On the road of life, our chosen career path is not always a straight one. Sometimes it is a series of events that shapes our path and shows us what we were meant to do in life. For Dr. Emem Omokaro, it was a request by friends that led her to the path of advocating for the rights of older adults.
Prior to her work in the area of gerontology, Dr.Omokaro worked as an academic, followed by work in the fashion industry where she travelled back and forth from Nigeria to the United States; exported traditional
fabrics to be made into clothing; and mounted fashion shows. While visiting the United States, she was asked by some friends to bring back and to personally deliver provisions to their parents living in rural areas of Nigeria.
It was during these trips that Dr. Omokaro’s eyes were opened. “I saw poverty, I saw isolation, I saw exclusion… and then for the first time, I saw how inaccessible healthcare facilities were to them.” To assist her friends, Dr. Omokaro would take their parents to the urban centre to access health care services. During these trips, she began to wonder, “…how are the other older persons faring?”
In Nigeria, the responsibility of caring for older adults falls to the family (immediate or extended), not the state. But what happens when family is not around to help care for their aging parents and relatives? Or when family is around, what is the quality of care provided to older adults?
This revelation was one of the factors that led Dr.Omokaro to pursue her doctoral degree, which focused on the quality of care for older persons. Upon her graduation, the National Universities Commission awarded her with the Nigerian Universities Doctoral Theses Award (2005) for Best Thesis in Social Sciences in the Nigerian University System. The data from her thesis identified a genuine lack in understanding of the needs of older adults—the irregularities, inefficiency, the lack of government structure—and exposed the poverty that older adults faced. These drivers led to a call to action for Dr. Omokaro, where it became her crusade to highlight the needs of older adults, and she hasn’t looked back since then. Dr. Omokaro is working to move aging issues forward in Nigeria, which includes creating a centre for aging.
DOFs mission is to ensure that older persons in Nigeria enjoy income security, access to health care, inter-generational solidarity, and opportunities for continued engagement in society, through its dedication to research and capacity building; strengthening the capacity of public and private institutions, older persons, and individuals, through policy formulation, advocacy, personnel training, research, and stakeholders engagement in ageing. DOFs philosophy is a rights-based and life course approach in the pursuit of a systemic overhaul to improve quality of life for older persons.
Dr. Emem Omokaro, Executive Director
INCREASING AGEING POPULATION
Globally, the population of older persons (≥60 years) is increasing exponentially with projections showing Africa will bear more numbers of older persons by the year 2050. At 3.3 percent growth rate, the population of older persons, will exceed 103 million in 2030 and reach slightly over 205 million in 2050 in Africa.1 In Nigeria, the population of older persons aged 60 and over is rapidly growing and is expected to reach 28.9 million in 2050. The dire consequences of increasing number of people requiring substantive provisions of social security, a continuum of health care services including long term care, and enabling environments, presents major concerns and places a demand on governments at all levels to formulate an innovative and sustainable framework of action on health and ageing.
Nigeria has no sustainable life course programs to prepare her young population for healthy old age. Inclusive policies, services advancing health and income security through age bands, and the continuing engagement of older persons (60 years+) in income generating activities have been challenged by negative stereotypes and lack of aggregated data with consequent knowledge gaps.
Policies, programs and activities on health care, nutrition, poverty eradication, labor and employment, agriculture, housing and transportation seem universal in their goal definitions and objectives but within their matrix, targets, and indicators for monitoring and evaluation, there is cumulative failure to identify and include the vulnerable ageing population.
Policy gaps are attributable in part to the lack of basic understanding of the implications of Nigeria’s population dynamics, the recommendations of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, WHO Global Strategy and Action Plan on Ageing, and inclusiveness of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by policy level decision makers, legislators and CSOs.
POVERTY AND ISOLATION
In Nigeria, the responsibility of caring for older adults falls to the family - not the state, with a high dependency ratio of 83%. Only 10% of Nigeria’s workforce is in the formal sector, yet there is no inclusion of rural enterprises; local arts and crafts in the development agenda and no provision for participation in enterprises that commend incremental savings for continued financial independence in old age.
Socio-economic impact opportunities are hampered by widespread stereotypes of older persons as economic burdens rather than as social capital and a force for development. The elderly have limited sources of income and growing numbers have no access to continuum of care services, social security, and opportunities for productive engagement in community life and decision making processes, nor do they enjoy socio psychological wellbeing that an enabling and supportive environment provides. There are rising incidences of older poverty, isolation, abuse, abandonment and destitution due to increasing family care burden.
LACK OF TRAINED PERSONNEL
In Nigeria, aggregated data shows the healthy life expectancy of Nigerians after age 60 is 15 years for male and 17 years for female. This indicates a very poor health status for elderly 60 years and above, especially in the rural areas where income is generally lower and the vicious cycle of poverty and management of chronic diseases more acute.
In spite of the fact that ageing is recognized as a major driver of non-communicable diseases, affordable health care services and health insurance coverage is not accessible by Nigerian elderly. Insufficient trained workforce for the ageing population in the field of research, education, and patient care in Nigeria demands human resource development to meet the needs of 8.2 million elderly persons with a projection of 10 million in 2020 and up to 28, 939,000 elderly persons in 2050. In Nigeria, Medical/Para-medical professionals in both the public and private health sectors with specialization in providing health care services to the elderly are rare.