The Impact of Covid-19 on ageing in the SAARC countries : The path ahead
International Institute on Ageing United Nations – Malta and International Longevity Centre – India jointly organized a series of virtual webinars for the SAARC countries on “The impact of Covid-19 on ageing in the SAARC countries : The path ahead”.
The speaker panel consisted of eminent personalities from various SAARC countries who presented various innovative ways for elderly population to forge ahead with confidence in the current Covid-19 situation.
This international series of webinars was conducted in March-2021 on every Saturday through CISCO Webex App which received phenomenal response from participants across the globe.
Session I: The global impact of Covid-19 pandemic on older persons by Rosette Farrugia-Bonello, Deputy Director UN INIA, Malta
The first session of the international webinar series started exactly at 4.30 pm (IST) on 6th March 2021. Mr. Jayant Umranikar, Chairman of ILC-I delivered the opening remarks and welcomed Ms. Rosette on the virtual meeting platform. Ms. Yaashodaa from ILC-I introduced the speaker to the audience and hosted the meeting.
Ms. Rosette talked about the The Global Impact of COVID-19 on older persons. She gave an overview of the pandemic situation globally through statistical trends. She elaborated on the impact of the pandemic on persons with dementia and how it was difficult to care for the older adults from a distance, she spoke about the issues encountered while dealing with social isolation and problems with use of technology like video calls/internet calling and other social apps for seniors who are not very comfortable with the gadgets. Ms. Rosette concluded her presentation by highlighting that “COVID-19 recovery is an opportunity to set the stage for a more inclusive, equitable and age-friendly society, anchored in human rights and guided by the shared promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to Leave No One Behind” as a way forward.”
Session II: The Corona Pandemic-Older persons in Bangladesh and their changed lives by Ferdous Ara Begum
Ms. Ferdous Ara Begum from Bangladesh on 13th March 2021 addressed the audience through online session. She explained why senior citizens are the victims of this pandemic and highlighted their vulnerabilities as this pandemic has challenged not only socio-economic systems but also cultural values. Ms. Ferdous then traced the journey of Corona pandemic spread in Bangladesh and highlighted the total number of cases, how lockdown affected the lives of older adults living in rural and urban areas of Bangladesh. It was sad to know that loneliness and elder abuse which are silent killers in old age, were aggravated during and after lockdown. Her closing statement made an impact which says “Older people make substantial contributions to sustainable development efforts, through their experiences and their active and meaningful participation in society. In that sense, it is important to empower older persons through strengthening health care services, social protection and their leadership and voice!”.
Session III: Interventions & strategies to help the older persons in Sri Lanka and Nepal overcome the pandemic challenges by Dr. Shiromi Maduwage and Dr. Lochana Shrestha respectively.
Session by Dr. Shiromi Maduwage, Sri Lanka: Dr. Shiromi initiated her presentation by giving geographical facts about Sri Lanka and demographic features of the older adults living there. She listed down the health, social and financial challenges faced by the older adults during 2020 Covid-19 pandemic. In Sri Lanka, both private and public health systems were super active and they worked on the preventive and curative task force to control the cases throughout the year. Under public private partnerships, Sri Lanka government was able to carry out advocacy through Information, Education and Communication activities. Also, strengthening of capacity building i.e. working on elderly volunteers, caregivers and para medical workers was a useful intervention. Strategies involved building the infrastructure suitable for older adults and disabled citizens, field research and adaptation of technology to reach out to maximum population.
Session by Dr. Lochana Shrestha, Nepal: Dr. Lochana from Nepal explained the situation of Covid-19 pandemic and how the virus got spread throughout the country by showing the statistical data. Three strategies were implemented by the govt. of Nepal to control the pandemic and they were- ‘reduce the number of infectious individuals’, ‘reduce the number of susceptible individuals’, ‘reduce contact between susceptible and infectious individuals’ by using public health measures. Special interventions like online counselling and telemedicine for older adults in urban areas and social groups to support elderly in few semi-urban, urban areas were carried out to reduce vulnerability of the seniors. Lack of age friendly infrastructure and communication gaps created challenges of availability and accessibility of the health services for the older adults living in remote/hilly areas. She shared few photos to show how adult vaccination was carried out for seniors living in care homes in Nepal.
Session IV: Lessons learnt from the Corona pandemic & its impact on the future of older persons by Dr. S Siva Raju
Prof. Dr. Siva Raju, being an expert and senior researcher in the domain of ageing and health, explained demographics of ageing population in India, as he delivered his lecture on the 27th of March. Lack of social security and changes in the traditional family system (more of nuclear families) have impacted the lives of seniors and he explained how this pandemic has worsened the situation of seniors from low- and middle-income groups. Major challenges faced by senior citizens in India during the pandemic lockdown include-‘lack of socialization’, ‘impact on mental health and sense of self-worth’, ‘limited access to elder friendly services’, ‘feeling of helplessness in case of emergencies’ and ‘increase in elder abuse’. Dr. Siva Raju explained to the audience the role of major stakeholders i.e. the Government, public and private health system, BKPAI initiatives to increase awareness, use of media, involvement of Corporates through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and capacity building of the seniors at local and national level by NGOs working in the ageing sector. As he stated at the end of his presentation, innovative and good practices like elderly self-help groups, social groups, mobile medical units, digital inclusive innovations will help seniors to recover from the damage of the pandemic, in future!
The Valedictory session was delivered by Ms. Rosette Bonello who thanked all the speakers who had made some very insightful, comprehensive and yet precise, informative presentations.