by Sarah Gillam
Older men and women in Zanzibar will have a government-funded universal pension for the first time today (15 April), the first of its kind in east Africa.
Anyone over the age of 70 will receive a monthly non-contributory pension of Tsh 20,000 (US$9).
Mama Ghanima Othman Juma, 67, one of the estimated 60,000 people aged 60 and over in Zanzibar, welcomed the pension, saying it would reduce the suffering of older people on the island.
"Many of us do not have any meaningful source of income and the pension will help us with our day to day needs, including food and transport to health centres," she said.
Government urged to lower pension age
She urged the government to consider lowering the pension age to 60 and called for the effective implementation of free healthcare, with older people given priority.
The number of older people in Zanzibar has risen by more than 11,000 since 2005, with many responsible for grandchildren, including orphans.
The majority of older people have never been in the formal labour market and do not receive a pension from the Zanzibar Social Security Fund, according to a 2015 report. Without any other source of income and often facing a range of health and disability challenges, these men and women face day-to-day struggles.
Although Zanzibar health policy states that older people should receive free healthcare, this policy has not been effectively implemented and therefore requires older people to pay fees when they attend a clinic or hospital.
Pension will reduce poverty
"This pension will go a long way to improving the health of older people once the free health care policy is fully and effectively implemented," said Amleset Tewodros, Country Director of HelpAge International in Tanzania.
"It will help to reduce poverty and inequality among older people on the island, providing a small but stable income for many who are extremely poor.
"The universal pension in Zanzibar is welcome news for East Africa."
Measuring the impact of the pension
HelpAge is working with the Economic and Social Research Foundation of Tanzania to measure through a baseline survey the impact of the pension for older people and their families in Zanzibar.
"The introduction of a universal pension in Zanzibar is a welcome step towards building a social protection floor in the country, in line with the ILO’s Recommendation 202," said Dr Prafulla Mishra, Regional Director of HelpAge International.
Read Amleset's blog, Zanzibar: Celebrating a new pension and the life of Bi Kidude.
 Zanzibar Universal Pension Scheme, The Standard Operating Procedures Manual, Ministry of Empowerment, Social Welfare, Youth, Women and Children Department of Social Welfare, Government of Zanzibar