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Creating Public Awareness of the Challenges of Caring for the Elderly in Southern Africa

In the Southern African region, there is a strong practice of family-based care for older people. While it can be very fulfilling work, providing care to older people who have significant care needs is expensive, time-consuming, and difficult. Few people can afford to pay for external support, services and equipment needed to provide care at home. However, there are not adequate policies, structures, or funding and coordination mechanisms in place to support long-term care in the region.

While South Africa has a more developed long-term care system than some other countries in the region, the government has progressively defunded residential care in favour of community-based models (which is a preferable), but has not substituted this with programmes or funding to support community and home-based care. In other countries in the region there are very few to zero long-term care structures or funding in place. Given high rates of poverty and unemployment, this leaves family caregivers (most of whom are women) with significant challenges in providing care with very little support, resources, or opportunities for respite. This negatively affects the wellbeing of both older people and care providers.

Despite the challenges that families face in providing care, there is very little public awareness or pressure put on government by civil society to better support care provision and the needs of older people and caregivers. We urgently need to consider the impact that population ageing in Southern Africa will have, not only on older people and their families, but on health, care, and economic systems. While there of course other pressing social development and health issues in the region, the UN Decade for Healthy Ageing (2021-2030) calls on societies to put in place systems and structures to ensure that older people can live healthy, independent lives and to support care for older people in families, communities, and societies more broadly.

The programme on Family Caregiving of Older Persons in Southern Africa aims to create awareness and demand for action around the significant gaps that exist in support for family care in the region by amplifying the voices of older persons and caregivers. Our mission is to create and hold a space at local, national and regional level to enable such conversations to happen and for locally based, contextually relevant solutions to emerge. By bringing together scholars, policymakers, government officials and non-governmental organisations, we aim to broaden our understanding of family caregiving, an understanding that includes different perspectives and knowledge producers.

As part of our programming, we will host and facilitate community fora, webinars, meetings, a range of public lectures and capacity-building workshops. We are also partnering with a range of stakeholders in our programme sites in South Africa, Malawi, Botswana, and Namibia to co-author policy and advocacy briefs, policy and legislative texts and articles that can inform policy and programming and, hopefully, increase funding to this under-resourced area.

If you are interested in partnering with the programme or sharing the information about the need to think about family care, please do be in touch with us.

This blog is in conversation with our Public Engagement Approach, released in March 2023 and written by Dr Gabrielle Kelly.

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