Kenya commits to protect older persons during COVID-19 pandemic

Non-Aligned Movement has repeatedly highlighted the need to take into account the situation of older persons in situations of humanitarian crisis. The situation of older persons is the most vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the world grapples with an unparalleled health crisis, older persons have become one of its more visible victims. The pandemic spreads among persons of all ages and conditions, yet available evidence indicates that older persons and those with underlying medical conditions are at a higher risk of serious illness and death from the COVID-19 disease.

According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), COVID-19 has put a spotlight on the health and rights of older persons in society. While the virus spreads among persons of all ages, older persons and those with underlying medical conditions are at higher risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19. Efforts to protect older persons should not overlook the diversity of older persons, their resilience and positivity, and the multiple roles they play in society, including as producers, caregivers, volunteers and leaders.

As in other parts of the world, Kenya’s population of older persons has increased rapidly: from about 270,000 in 1949 when the first national census was conducted, to 1 million in 1989 and 1.9 million in 2009. The 2019 national census indicated that the number of older persons in the country had reached about 2.7 million, representing about 6 percent of the total population.

Kenya recognises that the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the vulnerable situation of the elderly especially in informal settlements due to loss of livelihoods and inability to meet basic needs. According to a policy paper by the UNFPA, older persons are vulnerable in Kenya as a result of COVID-19 crisis on three levels: 1) Susceptibility to serious disease and death as a result of the virus (2) Compromised protection against contraction of the virus, and (3) Detrimental health, social and economic consequences as a result of Government containment measures.

Kenya adopted the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations to curb the spread of Coronavirus. In addition to this, the Government put in place other measures to combat COVID-19. These measures include wearing of masks in public places, reduction by half the number of persons that can be carried by a vehicle, a countrywide daily curfew from 7 pm to 5 am, closure of learning institutions, quarantine for asymptomatic individuals and those suspected to have been in contact with an infected person.

The Kenyan government has taken cognizance of these factors and has reiterated its commitment to protect older persons from the pandemic. The government, therefore, has designed social protection programmes to provide social assistance, a safety net for the vulnerable. The Constitution of Kenya mandates the state to take measures to ensure the rights of older persons. The Constitution of Kenya (2010) in Article 260 defines an older person as any Kenyan aged at least sixty years. It recognizes older persons as distinct right holders (Article 57) entitled to care and protection from the State.

Kenya’s National Policy on Older Persons and Ageing offers a comprehensive framework to facilitate the provision of reasonable care and assistance to older persons. The overall goal of the policy is to provide an environment that recognizes, empowers, and facilitates older persons’ participation in society and enjoyment of their rights and freedoms. This includes the right to life in dignity with the best possible health.
Formal Long-Term Care (LTC) services in Kenya are provided mainly the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Labour and social protection. The latter Ministry provides social protection via cash transfers with no contribution towards public or private health insurance for older persons.

The Older Persons Cash Transfer (OPCT) targeting those aged 65 and above had supported 833,129 households by 2019. Between January and April 2020, 766,254 beneficiaries had received the OPCT. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the government increased cash transfers by 12 billion Kenya shillings to support older persons and the most vulnerable to buy food.

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