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Our elderly population is severely impacted by the deadly coronavirus (COVID-19). It should bring us grief every time the Ministry of Health announces the death toll from this virus. Guyana having had the benefit of other countries battling the virus before us was aware the elderly was a vulnerable group and disproportionately affected. There was sufficient time to learn and plan to mitigate our fatality. The government continues to prove that it has all but given up or merely going through the motions in dealing with the pandemic.
Guyanese are not usually a complaining bunch outside of the election season. The rough and tumble of life is generally accepted as the way things are and met with resignation or opportunities explored to flee. None of the approaches would do well in ensuring a better quality of life for ourselves and loved ones. Minister of Health Dr. Frank Anthony must not seize on this outlook to fail the elderly, who are our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.
It is not to Guyana’s pride they are treated poorly. The country carries the shame of politicians in the present administration being disdainful to this group. Longevity has its place and those who are fortunate to live to a ripe old age do not deserve to die from COVID-19, a disease even though deadly is preventable. There seems to be no scientific approach to mapping the virus spread, including the demographics affected and the areas of location. Were this so the society would have been apprised, including what systems, the government is putting in place to contain and eliminate spread.
Healthy aging is assured and an advantage to society. The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) advises “Healthy independent older persons contribute to the welfare of their household and community.” But it should not be ignored in dealing with the virus the elderly manifests the symptoms differently. Usually dealing with underlying conditions (comorbidities) their temperature is lower, and they may take longer to develop symptoms. Seniors and their loved ones need to know what they should be looking for to identify the presence of the disease. And though it may pose a challenge managing the virus, because Guyana has few elderly /senior living communities, it does not hinder the spread of information or knowledge identifying the symptoms in the home.
PAHO advises the elderly can stay safe should they:- “stay home as much as possible, avoid close contact with people who are sick, even inside your home; avoid all cruise ships and unnecessary air travel; cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or the inside of your elbow; and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.” On the other hand, the Mayo Clinic cautions “face masks combined with other preventive measures, such as frequent hand-washing and social distancing, help slow the spread of the virus.” Are we doing frequent hand washing or hand sanitising? Certainly, there is not sufficient social distancing (six- feet apart) in many of the government’s walk-about, community meetings, etc. Wearing a mask without observing the other two guidelines puts your lives and others at risk, including the elderly.
The family structure in Guyana is largely extended with multiple generations living in the same home. It is this environment, children and younger adults enter and leave, bringing with them infection that may have contracted interacting among the wider population, including from work. The government does not have a strategy to deal with this. And even as the government mouths social distancing and wearing masks they are up and about, even when masked in tight gatherings. It is a callous disregard for the elderly.
According to PAHO, the elderly has a right to healthy living. It is not sufficient to even think, much less accept they have lived a “full life” and death is acceptable, or it is better they die than punish from complications arising from the virus. Said organisation advises their health form part of public policy, there are suitable health systems to meet the challenges of an aging population; and there be development of the capacity to generate the information needed to undertake and evaluate action to improve the health of the older population.
A better approach has to be utilised in ensuring the prevention of contracting the virus, but the government seems not to have an effective strategy. Complacency is also stepping in and while the frustration of wearing a mask and socialising is understood, Guyanese cannot let our guard down. The numbers are going in the wrong direction. The deaths and infections are too high for a small population like ours.