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Elderly in BangladeshThe world currently has approximately 720 million people over the age of 65. By 2050, about 22% (36 million) of Bangladesh’s people are projected to be in this age category. With this in mind, it is important that this growing demographic is taken care of. In particular, the poverty affecting the elderly in Bangladesh is a concern that should be attended to.

Elderly Poverty in Bangladesh

Bangladesh is one of the most impoverished countries and the effects of poverty are felt hardest by vulnerable populations like the elderly. The Global AgeWatch Index ranks countries by how well their older populations are faring socially and economically. Bangladesh is considered a distinctly tough country for older people as HelpAge International ranked Bangladesh 67th out of 96 countries on the 2015 Global AgeWatch Index.

The organization notes that a considerable amount of the hardship inflicted upon older people in Bangladesh is due to natural disasters and extreme weather. Cyclones, floods, and heatwaves destroy the homes and livelihoods of elderly people. Additionally, HelpAge notes that elderly people in Bangladesh are often refused healthcare due to ageism within the country’s public health system.

Elderly people in Bangladesh also struggle to maintain a dependable income since finding employment is harder with age, especially with common and physically demanding jobs like rickshaw pulling or soil digging.  As in many other lower-income countries, elderly people in Bangladesh have to look for employment in old age due to inadequate livelihood support and insufficient social security measures.

While by no means exclusive to Bangladesh, another problem that the elderly face in Bangladesh is stigma, as pointed out by Dr. Atiqur Rahman. The stigma described is one that views the elderly as unproductive, unhealthy and needing intensive and constant care. Dr. Rahman describes the idea of the elderly being a burden as both morally and economically incorrect.

Old Age Allowance Program

The Old Age Allowance (OAA) program is a government social pension scheme that assists the elderly in Bangladesh. Originally implemented in 1997, the program provides welfare payments to qualifying elders in order to help them get by. The overall size of the program was rather small at its inception, supporting about 400,000 people. Since then, the OAA has come to cover 4.4 million elderly in Bangladesh and the size of the payments increased from 100 to 500 Bangladeshi takas (around $6). Granted the growth is a step in the right direction, the program is not yet at a point where it can help in the broad sense. Elderly poverty has still increased since it started. The OAA program accounts for a minuscule portion of Bangladesh’s budget (0.53%) and covers only 2.25 million elderly people.

Additionally, much of the fund is going to the wrong people. A study by the University of Dhaka’s Bureau of Economic Research and HelpAge International discovered that elderly people who are not impoverished are getting 50% of the total benefits and about 33% of the fund is going to those who are younger than the eligible age. Another study found that local governments lack the knowledge and interest to properly target relevant beneficiaries most in need.

Organizations Supporting the Elderly in Bangladesh

HelpAge International provides early warning systems for potential natural disasters. In times of these disasters, the organization ensures the elderly have shelter, food and access to services. For long-term relief, HelpAge restores livelihoods by supporting small business enterprises with low-cost community loans. The organization also provides training for healthcare workers to treat conditions affecting the elderly and works on improving healthcare infrastructure and referral systems for the elderly.

The Care First Foundation is an organization that offers the elderly in Bangladesh risk monitoring, referrals, counseling, medicine and medical support, home care and activities. Its goal is to expand its initiatives to alleviate elderly suffering through proper community support and services.

With more support from organizations and improvements to the social support system provided by the government, the elderly in Bangladesh can thrive and not just simply survive.

Sean Kenney
Photo: Flickr

HelpAge InternationalThe World Bank estimates that the number of people living below the global poverty line, or those who live on less than $1.90 a day, has decreased by nearly 40% since 1990. This is largely due to the efforts of the United Nations and other global partnerships. Although these organizations are making outstanding progress, one demographic remains in seemingly inexorable poverty: the elderly. Fortunately, organizations like HelpAge International focus on helping elderly people around the world overcome poverty.

Many elderly people have little ability to provide for themselves. A lack of income, support and resources, may keep them in poverty. This is particularly prevalent in low-income countries. Especially during COVID-19, elderly people need more help than ever as they are at greater risk for infection and death. While more organizations are recognizing challenges facing older populations worldwide, their assistance is not enough to give the elderly the stability they need to lead healthier lives. This is where HelpAge International steps in.

