Ghana: looking after its older people

October 2013

Ghanaians are living longer. The proportion of the population older than 60 is estimated to reach 12% in 2050, from close to 7% in 2010. The Ministry of Health, with the help of WHO and partners, is taking steps to help Ghana’s older people live healthier and more productive lives.

Collecting the evidence

In 2010, the Government of Ghana approved a national policy on ageing. Two years later, it asked WHO to support it in moving from policy to practice.

“The work to identify the core issues that need addressing to help Ghanaians be healthier as they get older has been extremely thorough. It is a solid foundation as the country moves towards implementation.”

Dr Idrissa Sow, WHO Representative in Ghana

WHO’s first step was to set up a multi-stakeholder task team on ageing and health. The team was made up of staff from the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, the Ghana Health Service, the University of Ghana, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and nongovernmental organizations such as HelpAge and Alzheimer’s Ghana.

The team reviewed all the research that was available on ageing in Ghana. Some key data came from the WHO Study on global AGEing and adult health (SAGE), a project that is collecting comprehensive information on the status and health needs of older people in six low- and middle-income countries.

Community health-workers at an Altzheimer's and related disorders awareness seminar, Ghana.
J. Owusu, Alzheimer’s Ghana

In Ghana, the SAGE study interviewed over 4000 people aged 50 and above. They provided information on their household, social and economic circumstances, health behaviours, diagnosis and treatment of chronic conditions, and access to health services. Their height and weight were recorded, along with blood pressure and lung capacity.

The task team identified five priority areas for action. These covered prevention and treatment of disease as well as improvements to the health system:

  • undiagnosed and untreated hypertension
  • difficulties in carrying out everyday tasks and social isolation
  • poor utilization of health services
  • inadequate preparedness of the health workforce to care for older people
  • undetected and/or unmanaged problems with eyesight and hearing loss.

“The work to identify the core issues that need addressing to help Ghanaians be healthier as they get older has been extremely thorough,” said the WHO Representative in Ghana, Dr Idrissa Sow. “It is a solid foundation as the country moves towards implementation.”

Making recommendations for action

Next, the task team drew up concrete recommendations for addressing priority areas. The recommendations ranged from community sensitization and improving health workers’ ability to deal with the needs of the elderly, to broadening coverage of national health insurance schemes and making hearing devices and eye glasses available to people who need them.

The task team’s recommendations have been taken up in Ghana’s Medium Term Health Strategy for 2014-2017.

Charles Acquah, Health Economist at the Ghana Health Service and member of the task team, observed: “The interest shown by all stakeholders so far is very encouraging and, for the good of our ageing population, we hope that all hands will be on deck in moving forward.”

In a region where most countries have no health programme specifically aimed at older people, other African countries will be looking to Ghana as its policy is translated into action, leading to healthier lives for its growing number of older people.

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