By Staff Writer
SEVENTY-FIVE year- old Theresa Muchemeyi from Mubaira spent two days camped at Norton General Hospital as she waited for her turn to be attended to at the Eye Unit.
The queues have been long as people from different parts of the country are resorting to the services provided by the Norton General Hospital Eye Unit.
The hospital is one of the few Government-run health institutions that still has Eye Specialists who are readily accessible.
Unfortunately, Muchemeyi has no medical aid policy as it lapsed when her husband who was the main beneficiary died and she had no source of income to continue paying the monthly premiums.
As a result, Muchemeyi could not replace her spectacles and is now losing her sight.
Efforts by her daughter to have her join her medical aid policy hit a snag as there was a waiting period for a year before she could be allowed to consult a specialist.
Given that Muchemeyi was aged above 65 her monthly premium would have been higher than that of her daughter’s other beneficiaries.
Like hundreds of other elderly people, Muchemeyi’s only option became public health care as private doctors’ consultation fees without medical aid are beyond reach.
HelpAge Zimbabwe, an organisation catering for the needs the elderly, has said elderly population accounts for six percent of the country’s population.
The Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency reports that 80 percent of senior citizens live in abject poverty and as a result cannot access basic needs including health.
It is Government policy that the elderly are entitled to free health services.
A research by Medical Practioner Dr Timothy Kasere revealed there was almost a total absence of a health care delivery system tailored made to suit the health needs of senior citizens.
“It is unfortunate that the elderly also has to make do with the existing general care system whose facilities are dilapidated ” said Dr Kasere.
“Not only are these facilities of poor standards they are also not easily accessible to the elderly.”
It is saddening to note, the elderly are not benefitting fully from free health services.
State run health institutions are grappling with congestion, shortages of medical personnel and drugs.
It is important to note children and the elderly are entitled to free health care however it is Government policy that children get first priority in accessing medical care ahead of adults and this is inclusive of the elderly.
This leaves the senior citizens disadvantaged.
To add on to the woes of the elderly, access to health insurance is limited as there is age based discriminatory practices by insurers.
Despite the existence of legal framework including the UN Principle for Older Persons (1991) and the 2002 Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA) which speak on the need for policies that speak on health care for the elderly, not much is being done.
For instance, Article 25 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities speaks against discrimination against people with disabilities in the provision of health insurance yet there is no specific article in existing frameworks that prohibit age-based discrimination.
Elderly women tend to bear the brunt as compared to their male counterparts as older women have over the years been disadvantaged as most have not been formally employed.
This resulted in most not having access to medical insurance and pensions.
Most have resorted to vending and doing menial jobs as they not only fend for themselves but some take care of orphaned grandchildren.
The most common diseases affecting older women in Zimbabwe are cancers of the cervix and breast, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and stroke which require monthly courses of medication.
As efforts continue to be made to improve on health service delivery for senior citizens, it is imperative that the State revamps the public health system.
Ensuring the availability of drugs and medical personnel in public health institutions would help reduce congestion and improve health delivery services.
Employers can also craft programs to aid employees access health care in their old age and also assist their spouses when they pass on.
It is important for Government to constantly review upwards pension premiums to ensure that they are not below poverty datum line.
By so doing it lessens the burden for the elderly as they will be able to access basic needs including health.
Social support programmes under which the elderly receive monthly grants from Government can be re-introduced to ensure the senior citizens have a source of income.
This not only cushions the senior citizens but it also eases the burden on their children or grandchildren who are now left with the duty to take care of their needs.
In terms of policy, Government should align the Older Persons Act of 2012 to the Constitution to include the rights of the elderly.