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Action needed on the SOS from HelpAge Ghana!

BY: Ajoa Yeboah-Afari
The aged must be given priority in the country
The aged must be given priority in the country

It is strange that the proposed law to ensure the welfare of the elderly, including creating a National Council for the Aged, is taking so long to come into being.

According to HelpAge Ghana, the bill has been crawling through the system for more than a decade.

A perplexing delay considering that it is the one law which will impact on every household and everybody when it is passed.

Reason? Either one has aged family members, or one is praying to benefit from the proposed law; or one is helping needy old family members, for example, with their high medical expenses.

A recent news feature in the Daily Graphic highlighted, an SOS from HelpAge Ghana, an understandable cry for help.

Under the compelling headline, “Where’s the Aged Bill?” in its issue of September 11, the paper reported:
“An affiliate of an international organisation that seeks the welfare of elderly people, HelpAge Ghana, has expressed concern over the slow and long process which has delayed the passage of the Aged Bill.

“It said for the past 10 years, efforts had been made to get the bill passed, but after all those years, the bill remained a discussion and draft and wondered if the sector ministry was interested in getting the law passed.”

HelpAge Ghana Executive Director Ebenezer Adjetey-Sorsey, in an interview with the paper, noted that there seems to be no indication about when the bill will be submitted to Parliament, although the tenure of the current Parliament expires on January 6.

“It’s been 10 years and we’re still talking about passage of the bill. It had a covering memo for Parliament in December, 2016, but because it was an election year, it could not go to the Cabinet and subsequently to Parliament before it expired.

“It seems we have not made any headway and we’re approaching another election period. When this happens, the process of introducing the bill to Parliament will have to be started all over again.”

He observed that the absence of the law had further affected the safety and well-being of the aged, as illustrated by recent cases of violent attacks on some of them.

“The challenge we have now is about the way the process to get the bill passed is being handled. Currently we do not know the status of the draft and that is worrying,” said Mr Adjetey-Sorsey.

The Memorandum on the bill explains that the ‘OLDER PERSONS (AGED) BILL, 2019’, seeks to “promote the interest and well-being of an aged (sixty years and above), establish a National Council for the Aged and provide for related matters ….”

Reacting to the concerns, Mr Mawutor Ablo of the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection told the Graphic that the Ministry has submitted a draft Aged Persons Bill to the Attorney-General’s Department for finalisation.

Even as far back as 2013, a World Health Organisation report had stated that ”Ghanaians are living longer. The population older than 60 is estimated to reach 12 % in 2050, from close to 7 % in 2010.

The Ministry of Health, with the help of WHO and partners, is taking steps to help Ghana’s older people live healthier and more productive lives.

“In 2010, the Government of Ghana approved a national policy on ageing. Two years later, it asked WHO to support it in moving from policy to practice.”

WHO concluded: “In a region where most countries have no health programmes specifically aimed at older people, other African countries will be looking to Ghana as its policy is translated into action, leading to healthier lives for its growing number of older people.”

Yet, in 2020 Ghana has still not been able to translate policy into the expected action!

When the law is passed and the Council is established, one its first tasks should be to make medicines and healthcare for the aged, including pensioners and retirees, much more affordable than is the case now.

It is a paradox that it’s when one is old, and usually earning much less, that one is afflicted with all sorts of diseases and health problems whose treatment require much more expense than one can afford.

And even the National Health Insurance Scheme, if its Membership Handbook is any guide, doesn’t seem to have much for the aged, or cater for their specific needs.

A striking omission!

What is equally noticeable is that even in this election fever period, with political parties making all sorts of vote-catching promises, it appears that none of them is going out of its way to woo votes from the ranks of the aged, ‘the grey vote’ as it is termed.

Yet, it is those of that generation who normally are interested in electoral matters and who make time to go and vote.

All the parties seem to be targeting the youth, but maybe some of them should launch their charm offensive on the aged, too, especially by announcing plans for reducing the medical burden on the aged.

Ghanaians have always prided themselves on their respect for old age and attention to the care of elderly family members.

So why the delay in enacting the Aged Bill?

The SOS from HelpAge Ghana in the Graphic is an emphatic reminder to all concerned which should be heard – and generate immediate action.

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