Senior citizens: Acquiring health services is an ordeal


A call to include emergency allocations in the budgets of ministries for this category


August 22, 2020

AMMAN - Amid expectations of a new wave of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID 19), specialists recommended the need to develop policies and procedures that ensure the provision of health care to the elderly.

This comes at a time when a study prepared by HelpAge International showed that 56% of the elderly in Jordan faced difficulties in accessing health services, while 29% faced challenges in obtaining medication during the Corona lockdown measures.

Last week, the National Council for Family Affairs organized a symposium on the impact of “Corona” on the elderly, with participants recommending that the Ministry of Health should secure and dispense medication for the elderly every 3 months, specifically medicines for chronic diseases to secure them with an adequate stock.

The study prepared by HelpAge International last May showed that about 80% of the elderly in Jordan suffer from health problems; the highest percentage of senior citizens suffers from high blood pressure 51%, followed by diabetes 33%, while 70% of them suffer from disability; 41% said they had vision problems and 29% had hearing problems.

Participants agreed that the elderly are the most affected by crises, including pandemics, health wise, economically, psychologically or socially. On the economic side, the participants stressed the need to expedite the adoption of the senior citizens fund bylaw.

According to NCFA Secretary General, Muhammad Miqdadi, a decision has been taken to form a taskforce headed by the Secretary-General of the Ministry of Social Development to study the establishment of the fund, including its effects, material costs, and administrative aspects, and to review the draft bylaw that was prepared earlier and present recommendations thereof.

The HelpAge study also showed that about 29% of the elderly faced difficulties in accessing food during lockdown, indicating an increased percentage among elderly women reaching 35% compared to 17% for males. 15% of the elderly faced difficulties in accessing clean water.

Furthermore, the study, which also covered the refugees in the camps and host communities, showed that 48% of the elderly do not have fixed incomes, more precisely: 35% from relief institutions, 11% from relatives and 2% from loans.

45% expressed their feeling of anxiety and tension, while about 31% of the elderly in the sample said that they felt depressed because of the situation.

According to the respondents, 78% of the elderly live alone, while 22% live with others.

Also taking part in the symposium, Arwa Al-Najdawi, an expert in elderly issues, presented a working paper on the economic impact of the Corona pandemic on the elderly, stating that “the elderly in Jordan are more likely to lose their jobs as the effects of the pandemic has spread across all sectors reducing job opportunities and causing layoffs in many professions. In these situations, older persons, most of whom work temporarily in handicraft, agricultural or home-based sectors, are more likely to bear the brunt of losing their jobs and / or their ability to market their products.  Moreover, illiteracy rates among the elderly and their unfamiliarity with technology limit their ability to use the electronic applications that they need to be able to work remotely."

Najdawi pointed out that the inability of the self-employed senior citizens in certain professions (medical, engineering, and legal field) to carry out their work as required and the decline in the number of people receiving their services will have an indirect impact on the economic capacity of professionals in general and the elderly in particular. She also addressed the issue of high poverty rates among the elderly due to the decline or loss of job opportunities, stressing that this will inevitably place a greater burden on the national social safety nets.

“When an elderly depends on a source of income from a family member, and this person loses his job, this will have a negative impact on the elderly's economic ability to adapt to the new circumstances and make him/her and the other family members more vulnerable to poverty,” explained Najdawi.

She also reviewed some of the measures taken by the government in light of the Corona pandemic and the extent to which it responds to the needs of the elderly in Jordan from an economic point of view, which included the allocation of a percentage not exceeding (50%) of the annual maternity insurance contributions revenues to provide in-kind and material benefits to those in need from the elderly, the sick or their families according to mechanisms specified by the Social Security Corporation. Najdawi illustrated that despite the importance of this measure and its response to the needs of the elderly, the Social Security Corporation did not announce the extent to which the elderly will benefit from the assistance provided through it.

Moreover, Najdawi discussed the suspension of old-age insurance, saying: “Although this temporary measure mainly serves employers in the private sector and may spare the worker from three-month deductions from social security contributions under the circumstances of the pandemic, it has nevertheless adverse effects on the worker in the long term after retirement due to the shortening of his social security subscription period.”

 "Although the measures implemented by the Jordanian government focused on citizens in general, it lacked economic measures or programs that are specifically targeted towards the elderly," she added.

In this respect, Al-Najdawi recommended that "the government should include emergency allocations in the budgets of the relevant ministries to confront unexpected situations related to the elderly, promote social responsibility initiatives, and launch a national fund for this purpose. The "Himmat Watan" fund is considered a good start, and it can be institutionalized to ensure its sustainability and to come up with an elderly-friendly financing fund.”

She also emphasized the importance of taking into consideration the long-term economic impact of" COVID 19 "on the economic empowerment of seniors and channelling resources according to the needs of the elderly. More precisely, the economic measures being adopted should include providing the necessary support for small and medium businesses owned by the elderly to ensure their sustainability.

Within the same context, Najdawi also suggested that “the Social Security Corporation should pay immediate cash assistance to retirees whose pensions fall below the poverty line, especially since the percentage of retirees (mandatory active) who receive pensions from this institution below the national poverty line amounted to approximately 44.3% by the end of the year 2015. It is certain that this percentage has increased recently in light of the prevailing economic conditions.”

She also emphasized the need to have an appropriate database on the extent to which the elderly benefit from the aid that is disbursed to them from the concerned authorities, and the development and implementation of national plans of action aimed at empowering the elderly economically, or considering the possibility of implementing cash support programs to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on them.  She also urged NCFA, as the official entity responsible for monitoring implementation, to network and coordinate with the relevant actors to take the necessary steps and measures so that the elderly can enjoy a positive old age that guarantees them a decent life and active participation in society and economic life.