Focus on elderly

Dr. Enrique Vega
Dr. Enrique Vega

Despite the increasing ageing populations of the region, medical institutions are still training more paediatricians than gerontologists, says a regional health expert.

And that is one of the challenges that needs to be remedied as the Caribbean and Latin America moves to tackle issues of ageing, said PAHO/WHO Advisor on Healthy Ageing, Dr. Enrique Vega.

The expert, who was the director of ageing in Cuba in 2004, mentioned that in his homeland they had done a small study where a doctor in a village with about 600 patients to one doctor, the majority of the patients seen were elderly. Yet, Vega noted that there was a lot of time spent in training doctors to deal with the younger population, which was in the minority.

The study, he said, was done by a student who would study for six years, receive about six months in paediatrics/mother and child education, and then one week of study about the elderly.

It was a situation, he noted, that was being copied across the region in both Latin America and the Caribbean.

“The [professionals] that are seeing this are saying, ‘Wow, we need to change this’, but still the medical programme is the same. It is very difficult to obtain this kind of change,” said the regional expert on healthy ageing.

“So there is a history in the region, especially in many places we are now developing a new vision of health in older person. We finished the study in 2009 and as you remember last year was dedicated the year of older persons, so the most important consideration around the subject, I am happy to say that the best health world report that will be published in 2014 will be dedicated to healthy ageing.”

He told Barbados that with the rate at which its population was ageing, it perhaps had about another 20 years to turn the situation around to ensuring there were adequate policies and measures in place to look after its elderly.

Vega said he was pleased to hear that the country was developing frameworks to tackle the issue, especially for those in long-term care facilities. It was something that was needed in every country in the region, he said.

It had been shown, he noted, that where self-care was good, the strain on the country’s health care resources were less, which was something PAHO/WHO was trying to promote.

“We are working hard trying to promote better geriatricians and gerontologists in the universities and colleges. We are trying to give them a minimum competence in gerontology and geriatrics from school. We are working and we have very good experience in organising and preparing private health care teams. We are working now on programmes specially for managers of health programmes in the region and other programmes…

“At the end we have a window of opportunity. I have to say countries like Cuba or Barbados, you will not have 40 years; we have less than 20. Some of the other countries have more time and the ageing process is coming late, but we have to do the work now. We have to invest now.”

Because of the work that had been done in these two countries in the last 30 years, citizens were living longer and therefore the countries needed policies in place to deal with their ageing populations. (LB)

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