The debate was coordinated by Claire Hédon, journalist at RFI. The speakers were : Sheila Bappoo, Minister of Social Security and National Solidarity, Republic of Mauritius; Christian Barrier, Director of the Human Development Department, AFD; Charles Knox-Vydmanov, social protection adviser, HelpAge International; Laurent Nowik, lecturer in sociology and demography at the University of Tours and fellow researcher at the National Institute for Demographic Studies (INED) – UMR CITERES and UMR CEPED.
Please find below the synthesis of the conference:
Africa is the least old continent, with the over 60s only accounting for 5.3% of the population. Consequently, it may seem premature to address the issue of age and ageing. Yet it is a topical issue. In Mauritius, for example, the elderly already account for over 12% of the total population. It is also intergenerational: it is estimated that continent-wide, “42% of Africa’s population lives in a home where an elderly person resides” (Charles Knox-Vydmanov). The ageing of Africa is therefore already an issue, but it is especially a challenge that needs to be anticipated today for the future: by 2050, 200 million Africans will be over 60. That is four times more than today.
Taking care of the elderly: a changing family solidarity
In Africa, elderly people have until now been taken care of by their descendants. However, “societies evolve, a larger proportion of the population resides in cities and lives with economic and social models that are different from those in the past.” These changes distance young generations from the elderly: they are less and less able to bear the cost of taking care of the elderly members of their families and lack the time to do so. The “former solidarity mechanisms have been weakened, or have even collapsed” (C. Barrier). It is therefore essential to gain a better understanding of these populations, their characteristics and their needs
Improving access to healthcare and proposing solutions for medical-social assistance: a priority
“How will the State be able to assist helpers who will be taking care of dependent elderly people, so that they can live with dignity until the end of their lives? (L. Nowik). As in Mauritius, where the ageing of the population has been anticipated by proactive public policies, the provision of healthcare and assistance must be tailored to the diversity of situations: chronic diseases, severe disability, loss of autonomy, solitude, etc. Preventive screening programs for pathologies should be offered free of charge to the elderly. It is necessary to train the medical-social support staff to ensure the wellbeing of elderly people and to avoid exhaustion in families.
In the medieum term, develop a social protection system compatible with the characteristics of the African labor market
The informal sector accounts for 80% of the economy in African countries, which poses the problem of pension funding. “Today, active workers and companies are only required to pay a low level of contributions for reasons related to the structure of the labor market” (L. Nowik). The concepts of employer and employee are not relevant. Consequently, “these people mostly continue to work, because very few of them, probably no more than 20% on a continental scale, benefit from a retirement pension” (L. Nowik). It would therefore be necessary to devise social protection systems for the elderly that take account of the informal economy.
Raise the awareness of the elderly and local and national authorities in terms of the rights of the elderly
The right to live in security, not to be mistreated, to receive care, to be fully respected: the elderly need to be informed about their rights and the services on offer for them. They must, above all, be helped to “become stronger, to get together in associations that allow them to take part in the definition of policies at local and national level”. Finally, relevant data needs to be collected and advocacy activities need to be conducted to convince local and national authorities of the importance of the issue of ageing, of the need to implement appropriate policies, and of the economic feasibility of these policies. For example, contrary to popular belief, “the cost of an old-age pension for all elderly people over 65 in most African countries would amount to less than 0.5% of GDP” (C. Knox-Vydmanov). Furthermore, there are potentially significant economic and social benefits for the family and friends..
Mobilize the international community for social protection funding
The post-2015 human development targets should cover the entire lifetime: “we clearly cannot hope to achieve these new targets – live longer and in better health – by focusing efforts solely on communicable diseases or on maternal and child health” (C. Barrier). It is also essential to taken action on issues related to ageing. But the political will and financing are insufficient, meaning that innovative financing solutions need to be found, such as the tax on financial transactions introduced by France to finance social protection. “It is time to mobilize the efforts of all UN Member States in order to have an international convention signed on the rights of the elderly” (S. Bappoo).