The vast majority of health systems in developing countries are arguably only “designed to deal with acute conditions and diseases,” with the WHO defining quality of life “as an individual’s perception of their position in life in the context of culture and value systems in which they live.” Because Botswana is a very rural and agricultural country, many elderly people living in poverty are particularly vulnerable, as accessing hospitals, support and even basic amenities can be a particularly challenging task, with care solely falling upon family members.
Furthermore, even when the elderly attempt to access support, there are many barriers. According to one study from the NIH, Botswana is facing a challenge when it comes to addressing loneliness and social isolation due to the lack of comprehensive policies and programs in place.
Therefore social networking links are particularly weak, and to make things worse, most of the facilities available are particularly difficult to access. Unfortunately, many buildings still do not prioritize accessibility by lacking lifts or ramps.
In particular, a study conducted by the National Library of Medicine in 2019, suggested that the solution to solving elderly poverty and the issues associated with it was to improve social structures. “Services to tackle later-life loneliness and social exclusion need to be more widely available and robust if they are to promote healthy aging and build resilience, support and independence.”
Common Illnesses in Botswana
Due to the majority of those who are elderly in Botswana living in extreme cases of poverty, many suffer from malnourishment, which leads to further health complications later in life.
A study, conducted by the Epidemiol Institute of Health in 2000, which analyzed elderly poverty in Mmankgodi Village, stated, “Among our group of elderly, 69, 21% were classified as moderate or severely malnourished. This indicates that malnutrition is a significant health problem among the elderly in this region.”
Additionally, “Blindness was the single most frequently found physical disability, affecting 10% of the study population. The majority suffered from cataracts, a condition that can be surgically treated.”
However, despite this being the most common condition in the region, the surgery to remove the cataract is only conducted in three hospitals in Botswana. This means that many elderly people eventually become blind, as the treatment required is inaccessible to most.
Current Actions To Support the Elderly
An organization that is currently working in the area to take care of the elderly is the Pabaleong Hospice homecare program, run by the Sisters of Nazareth Charity. The sisters and caregivers who work for the hospice provide support for vulnerable people through doing both home visits and treating them at the 10-bed inpatient facility which is based in Metsimotlhabe.
The charity has so far reached 90 patients who are living at home, and has provided palliative care throughout the country.
Someone who has been supported by the program is a man named Matthew (named changed to protect his privacy). Matthew speaks of having been “woken by pain from an infection in his right leg.” Normally having to walk over a mile to receive treatment, the Pabalelong Hospice program was able to provide support by visiting Matthew’s home, and the sisters have been making visits regularly to ensure that he remains in stable condition.
“I don’t think I could have walked to the clinic today, it is very painful,” Matthew says, rubbing his wound. “I have also run out of bandages, so I am really happy you have come to see me today,” he tells his caregivers.
Despite the success of this program, much more work needs to be done to support the elderly in Botswana. This consists of improvements to health and social care, making infrastructure capable of accommodating those who require special access to buildings and ensuring that an elderly person’s family isn’t the only source of help out there.
– Megan Rose Miley