Aging in Poverty

According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Program on Ageing (UNDESA), the average poverty level for populations over 75 years old in OECD countries, or members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, is 14.7%. This represents a 3.5% increase in poverty compared to those who are between 66 and 75, an astonishing rate for the world’s most prosperous nations in terms of world trade and investment. Statistics are unclear regarding elderly poverty rates in developing countries due to a lack of consistent data collection.

However, UNDESA explains that the “absence of social protection systems [in low-income countries] … are usually not sufficient to guarantee adequate income security.” Social protection systems are vital for the elderly who reduce their work hours as they age or stop working entirely due to dementia or other health conditions. Without those systems, they are left alone in inescapable poverty. What is more concerning is that the number of people across the world who are 80 years old or more is surging. An estimated 434 million people will reach this age group by 2050, two-thirds of whom will reside in underdeveloped nations. Therefore, poverty rates among elderly populations will not only become more severe, but they will also become more widespread, creating an even greater need for assistance programs.

HelpAge International

After witnessing older refugee abandonment during the Somalia and Ethiopia wars, Sir Lesley Kirkley, Chair of Help the Aged’s Overseas Committee, and Chris Beer, the organization’s future CEO, formed HelpAge International in 1983 with the goal of creating a solid global support system.

The project initially began in Canada, Colombia, Kenya, India and the United Kingdom but has since spread to include 80 countries. Eye and community care were the initial priorities, but HelpAge International’s mission has evolved into delivering all necessary resources to help elderly men and women overcome poverty. The organization aims to create an inclusive, non-discriminatory environment for all older adults. Here are some of HelpAge International’s contributions and accolades.

  1. In 1999, HelpAge International distributed recommendations that specifically addressed elderly care during emergency response situations.
  2. In 2002, HelpAge aided in the formation of the United Nations Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, a plan focusing exclusively on elderly development, health and prosperity progress. The plan also aims to create sensitive and sympathetic environments for older adults.
  3. Also in 2002, HelpAge International launched an education initiative intended to teach the elderly about their rights, social pensions, access to healthcare and lobbying opportunities.
  4. In 2007, HelpAge participated in Age Demands Action, a global initiative to mobilize the elderly to express their policy and issue concerns to their governments.
  5. In 2012, HelpAge received the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, recognizing the organization for its efforts in reducing global human suffering.
  6. Since 1980, HelpAge International has performed more than 45,000 surgeries in India alone aimed at restoring sight to the elderly.

COVID-19 Response

Elderly people have suffered the most from COVID-19, with more than 50% of deaths occurring in people aged 65 years or older since mid-April 2020. Underlying health conditions and lack of access to care and information cause many COVID-19 deaths in Venezuela and Jordan. HelpAge Venezuela is focusing its efforts in La Guajira, an underdeveloped and overpopulated area that rarely receives humanitarian aid. In partnership with Humanity and Inclusion and Pastoral Social, HelpAge is providing psychosocial support and COVID-19 awareness classes to the elderly via radio in order to reach remote populations.

The organization coordinated a more detailed and widespread response in Jordan by implementing several preventive and protective measures. HelpAge is serving elderly Jordanians by monitoring food and medicine deliveries across communities, delivering hygiene kits, providing financial assistance and conducting weekly remote outreach programs. All together, these actions affect more than 5,000 people. For its outstanding impact, the government of Jordan recognized HelpAge International as a crucial COVID-19 first responder and acknowledged its unique dedication to solely serving the elderly.

Impact

In its nearly 40-year existence, HelpAge International has changed thousands of lives worldwide, focusing on those neglected by other aid organizations. Seventy-three-year-old Salem Thyab Al Salaimeh of La Guajira, Venezuela expressed his gratitude to HelpAge for finally providing him and his family with protection, safety and comfort. Neither he, his 110-year-old mother nor his fellow elderly siblings had ever been helped by any organization until HelpAge began operations in Venezuela. Hopefully, as HelpAge International grows, more elderly people like Salaimeh and his family will receive the proper care, support and attention they deserve in order to escape poverty. By overcoming the poverty-induced challenges that hinder their ability to survive, the elderly will have greater potential to remain healthy and thrive.

