By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK Hundreds of Namibian senior citizens ate, drank and danced their hearts away to the catchy tunes of local musician ‘Whani’ as they marked the International Day of Older Persons last week Friday. The United Nation’s General Assembly in fact designated this day to be celebrated on October 1 every year. The event, which was held at the Sam Nujoma Stadium in Katutura, gave many of the elderly the opportunity and the time to be appreciated for the valuable roles they’ve played in, and the contributions they’ve made to, the development of the country. It is quite sad that even after 16 years of independence senior citizens are still most of the time excluded from developmental programmes and projects. Expressing this concern during his keynote address, Minister of Health and Social Services, Dr Richard Kamwi, said that the time has come for their involvement because “they deserve no less”. Thus the theme for this year: “Improving the Quality of Life of Older Persons: Advancing UN Global Strategies” is befitting of this current state of affairs. Dr Kamwi said that the day is about celebrating the values of older people in society. “The primary goal of this celebration is to illustrate that the government cares for the health and well-being of our older people and simultaneously recognizes the important role they play in society,” said Kamwi. Over the years, the government’s programme for the elderly, especially that of social pensions, has been the key in alleviating poverty amongst them in order to ensure a decent standard of living. At the same time this situation to a certain degree also mitigates the impact of HIV/Aids on the social economic lives of the many old people, especially those living in poor rural communities. Nowadays, grandmothers have become burdened with looking after many of the Aids orphans and even their own children from their monthly pensions. As a result, “families and communities who traditionally provided support to older people have become fragmented and destabilised by decades of discrimination during the colonial era and subsequent poverty and migration” explained Dr Kamwi. Ultimately, the consequences of this situation are financial hardships, social isolation and the risk to their own health. Besides HIV/Aids, another challenge facing the elderly these days is that of violence and abuse. “Many older people are vulnerable to mental and physical abuse within their homes, within their communities, in residential care and by uncaring government and private sector officials,” said Kamwi, adding that many are even exploited by family members over their social pension – even though it is their only source of income. In view of this, he noted, the responsibility for senior citizens is not only in the hands of government alone, but everyone in the public and private sectors. The onus now on all Namibians is to bring the invaluable attributes of older people out of obscurity and into step with the Millennium Development Goals. At the same time, the health minister also launched the “Report on the Status and Living Conditions of Older People in Namibia”. The results of the 49-page report will enable all stakeholders to develop a national strategy in respect of older people in the country. A National Policy on Older People is also currently being finalised. At the occasion the Government Institutions’ Pension Fund (GIPF) donated a cheque of N$220 000 to 11 old age homes in the country. The event ended off with cherishable moments when elderly couples were bestowed with gifts for being married for over 50 to 60 years.
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