Effective humanitarian responses to the Syria crisis must recognise older people’s vulnerabilities, says HelpAge International, as it launches a project to support their healthcare needs on the fifth anniversary of the conflict.
The project will improve access to treatment of diseases such as diabetes and hypertension over the next three years, helping nearly 2,000 older refugees each month, and is supported by the German Government and HelpAge Deutschland.
“As the conflict enters its sixth year, it’s clear that older people are disproportionately affected,” said Toby Porter, Chief Executive, HelpAge International. “For the international response to be effective we need to address the needs of older people.”
HelpAge will provide training on older people’s needs, medicine and upgrade existing medical facilities to be more age friendly. Patients’ health will be monitored and healthy behaviour promoted, such as giving up smoking and regular exercise.
The conflict is the largest displacement crisis in the world, with 4.8 million registered refugees and 6.5 million internally displaced people. According to the UN, there are 13.5 million people within Syria in need of humanitarian assistance and older people are among those most at risk during sieges, denied aid, and face poverty and health problems.
“Older people often become separated from their families in conflict situations and find it difficult to access essential services such as food, water and healthcare,” said Frances Stevenson, head of the humanitarian team at HelpAge International. “Many rely on family for support and are very vulnerable without them.”
There are 1.1 million Syrians registered as refugees in Lebanon, making up 25% of the country’s population, 2.6% of whom are aged 60 and over. Recent changes to Lebanon’s residency laws mean that many will find themselves unable to access public health services and will become increasingly reliant on healthcare provided by humanitarian organisations.
HelpAge International has been working with older Syrian refugees in Lebanon since 2013. To date, it has provided screening for more than 3,000 patients for type 2 diabetes and hypertension, medical consultations for more than 2,000 patients, classes on health, nutrition and cooking, and social events. HelpAge has also given training to humanitarian and government workers on older people’s health needs.
A 2014 report by HelpAge International and Handicap International surveyed Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon, finding that 54% of older refugees suffered from at least one non-communicable disease, such as diabetes, stroke and cancer.
The report also found that 65% of older people exhibited signs of psychological distress, including fear, anger, depression and feelings of hopelessness – three times more than the general refugee population. Four main causes were common: traumatic experiences, lack of a sense of ‘daily life’, growing insecurity and a loss of dignity.
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About HelpAge International
HelpAge International helps older people claim their rights, challenge discrimination and overcome poverty, so that they can lead dignified, secure, active and healthy lives. Our work is strengthened through our global network of like-minded organisations – the only one of its kind in the world.
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