Natalie Clark
Photo: Flickr

Aged and Disabled in Ukraine

The elderly population is the fastest growing age group worldwide, and two-thirds of its population lives in low-income and middle-income countries. Such geographic locations have greater likelihoods of humanitarian crises, and the impacts of humanitarian disasters in these countries are more severe. Research shows the aged and disabled in Ukraine also have higher rates of poverty than younger, non-disabled people, making them more vulnerable during disasters. More than one-fifth of Ukraine’s population (more than 9.5 million people) were over the age of 60 in 2018. The country also is facing one of the world’s most acute global crises today.

Increased Vulnerability and Disproportionate Effects

According to HelpAge International (HAI), marginalization is having greater effects on older individuals, especially older women and the disabled. Since 2014, older persons have constituted more than one-third of the conflict-affected population — equivalent to more than one million people. Many of them have fled their homes due to violence along the contact line — a line dividing government-controlled areas (GCA) from non-government-controlled areas (NGCA). The number of affected people continues to rise as the ceaseless fighting impacts the mental health of the aged and disabled in Ukraine. These populations must contend with widespread landmines and restricted access to nutrition, healthcare, housing, pensions, fuel and public transportation.

Residents living along either side of the contact line and in NGCA are among the most vulnerable in Ukraine because humanitarian access is severely restricted in these areas.

The majority of individuals residing in and displaced from NGCA collect pensions. However, they can claim their pensions only if they are registered as internally displaced persons (IDPs) in GCA. They must also undergo complex and discriminatory vetting for pension verification, including home visits, physical identification in banks and additional safeguards. This approach is riddled with liabilities and creates serious humanitarian consequences because pensions are the sole source of income for most pensioners in NGCA. If approved, administrative requirements demand the aged and disabled travel through five checkpoints along the contact line every few months to avoid pension suspension. These individuals spend 50 to 80 percent of their monthly pension on travel expenses. Consequently, many seniors are cut off from their pensions because they either are physically unable to travel to GCA or cannot afford the trip.

Pensions are not the only reason seniors cross the contact line. They also cross to visit with family, obtain documentation and access medical services. The many restrictions imposed on crossing result in older and disabled persons waiting at entry and exit checkpoints for extended periods of time without adequate facilities like toilets, drinking water or shelter. Red tape often prohibits them from crossing with necessary items like medications and food as these may not be permitted goods. People also must renew their electronic passes on regular basis if they plan to cross — a near impossibility for much of the senior population who has no computer or internet access. These conditions are detrimental to the well-being of the aged and disabled, creating a dire need for mental health services, psychosocial support and life-saving aid.

Forgotten in the Midst of Crises

Marginalizing the older and disabled during disasters is not unique to Ukraine. In 2015, HAI interviewed hundreds of seniors across Ukraine, Lebanon and South Sudan. In all three countries, there was evidence of neglect. Most interviewees said they had never met with anyone to discuss their needs nor did they have sufficient information about available assistance. Almost 50 percent complained that health services were not equipped to treat their age-related conditions, and nearly half said they suffered from anxiety or depression.

Humanitarian Relief for the Aged and Disabled in Ukraine

HAI has worked with the elderly in Ukraine for more than 10 years and has provided them with community safe spaces. The organization has also directed advocacy and coordination efforts with NGOs and UN agencies to ensure that seniors are not excluded from receiving services and psychosocial support. HAI has established support groups and provided home-based care activities, assistive devices and hygiene kits to those of advanced age. However, despite the organization’s humanitarian assistance, a survey they conducted in 2018 showed that those aged 60 and older are still suffering.

The findings were echoed at a 2018 conference organized by the European Commission and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Brussels. The conference highlighted the support that the WHO and partners have given Ukraine to help combat the devastating effects of the country’s ongoing crisis. During the conference, it also was noted that despite the efforts of the WHO and its health partners, Ukrainian health needs still are on the rise. Speakers attributed the lack of improvement to a weak health system, limited disease prevention and insufficient treatment for chronic illnesses.

The conference also confirmed that the European Union (EU) will provide an additional €24 million to conflict-affected persons in eastern Ukraine, bringing their aid total for Ukraine to more than €677 million. The money will be used to fulfill the essential needs of the most vulnerable populations along the contact line, including IDPs and those in NGCA.

With coordinated efforts and increased humanitarian funding, permanent change for Ukraine is on the horizon.

– Julianne Russo
Photo: Pixabay