I am delighted to welcome you to MENARAH, a network dedicated to understanding the implications of population ageing in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. MENARAH brings together prominent researchers with expertise in the topic from MENA and across the globe. In addition to representations from the international research community, we have actively involved policymakers and non-governmental organisations concerned with the wellbeing of older people and their families. Our membership includes key non-academic stakeholders interested in the welfare of older people in the region and globally, such as HelpAge International, the United Nations’ International Institute on Ageing and the Global Brain Health Institute.
Our international partners offer excellent learning opportunities from countries that have completed their ageing transitions and have tried various policies and practice interventions. While there are valuable lessons to be learnt from the international community, there are areas where all countries are still developing best practices, especially around inequalities and diverse experiences. Furthermore, it is crucial to be fully aware of the MENA region’s cultural and socio-political context when designing and implementing interventions. Within the region, the family and community are the core components of social support networks for older people and those with long-term care needs. Our work recognises the importance of such social capital. We aim to build on and strengthen such resources through the active involvement of community stakeholders and mobilising the research agenda to create tailored initiatives dedicated to integrating and enhancing their contributions.
The pace of population ageing in the region is considerably faster than in previous international experiences. Within as little as 20 to 40 years, most MENA countries are predicted to transfer from young to ageing populations. The latter is considerably shorter than the earlier experiences in Europe and North America, where countries took between 50 to 150 years to reach similar milestones. Furthermore, due to earlier trends of high fertility rates in the region, the numbers of people entering old age are remarkably large, given earlier high trends of fertility rates. Therefore, governments and societies must formulate prompt and effective responses to significant changes in their population structures.
The region must view these demographic changes and population ageing as an enhancement to the societal assets and opportunities for positive change. However, like other LMICs, the MENA region is ill-prepared to harvest such opportunities and meet the challenges associated with ensuring the health and wellbeing of older people and their families. Current evidence identifies significant gaps in the state of preparedness for population ageing at multiple levels of governance, policy response, environment and infrastructures, and public awareness. One of the vital missing components to developing adequate response is the lack of research and accurate data on the situation of older people and their family carers in the region.
The COVID-19 pandemic has raised serious concerns about the ability of the region to protect older people and provide them with a safe and healthy environment. Many older people often lack immediate social support networks or income opportunities. As a result, they have been increasingly prone to isolation, especially with associated infection control measures, such as lockdown and curfews, enforced in most countries. Older women, in particular, are more susceptible to isolation and lack of participation opportunities.
The MENARAH network actively seeks opportunities to initiate new research projects and engagement activities. We aim to raise awareness and build capacity in the region to understand various challenges and opportunities associated with population ageing and ways to ensure healthy ageing for all. Our strategy is to work collaboratively with partners across the region, ensuring the inclusion of older people and their carers’ perspectives, to identify priorities and practical solutions that are economically, socially and culturally sensitive to the context of the region.
We hope you can engage with the MENARAH network and contribute to the learning and knowledge translation.
Professor Shereen Hussein
MENARAH network lead
Image credit: Martin Zangeri, unsplash.com