Corruption of health services restrict elderly access to care

By Rashid Chilumba

“They say that it’s free, but I have brought her to this hospital almost 7 times and we always have to pay for her treatment” said Theresia Makota, along with her grandmother while waiting for treatment at Zakhem hospital at Mbagala in Dar es Salaam

The implementation of the government’s policy for free medication and treatment to all elders in Tanzania is facing serious problems and its success could be endangered if further efforts are not put into practice, it has been revealed.

Corruption, inadequate infrastructure and improper medical care due to a lack of trained staff have been pointed out as the main challenges that face public hospitals. Elderly persons are urged to pursue free treatment in vulnerable situations because they lack the money to pay for treatment, but they end up having to bribe medical staff once they are at the public hospital.

Rajab Mrisho (68) has stressed that corruption in public hospitals is the main catalyst for the failure of the free medication policy for elderly people, and urges the government to act upon it in order to rescue their lives that have been in endangered, as they continue to lack the money to afford the treatment.

“If you don’t have money to bribe a nurse or any medical staff, you are finished, nobody will attend you. I spent 5 hours asking for help in the hospital but I was never attended to because I had no money,” he said.

The population of elderly persons in Tanzania above 60 years will reach 5,201,000 people by 2015, while the country seems to have not yet done enough to comply with the number in terms of addressing the basic needs of the special group.

The United Nations demographic forecasts that the number of aged persons will triple between 2020 and 2050 in developing countries, urging the governments to work now to improve social services and living standards, such as health services.

In spite of the said improvement made to support the lives of elders, the Legal and Human Rights Centre report of 2012 points out the failure of the government’s strategies to serve the elders and indicate that they have remained vulnerable, failing to access basic facilities including health services, that they depend on for their survival.

The 81.59 percent of the elders in Tanzania live in rural areas but the country’s strategies to reduce the vulnerability including the policy of free medication and treatment to elders has not been of success (photo: internet)

Natasha Mustapha is a clinical officer at Zakhem hospital, a public hospital used by the residents of 5 wards in Temeke district in Dar es Salaam. She said that it is impossible for elders to receive free access to health services due to the lack of health facilities in hospitals, including basic medicines.

“The government provides us with limited resources like medicine that each patient, including the aged ones, depend on. They cannot get them without money, money first has become the slogan here” she said.

Fovana Mbuya, head of the social welfare department in Charambe ward in Dar es Salaam, said that the government has been making efforts to implement different policies to protect and improve the welfare of elderly persons. But civil servants, particularly in health services have been corrupt and deny elders their rights to such services. Mbuya urges all mistreated elderly patients to reports these incidents to the social welfare department that exists in every ward council in order for disciplinary actions to be taken against the misbehaving servants.

“I want to let all public hospitals users, particularly the elders, to report any mistreatment and whoever denies their right to free treatment in our hospitals to report to our social welfare department for disciplinary measures against misbehaving servants. We want to ensure the policy is well implemented,” she said, while encouraging the elder assistants to use the said offices to report any hospital that denies the free treatment of any person above 60 years.

Despite this injustice, there is no drafted convention on the rights of aged persons by the United Nations. The Madrid Plan of Action on Aging is aimed at ‘eliminating all forms of discriminations including age discrimination to basic facilities,’ but this has not yet come to fruition. There is a strong demand by the member states to draft a convention on the rights of aged persons in order for it to strengthen the implementation of elderly rights around the globe.

Corruption plays a big role in many sectors including health sector for a person to get access to the services, fighting it through reporting to respective authority could mean improving the access to the basic health services to both elders and other citizens (photo: internet)

Tanzania’s constitution does not directly guarantee elders rights. However, in the new constitutional draft there includes an article on the bill of rights that will guarantee elders their rights and force the government to pursue their attainment.

Rashid has worked extensively as a volunteer with various non-governmental organizations which advocate on issues of human rights, climate change and peace issues. In his free time, he likes to talk politics and discuss different regional and national issues of development with peers and policy makers.

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