By   stabroek news December 21, 2016

The Christmas season has traditionally been a time when we try to universalize our good fortune by ensuring that those less fortunate than ourselves, and particularly the elderly, are able to partake in the festivities and merriment. The end of 2016 had been pegged by the PPP/C government as the time by which all of the promises made in the 2012 Guyana’s National Report on Aging (GNRA), were to be fulfilled. Between September 12th and October 10th of 2012 this column carried five articles that, among other things, attempted to speak to the condition of the elderly as it then was and point to best practices in elderly care. So this Christmas season is as good a time as any to consider how as a society we have fared in relation to the promises we made to them.

The GNRA dealt with Guyana’s commitments under the Brasilia Declaration on the Elderly, which proclaimed that the region will ‘spare no efforts to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms of all older persons, work towards the eradication of all forms of discrimination and violence and create safety nets for older persons to exercise their rights’. The Brasilia meeting was the outcome of a United Nations process that began in earnest with the production in 2002 of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA). The GNRA contains many reasonable recommendations, but below I outline the 16 policy areas with time-lines for completion (TC) that stakeholders thought necessary ‘to realise the Brasilia declaration’.

  1. To promote the human rights of older persons, the government will improve access to justice for all older persons and develop specific national laws that broaden measures to protect the physical and mental integrity of older persons. Legislation must include measures to safeguard property and help older persons remain in their own homes during old age. TC: November 2016.
  2. Increase the protection of the rights of older persons by reviewing and enhancing legislation and by formulating and enacting a comprehensive national bill of rights for older persons. TC: November 2016.
  3. Enhance the participation of older persons as a specific interest group in development planning. TC: April 2012.
  4. Enacting and enforcing legal requirements for all public buildings to address the accessibility needs of all older persons. TC: 2013.
  5. Ensure adequate care and treatment of older persons in public and private long–stay institutions by development of minimum standards for long-stay institutional care of the ageing. This may include the compilation of a national handbook of SOP for acceptance of residents to facilities and dealing with conflict resolution and elder abuse. TC: January 2013.
  6. Improve the monitoring framework vis-à-vis minimum standards in long-stay institutions. TC: January, 2013.
  7. Promote an adequate standard of living by enhancing favourable environments and establishing a new state of the art seniors’ home that also provides day services for seniors. TC: August, 2016.
  8. Provide opportunities for lifelong learning through intergenerational exchange and the development of structured social programmes and activities for government-run senior facilities. TC: November 2012.
  9. During Month of the Elderly, promote dependency prevention by undertaking campaigns to promote healthy ageing awareness and early screening programmes that address the physical and mental needs of the older persons beyond diabetes and hypertension, and focus as well on chronic illnesses and degenerative diseases that affect the ageing population. TC: every October to 2016.
  10. To realize the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health for 80 percent of older persons, advance an awareness programme about sexual and reproductive health for men and women 55+ including living with HIV in their senior years. TC: 2012-16.
  11. Reduce the incidence of elder neglect and provide goods and services to senior citizens that enhance their longevity by the expansion of integrated socio-health programmes sensitive to the culture of elderly persons living alone and/or who are shut-ins, including hot meals and trained caregivers who provide home-based care and do other personal chores. TC: February, 2013.
  12. Develop programme training and certify all staff who administer geriatric services based on an inter-disciplinary assessment of long-stay institutions. TC: January 2014.
  13. Protect the family by encouraging access to high quality care services and coordinating a certification programme for caregivers (both professionals and family members) in the best care of the elderly. Training workshops could be customized to help caregivers and families understand how to cope with family members who suffer from Alzheimer’s, dementia, arthritis, cancer, osteoporosis, etc. TC: December. 2013.
  14. Promote decent and adequate work in old age by expanding and mainstreaming retirement planning in all public institutions. Programmes should address monetary and social retirement planning. Evidence–based data needed to plan programmes. TC: To be determined.
  15. Development of a national inter-sectoral plan which should streamline all the rights of the elderly within all related ministries. TC: December 2012.
  16. Establishment of an intersectional committee on the ageing to provide oversight of the implementation of the key priorities listed above. TC: December 2012.

Fleeting attention to current affairs would be sufficient for one to recognise that 3 years of PPP/C government and nearly 2 years of APNU+AFC government have made little impact on the above agenda and inquiries from persons interested in the issue confirm this assessment. Some ad hoc efforts have been made by individual government organisations in relation to item 4 above and recently the NCE has been paying particular attention to items 5 and 6.

I believe that there is, and with proper mobilisation could be much greater, public sympathy for issues having to do with improving the conditions of the elderly. An important problem is that there does not exist an independent organisation of the elderly.

The members of the NCE are nominated by the government, which makes it just another government-type body unable to generate the kind of public pressure that governments must take seriously.

Therefore, as in many other social policy areas where such organisations do not exist, the issues either inadvertently drops off the agenda or are just simply ignored. Whatever the situation in the current case, the promises we made to improve the condition of the elderly have largely been broken.