Anupama Datta is the Head of Policy Research & Advocacy at HelpAge India, a social organisation working toward the livelihood and social security of aged people. She shared how organisation is serving society. She said, “Elders across India in each state need immediate attention, whether it be in addressing their needs in – healthcare, age care, livelihood, or social security, in order for them to lead a dignified life.”
What are the key insights of this report? Any particulate trends you have been seeing over the last 2 to 3 years, especially in context to the pandemic?
This report focused attention on the lives and aspirations of older persons living in cities vis a vis economic, health and social wellbeing. The key insight is the aspiration of the older persons to engage in economically productive work and volunteering. They aspire to be self-dependent. A substantial proportion wanted to work for as long as possible. More than half the respondents felt financially insecure mainly because of expenditure exceeding income in old age, inadequate pension and lack of employment opportunities.
More than half the young caregivers wanted the older relative to work and were willing to help them reskill and find work.
The preference to work from home should be seen in the context of their digital skills and access to devices, which the research found were wanting to a large extent. More than 70% did not own a smartphone. However, the silver lining here was more than 30% of the non-smartphone owners/users wanted to learn about the usage.
Almost 30% were of the view that they are socially included but wanted to do more by way of learning new things, joining volunteering groups, working and also joining groups of people where they could share their thoughts and problems.
The family still continues to be a major pillar of support and engagement for older persons. They do not want to be treated as tired and retired.
Access to health care continues to be a challenge even for this segment of the population. Most of them still continued to be outside the purview of paid health insurance. Health expenditure appears to be a major cause of concern for older persons and their families.
59% of elders feel that Elder Abuse is prevalent in society, with Disrespect (57%), and Neglect (37%) as the top two forms of abuse, with a disturbing 30% perceived physical abuse (beating & slapping) followed close, while only 10% elders admitted to being a victim of elder abuse.
What are the top 5 states that need immediate attention on elder needs and why?
Elders across India in each state need immediate attention, whether it be in addressing their needs in – healthcare, age care, livelihood, or social security, in order for them to lead a dignified life.
How is HelpAge India addressing identified gaps in the report?
The programs are focused on interventions in the areas of healthcare (mobile healthcare units, cataract surgeries), Age care (helplines, senior citizen care homes and daycare centres, physiotherapy), Livelihoods (elder-self-help groups; linkages with government schemes), Disaster Response (e.g., Covid-19 relief response), as well as Advocacy and Awareness on rights and policies relating to elders.
The programs and services provided through these interventions are: it runs one of the largest mobile healthcare programs in Asia through its Mobile Healthcare Units spanning the country reaching the unreached, providing free healthcare services to destitute elders & their communities, provides Physiocare, palliative & cancer care services to the terminally ill. It helps elders become self-reliant and independent through the formation of Elder-Self-Help-Groups in rural India, conducts cataract surgeries to restore elder sight, looks after their basic needs through its Support-a-Gran ration program, and provides Homecare support to bedridden patients. It has partnered with the Govt. of India, through the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and has come on board as the implementing partner in running the govt. supported ‘Elderline’ (14567) in select states, helping elders in distress, in other locations, it runs its own robust National Elder Helpline (1800-180-1253) service.
It works hand-in-hand with Senior Citizens Associations and empowers seniors through Digital Literacy workshops, so they can lead independent and active lives. It has helped thousands of elders register for online Covid vaccination, through these workshops. It runs a school advocacy program sensitizing young children toward elder needs and urging them to treat elders with love, care & respect.
Highlight some key programs you launched in the pandemic to support elders.
During the pandemic, HelpAge India repurposed some of its programs like Mobile Healthcare Units (MHUs), and Helplines, to cater to the specific needs of the older persons who were the hardest hit. It reached out to the needy elderly in multiple ways – cooked food distribution in the first phase was replaced by dry ration Survival Kits and Hygiene kits and masks. Survival Kits included items like rice, wheat, spices, cooking oil, soap, and detergent along with Immunity boosters such as Vitamin C and Basic Screening Tools such as Finger Pulse Oximeter & infrared Thermometer for people in the poor communities so they could monitor both. Corona Protection Hygiene Kits included soaps, detergents, and reusable face masks.
Vaccination Facilitation of elder beneficiaries from HelpAge supported Elder-Self-Help-Groups, Mobile Healthcare program and Senior Citizens Association members. This includes vaccination awareness drives, helping elders with the registration process both online & offline and transportation of elders to vaccination centres. HelpAge India is currently working across the nation, to assist and support local administrations in facilitating the government’s vaccination drive and has helped with the vaccination of 9.5 lakh elders and their community.
It shifted to online Digital Literacy Workshops, which helped elders during the pandemic, especially during the lockdown period, when they were unable to step out of their homes to pay their utility bills, go to the bank, register for vaccines, etc.
HelpAge provided essential medical support through its vast national network of 170 plus Mobile Healthcare Units (MHUs), providing free medicines & treatment, to poor elders & their communities in rural areas and slums. This was critical, as most elders are chronic patients suffering from hypertension, diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, etc, and could afford to pay for their medicines, especially as many had lost their only source of livelihood, many were physically frail or bed-ridden, and could not walk to the nearest hospital or PHC. These MHUs provided free medicines and treatment virtually to the doorstep. Besides, the largest awareness campaign was organised with MHUs to create awareness about Covid-19 and compliant behaviours, safety norms, demonstrations for wearing a mask, maintaining social distance and information on various government helplines. These campaigns were conducted in local languages as far as possible.
HelpAge’s National Elder Helpline (1800-180-1253), along with the Govt Elderline of which HelpAge is the implementing partner in select locations, was active across more than 20 states in India and provided much-needed assistance to elders in need, those abandoned on the streets, in need of medication, shelter, hospitalization and other support during this time. The Elder Helplines provided back-end support to people in search of hospital beds, oxygen cylinders, counselling especially during the second wave. The helpline teams worked tirelessly to help coordinate services for the affected people though many of them faced personal tragedies during that time, some got infected themselves, but continued to provide support to as many as possible.
HelpAge Old Age Homes residents were provided basic essentials, food, medical aid and help with vaccination during this time, constant health check-ups were and continue to be conducted to ensure their safety.
Hearse Service in select locations, in coordination with the local administration. The service includes transportation of the Covid deceased from the hospital to the cremation/ burial ground, so they have dignity in death.
HelpAge facilitated Elders-Self-Help-Group (ESHGs) members in remote villages across select states and provided much needed food support to those who were further destitute and disadvantaged in the local community. They also made Covid masks that were compliant to the standardised norms. Groups in Bihar, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh were among those who helped others.
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