Immediately I alighted from the car Mzee Evaristo rushed to show me the skin infection he had on his arm, with a plea to take him to hospital or give him medicine. I froze in my tracks unable to answer and shocked at the gravity of the skin infection. In the corner of my eye, I saw Rev Father Lukwago walking towards us. Mzee Evaristo run to him and immediately started telling the priest that he had not eaten for 24 hours, begging him to buy some porridge and a doughnut to stave off hunger.
Within 10 minutes, I was exposed to the plight of older people and a range of basic needs they go without. Most of us take it for granted that some child or community person is taking care of them. My visit to Kivumu Village in Nakaseke district was prompted by Father Lukwago’s outcry to Innovation Program for Community Empowerment (InPACT) about the plight of the elderly in his parish. I was the InPact board member assigned to visit Kivumu village to better understand the challenges elderly persons were experiencing in this area.
I learned that there were more than 200 elderly persons in Father Lukwago’s parish, majority living in poverty. The priest works daily to provide food, health care and shelter for the most desperate. Father Lukwago works through a network of good willed people, who share food, toiletries, old clothing, beddings and help the elderly repair their houses.
Upon sharing my findings, the InPact team committed to working with Father Lukwago , starting with building a house for Mzee Evaristo Nzangahayo. InPACT is national organization that promotes community health initiatives, especially focusing on Water Sanitation and Hygiene, reproductive health, environment conservation and care for the vulnerable specifically adolescents and the elderly.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals sets out a universal plan of action to achieve sustainable development in a balanced manner and seeks to realize the human rights of all people. It calls for leaving “no one behind” and for ensuring that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are met for all segments of society, at all ages, with a particular focus on the most vulnerable—including older persons.
WHO projects that by 2050, the world’s population of people over the age of 60 will double, Help Age international also projects that by 2050, 80% of the elderly worldwide will be living in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). This demographic shift will pose a huge challenge to LMICs, which have to work strategically to ensure their social and health care systems are ready for the elderly. As such preparing for these demographic shifts through a multi-sectoral action on ageing and health is critical and will increase readiness of LMICs in this decade of Healthy Ageing 2020 – 2030.
Driving through Nakaseke, I was further amazed at the level of economic development. The district is bustling with business activity, with large farms and industries sprouting at every turn. I could see that the agenda to make Uganda an industrial country was well underway in this district. I however could not stop to ask how these investments in Nakaseke are inclusive and supportive of older people with varying needs and capacities.
Many old people like Mzee Evaristo have needs that cut across development sectors including good health, economic growth and reduced inequalities. Therefore, while it is essential to address the exclusion and vulnerability of—and intersectional discrimination against—many older persons in our journey to Vision 2040, it is even more important to go beyond treating older persons as a vulnerable group. Older persons must be recognized as the active agents of societal development in order to achieve truly transformative, inclusive and sustainable development outcomes.
At the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is a promise to ‘leave no one behind’ and to reach the furthest behind first. I am glad that InPACT has given me the opportunity to reach Mzee Evaristo, a beneficiary of Kukuwa Shelters Initiative that the organization builds for the neediest old persons. As we count down towards 2030, and count the milestones registered, let us ask one critical question at every step….. Have we left our elderly behind?
Board member –InPACT Uganda