In collaboration with the Social Research Center, American University in Cairo, Professor Shereen Hussein organised a workshop on Population Aging in the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa. The workshop was designed to share evidence-based research on ageing with contribution from the region and internationally. It provided a unique opportunity for knowledge exchange between international and regional researchers, policymakers and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
The timing of the workshop coincided with the development of the Arab Region Ageing Strategy (2019-2029). We were fortunate to have a presentation from Dr Hala Youssef, regional expert consultant on population policies at UNFPA, and former Egyptian Minister of Population. Dr Youssef, spoke of the strategy awareness to the needs of vulnerable groups within populations, including older people from various socio-economic background and across gender. She introduced the Arab Ageing Strategy (2019-2029) as evidence of the region’s commitment to the UN SDGs (2030).
The strategy’s principles emphasis a shift from a protective to a participatory approach, with a core focus on protecting the rights of older people. The main aims of the strategy are to ensure that by 2029, older persons, regardless of gender, can live in an inclusive environment, to enjoy their rights to quality social and health care services without any form of exclusion or discrimination. The strategy has five pillars:
- Improving the economic and social status of older people
- Improving health outcomes of older people
- Ensuring older people social, economic and cultural participation
- Protecting older people in humanitarian contexts and political conflicts
- Raising awareness of older peoples’ status, needs and issues through effective use of the media
Dr Ritu Sadana, Senior Health Adviser at the World Health Organisation, provided a brief overview of the WHO’s activities in shaping international instruments and collaborations to engage with and be inclusive of older adults. In her talk, she presented the WHO’s Global strategy and action plan on Ageing and Health 2016-2020. She concluded by highlighting the pressing need to understand such dynamics in the coming decade leading to the 2030 SDGs.
Professor Hussein then gave a presentation highlighting key opportunities and challenges of population ageing in ME and SSA regions. She highlighted the changing demographic structures in the region and how this is taking place at a different pace in different countries interacting with several socio-economic changes such as urbanisation, displacements and epidemiological transitions. She concluded with a call for a paradigm shift where older people are viewed as an asset to societies and means of collaborative working are harnessed between various stakeholders including the state, NGOs and individuals.
Dr Zeinab Khader provided an overview of the demographics of ageing in Egypt with a specific focus on the social and economic wellbeing of older people. She highlighted the proportional and numerical increase of the older population in Egypt over the past decade, arguing for the need to address older people’s wellbeing that is related to various factors. The latter include changes in living arrangements with many older people living alone; the lack of social and recreational facilities and opportunities that are specific to this age group and the limited availability of long term care services such as residential and home care. She also highlighted the role played by informal carers who are, in the majority, women with competing labour and care demands.
Delegates then heard from Kemmet, an Egyptian non-governmental organisation for elderly care. Mr Gameel Ebaid, Dr Mona Tawfik, and Dr Nadia Abdel Wahab gave separate presentations providing information on the role of the charitable sector in elderly care in the region in general and in Egypt in particular. They provided examples of activities and projects they conduct to enhance the wellbeing of older people.
Professor Abla Sibai and Maya Abi Chahine discussed the process of population ageing in Lebanon. They highlighted the socio-political situation in the region and the need to address humanitarian crisis and conflicts when setting ageing policy and strategies. Professor Sibai introduced the AUB University of Seniors’ programme as an example of an intervention aimed at enhancing the participation, wellbeing and engagement of older people.
As a case study, Mr Mohamed Ismail, Analytical Research, UK, presented an empirical analysis of the cost of long term care (LTC) in Turkey. Using data from the World Bank, OCED, WHO and US Census Bureau, including findings related to the current LTC system and service provisions in Turkey with a discussion of key challenges and opportunities. As part of this work, he developed an economic model to predict LTC expenditures as a proportion of GDP.
Dr Yaser Seif and Dr Omneya Abdel Azem introduced the newly formed National Institute of Longevity Elderly Science, University of Bani Suef, Egypt. They observed this research institute as providing the evidence necessary for ensuring dignity and quality of life at old age. They provided statistics on the number of residential care facilities and the profile of older people making use of such services in different regions in Egypt.
Tarek Selim talked about main areas of ageing and gerontology studies in the region. He expressed some concerns about the limited courses and teaching/research staff interested in gerontology and ageing research in general. He concluded by a set of recommendations related to gerontology and ageing teaching and research scope and coverage in the region.
Lina Alqurah explained HelpAge International and HelpAge Jordan’s goals and vision to achieve these through a theory of change that addresses various desired outcomes at old age. The latter include income security, healthy ageing, security and participation. She then detailed some of HelpAge International work in the region to achieve various goals, including supporting older people’s health in humanitarian contexts in Yemen and Lebanon. Ms Alqurah explained how HelpAge activities are aligned with the UN SDGs.
The workshop highlighted the substantial demand to develop cohesive strategies that acknowledge significant health, social and economic unmet needs among older people in the region. In particular, there is a considerable knowledge gap in the specific experiences of older people in the region. There was a consensus for the need to adopt a vision of healthy ageing that is culturally sensitive and context-specific to the region. Policies that revolve around enhancing the dignity and quality of life of older people and their families.
This workshop was funded by the University of Kent, GCRF Partnership Fund in 2019. The activities were led by Professor Shereen Hussein.
A more extended version of this blog has been previously published here with full presentations.