March 6, 2011

OMAN: Care and proper health services for the elderly

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RUWI, Muscat / Times of Oman / Oman / March 6, 2011

By Aftab H. Kola in Muscat

Elderly Omani Citizen, Misfhat Al Abreen. Copyright photo by Paddyrags of Bangalore

Considering the lengthening shadow of life of our elderly population becoming a major challenge to the society, the Ministry of Health has recently launched the elderly care services in primary healthcare institutions, phases-wise, to cover all the primary healthcare centres in the Sultanate.

According to Dr Yaqoub Al Maghderi, head of elderly care department of primary healthcare, Ministry of Health, “Elderly care programme is included in the new Eighth Five Year Plan for Ministry of Health as separate domain, so it has its own plan, including objectives, indicators, strategies and activities for the next five years. This reflects the attention which the ministry is giving to provide proper services for the elderly people.”

The Omani society, like many others, has traditionally treated the care of the elderly as the responsibility of the siblings. However, changes in family lifestyle and the growing urbanisation are forcing a change in this implicit social contract.

Rise in numbers

Dr Yaqoub says, “The rapid increase in the number of elderly people in the country is a natural result of improvement in the living conditions of the people. This leads to the importance of putting the care for the elderly in forefront of the public and health agenda.

“Therefore, in response to this phenomena and with objective of improving the quality of life of elderly people, the Ministry of Health has started to formulate the services of elderly care under the umbrella of PHC (Primary Health Care) services.

It includes two types of service: The institutional one presented in the form of special clinics in PHC centres and for those who cannot come to the PHC centres there are outreach teams (home care).”

These programmes were started as full-package services in one health region since March 2008, which includes the full assessment of the elderly person from all the medical and social sides. The action for each case is decided according to that assessment report.

The Ministry of Health is currently in the process of implementing these programmes in the other health regions as well and slowly it will be done phase-wise.

Though the problem of elderly care has not reached alarming proportions in Oman, yet the authorities are taking no chances as the elderly population is on a marginal rise.

By the end of 2009 the estimate of elderly population (60 years and above) in the country is about 3.8 per cent of the total population, and the exact percentage will be made available after the final figures of census 2010 are presented.

Dr Yaqoub adds, “Oman has very impressive traditions related to our Islamic roots and culture, in which the elderly are regarded as very valuable and well-respected in their families and unlike in other societies where we see many youth dropping their frail parents at hospitals or social centres and such things happening in Oman is rare’’.

Old age homes

In Oman there are no homes for elderly people. There is a facility with very limited capacity run by the Ministry of Social Development in Rustaq. Dr Yaqoub observes, “Actually we are not encouraging the establishment of such homes because we still believe that the Omani community will be able to take care of their elderly population as our religion and tradition teaches us to do so”.

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While many countries have some kind of social security mechanism in place for elderly population, including a number of private, for-profit initiatives, unfortunately the same is not true for Oman. Dr Yaqoub says, “We have in the country very well established retirement system which provides more benefits. The government keeps studying the status of the population and takes the necessary measures to improve the quality of life for all’’.

When asked about the caring for the aged being a new business activity in many countries what is Oman’s position on this, Dr Yaqoub answers, “Private elderly care institution is still not available in the country, even in the other Gulf countries they are not available. There are some day care centres in some of the GCC countries supported by the private sectors.”

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