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Campaigning for healthcare for older people in Ethiopia

11 Apr 2012

When older people visit health clinics many say that the doctors do not really listen to them. For me it is different, they pay attention when I speak because I have a background in public health.

I can challenge the doctors

I feel I can challenge them and often accompany friends when they see the doctor to make sure they are getting the right treatment. I know the system and go to a clinic of my choice where the waiting time is tolerable and the doctors are skilled. I know I am lucky. Although there are many conscientious doctors who provide good care and treatment there are also those that neglect their patients.

A choice between life and death

It’s extremely tough to buy medicine as it is so expensive, for many it is a choice between life and death and you have to borrow money. The poorest older people can obtain a free health care certificate from local authorities but many are still left out. I buy my medicine from the local pharmacy and it costs between 300 Ethiopian Birr (17 US$) and 500 Birr (29 US$). The medicines can be collected from the local market and often my children collect them for me. I have been fortunate with my health, in the past I’ve had a hernia operation but now I am fine. Most importantly my family are fine and we all take care of each other.

I also try and support other older people who do not have anyone to take care of them. I pay a monthly sum to five organisations including Wegen Le Wegen Older People Associations all of whom provide support for older people. Many older people care for both adults and children, they also provide invaluable advice and witnessing changes in attitude keeps me going.Tilahun Abebe (far right) and other activists at the march in Ethiopia for ADA 2011.

World Health Day is about human rights

For me, World Health Day means human rights. It is so important that the poorest of the poor receive free medical care without all the extra bureaucracy. This is my wish – for less bureaucracy. As a health professional myself I want everyone to be as healthy as they can be. Every Ethiopian should be told how to protect themselves from disease before they get sick. The government’s attempts towards raising awareness around preventative health for malaria, tuberculosis and HIV and AIDS seem to be making a difference. However, the government's free health care system needs to be strengthened.

ADA can change people's attitudes

I have been the ADA coordinator since 2007 - the beginning of the ADA campaign. It is an event that allows for changing the attitudes of individuals and organisations concerning older people. Older people can work if they are given appropriate work; they are carers of adults and children.

This attitude needs to be conveyed to older people as well, not just society. I want to share this with the public, government officials and older people themselves. Over the years, I have been noticing the effects of my work; this blink of hope for change encourages me to keep going harder.

Read more about Age Demands Action on Health.

Support older people's right to healthcare by signing our ADA petition.

Hear more on older people's access to healthcare in Ethiopia from Tilahun.

Your comments


Dear Tilahun, We started witnessing changes on the responsiveness of Ethiopian government in addressing the practical and strategic needs of older people. This is the result of the advocacy of energetic and motivated Older people like you. I am looking forward to seeing more and more empowered older people who could promote their own rights. Keep up your good work.

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Author profile

Tilahun Abebe
Country: Ethiopia

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