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Older people lead first Age Demands Action on Health : The right medicine

02 Apr 2012

The pain is getting worse. Free access to healthcare for older people.You leave your home at 5am to walk to the nearest health clinic. Then you stand in a queue for more than six hours.

You finally reach the front of the queue, but are told that those stood behind you will be seen first. Why? Because you are an older person.

We all know that such treatment is unacceptable but it's just one of the ways older people are not getting the treatment or services they need to enjoy good health.

Affordable healthcare that takes into account older people's needs is possible but requires government action. To ensure this action happens, growing numbers of campaigners are standing up for the right to health in older age.

Age Demands Action on Health

This week, the first ever Age Demands Action on Health is taking place. The campaign will culminate on 7 April, World Health Day. This year's theme is "Ageing and health: Good health adds life to years".

Building on the achievements from last year's Age Demands Action (ADA) is an essential part of holding governments to account. Campaigners in 17 countries used ADA 2011 to campaign for better healthcare and services for older people. Next week they will be ramping up the pressure.

The right medicine

Older people demand adequate healthcare as part of Age Demands Action."The medicine given to older people should be good medicine and the type that they need; not just any drugs". These are the words of Cecilia Osei, an ADA Leader in Ghana.

On 5 April she will be one of the ADA on Health campaigners calling for better health insurance for older people. Currently just 5.4% of people over 70 in Ghana are covered by the scheme, meaning 94.6% have to pay for medicine. Many cannot afford to do so. 

Getting the right medicine is also a problem for older people in South Africa. In rural KwaZulu Natal, representatives from the Department of Health will attend a 500 person rally. Here, they will hear that older people are often given generic painkillers, rather than the medicine they need. When health budgets are tight; older people suffer. They are simply not seen as a priority.

"I borrow money to survive"

On 6 April, ADA on Health campaigners in Moldova will meet the National Company of Medical Insurance and demand that more medicines be subsidised for older people. Mrs Caragea, an ADA campaigner in Moldova, explains why the cost of medicine is a barrier to good health:

"I am 75 years old and a widow. I've worked since 1950 and have a pension of 750 lei a month (US$63). Because of my poor health, I need medicine that is very expensive and hard to find.

"I spend my entire pension on medicine and transport to where I can buy it. Every month I borrow money to survive. Is this the life I deserve? How can the government leave us in such deep poverty?"

This is why ADA on Health is so necessary.

Action around the world

In Haiti, Albania, Indonesia and Bangladesh, ADA campaigners will meet their health ministers.

In Kyrgyzstan, campaigners will be asking for a national strategy on non-communicable diseases. In Bolivia, the campaign will be centred around age-friendly clinics, and in Gaza there will be a march from Al-Shifa hospital to the Parliament buildings.

This merely touches upon the exciting campaigns happening over the next two weeks!

Now is the time for the right to health to be realised.

Get involved!

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John McGeachy
Job title: Campaigns assistant

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These blogs are personal reflections and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelpAge International.