builds “the double burden of disease”. As the population gets older, cardivascular disease, cancers, Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporotic fractures will add on morbidity and mortality, adding a permanent (after all, they are chronic) strain on resources.
    But the other reason for raising awareness is demographic and economic, rather than epidemiologic. As prosperity is picking up, family structures are changing. More women participating in work life is a good thing, increases their independency, improving the situation for families and adding to the wealth of the nation. But at the same time, the traditional role of caring for elder family members is gradually shifted towards the society in general.
    Caring for the elderly is therefore both an emerging need, and at the same time a prerequisite for economic growth. And with just 5% older than 60, there is something you have in Africa, which we don’t have in the Western developed economies, namely time for planning. We are already, and since long, there, with 15-20% of the population older than 65. Therefore, planning must be started right ahead. Time is linear, and it is easy to realise, that all of those that will become 60 until 2072 are already born. Those who are in the midst of their working ages today will pass 65 in 2050. Therefore, this is the horizon that should be considered when planning today. The planning must be for health care, for caring and for financing.
    Time is escaping faster than many realize, and if planning is lacking today, the need for catching up will become a humanitarian and financial night-mare. Better do something today than cursing our negligence in 2025, 2050 and 2075, with the burden pushed over to our children and grand-children. Action is needed NOW.

    • Thank you for your comment Lars! You bring up many good points. I think structures to care for the elderly need to be implemented now. It will take much collaboration and effort but I’m sure it can be achieved.

  5. Very important issue which would need strong advocacy. It is a challenge, however one in critical need of tackling.

  6. Senior Citizens in Africa need a CAPACITY BUILDING Project for Active Ageing through Life-Long-Learning and Advancing in a successful way the Intergenerational Solidarity.
    They need empowerment which is hidden in their own potentialities They have to be informed that only with their own co-Senior Citizens will move forward.

  7. Elderly in India constitute more than 7% of population, We also had family as traditional care giver. Now with urbanization and increasing nuclear families, caring for elderly is becoming a challenge both in urban and rural areas.
    Elderly suffer from chronic diseases and looking after their health is a challenge if they are economically dependent and not adequately covered by pension benefits and health insurance.
    The Government recently implemented National Programme for Health Care of the Elderly. The details can be seen at

  8. from my perspective, this is a very real and pressing concern. as my parents age, it’s something that’s been on my mind even more often than before. really glad to see this topic getting some more widespread attention

  9. Thank you all for your comments. What an interesting question in fact. Things are changing quickly. The burden of taking care of the elderly was mainly on the women. Working for nothing. One of the solutions is to pay those people for their work. Working at home, taking care of the children and of the hold ones, cooking, washing, etc…this is a work, not a sexual determination. I presume that if the people doing that kind of job where paid accordingly, they would do it instead of working for companies focused on selling useless toothbrush, fake food or mobile phones.

  10. Except for all expressions of agreement and acknowledgents that it is an important issue to raise, what are we/you/”somebody” intending at doing about it? Who is in charge? How do we impose responsibility? Could it possibly be that we (ourselves, not “somebody else”) all share some kind of responsibility for something to happen (and in such a case – what)? Who takes an initiative? What could we contribute with, in terms of knowledge, skills, active contributions?

    • Hi Lars, great point! I would propose that we place older people in charge of what to do, and support them in that role. HelpAge does that every day in nine countries in Africa. Find out more at, where you can download a copy of our new report, “Ageing in the Twenty-First Century.” It includes the results of focus groups with 1300 older people in 36 countries around the world, who have some very good ideas about how we should all be taking an initiative!

      • Hi Bethany, thanks, great!
        After having been working with health and social related issues, mainly for the aging population, for several decades, I suddenly realise that I am nowadays also qualified in another way: having passed 60! I will with interest read the report and see how I can contribute, also in the future.

  11. That’s a great point Lars and thank you for responding Bethany. Change starts with us, no matter how small. It is one of the reasons why we started this blog. Among other things, we hope to expand the blog to implement change so thank you for your comment for Lars. And we love the work HelpAge is doing Bethany! Thank you for highlighting that.

  12. I like it when people come together and share ideas.
    Great website, keep it up!

  13. Howdy! I could have sworn I’ve been to this blog before but after reading through some of the post I realized it’s new
    to me. Nonetheless, I’m definitely happy I found it and I’ll be bookmarking and checking back frequently!

    • Thank you for your support!

      • I appreciate the love and care being extended to the elderly. In my home country i would wish to assist many elderly and marginalized women and men but i can not do much but i would like to visit organizations that are seriously caring for the aged so that i am will equipped with the knowledge and i do the same in my home country. please help me to care for the abandoned elderly men and women in my community for them to lead a dignified lifestyle. i will be grate ful.

      • Thanks for your comment Irene. What’s your country? HelpAge works in nine countries in Africa everyday. They would propose that we place older people in charge of what to do, and support them in that role. Find out more at, where you can download a copy of their new report, “Ageing in the Twenty-First Century.” It includes the results of focus groups with 1300 older people in 36 countries around the world, who have some very good ideas about how we should all be taking an initiative!

      • Helo this is irene again my home country is uganda is is possible that you can operate in my home country.
        I hope to hear from you soon thank you for the link being sent which will enlighten me more about helpage.
        Best regards

      • Hello Irene, HelpAge actually works in Uganda! Find out more at, where you can see the local organizations that operate in Uganda.

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