More Africans growing old but face uncertain future – AfDB Report

Africa’s population is ageing, just like in the rest of the world, but the continent’s governments are badly equipped to handle the growing number of older people, says an African Development Bank (AfDB) report released November 16, 2011.

The report titled “Aging Population Challenges in Africa,” states that the percentage of people aged over 65 in Africa has grown to 3.6% in 2010 from 3.3% in 2000 – contrary to accepted wisdom in much of the western world which views Africa as a place with low life expectancy.

According to the report, life expectancy at birth in Africa was 52.7 years in 1990, but had risen to 56 years by 2010 with the greatest increases in the older population occurring in middle-income African countries such as Mauritius, South Africa, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia.

Other countries such as Libya, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Djibouti have also witnessed fast growth among the elderly population, said the AfDB.

There has been a steady increase over the last 40 years, and it will accelerate in the coming years, the 19-page report stated.

“The elderly could account for 4.5% of the continent’s population by 2030, and almost 10% by 2050.  In some countries, the proportion of older people will almost match that of industrialised countries by 2030 and 2050,” said the report co-authored by Alice Nabalamba and Mulle Chikoko of the AfDB.

However, according to the report, unlike many developed countries, African nations are in general not best equipped to deal with the rise in numbers of older people.

The report said the main concerns are healthcare provision and pensions.

“In much of Africa, governments spend far less on health care than in most of the developed world.  In 2005, 48 of the 54 African countries spent an average of less than $26 per capita on healthcare.  Instead, people tend to pay their doctors and hospital bills directly – private households in Africa spent more than $58 per capita in the same year,” said the report.

It adds “However, sometimes that money is hard to find.” The report quotes a study of 15 African countries saying many poorer people had to borrow or sell property to pay for healthcare.

The report says the problem is even compounded more by the deterioration in traditional patterns of family support in Africa, due to “growing urbanisation and – in some African countries – the effects of HIV/AIDs.”

Many elderly people in Africa are burdened with childcare because of the HIV/AIDS related deaths of parents, it said citing statistics from UNICEF showing that more than 50% of orphans in Africa live with their grandparents, many on limited and uncertain incomes.

According to the report, the healthcare problem is critical because of the long-term chronic conditions associated with growing old, such as heart disease, cancer, respiratory disorders and dementia.

The report says “Contributory pension schemes cover very few people due to the informality of most livelihood activities and employment.  Most societies are predominantly rural and much of the population operates outside the security of formal sector, wage-dependent markets.”

An added factor, the report notes, is that African governments tend not to pay much attention to the issue of an ageing population and that the attention has been diverted by other urgent and pressing demographic problems such as rapid population growth, youth unemployment, as well as high child and maternal mortality rates and a growing urban population.

The report recommended that governments should include the ageing issue in their policy planning – by adapting their national budgetary provision, boosting pension and social protection schemes, targeting health care, and supporting community and family care.

By Ekow Quandzie

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