Governments must ensure that older people and their right to health are protected if coronavirus – or Covid 19 – takes hold in low – and middle – income countries, HelpAge International said today.
A health crisis can isolate older people and the risk of this happening is far higher in countries with less developed health systems where access to medical services and other forms of care and support can be challenging.
“Any response from the international community to help manage an outbreak of coronavirus must include protection for older people. Statistics clearly show that this group, alongside those with a weak immune system, is the most at risk and governments, NGOs and other donors must ensure that they are made a priority in any response, providing information, support and health services, as needed,” said Justin Derbyshire, Chief Executive Officer at HelpAge International.
Older people need to be informed about their increased level of risk – particularly if they have any pre-existing health conditions – through clear, accessible communications. They should be advised about what steps they should take to protect themselves, as outlined by the World Health Organization.
All communications should be suitable for those with low levels of literacy or with sight or hearing impairments. This must be supported by a strong plan of action to manage community outreach, working one-to-one or in small groups in order to minimise the risks associated with convening large groups of people.
“Reports that some countries would like to restrict the movement of older people or would consider denying them health treatment are very worrying. This is a time for responsible action and mutual support; not a time to stigmatise or discriminate against older people, because they present a perceived risk or more value is placed on other groups,” said Justin Derbyshire.
If the virus starts to take hold in regions where existing humanitarian crises are already being managed, it will be essential to take steps to identify older people at risk and ensure they are provided with the right guidance and support, as well as taking steps to ensure appropriate health services can be made available.
“At HelpAge International, we are in active communications with older people through network members and are rolling out programmes to inform older people about how to protect themselves, providing information in local languages.
“We have been providing protective masks, rubber gloves and plastic boot covers to health workers responsible for community outreach, as well as hand sanitizers and personal hygiene kits that older people can use,” said Justin Derbyshire.
HelpAge has been supporting outreach to older people in several low- and middle-income countries, including China, Jordan, Myanmar, Lebanon, Thailand and Ukraine.