Africa is home to the youngest population of all regions worldwide. However, this continent will simultaneously also see a huge increase in the absolute number of older people within the next 30 years.
Sharing his expertise … Prof Jaco Hoffman is a James Martin senior research fellow at the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing in the United Kingdom and honorary professor at the University of Cape Town’s (UCT’s) Institute of Ageing in Africa. He is also co-director, together with UCT’s Prof Sebastiana Kalula, of South Africa’s International Longevity Centre.
It is this dynamic of population ageing, together with the factors that drive it, that makes Prof Jaco Hoffman tick.
Jaco is a socio-gerontologist and leader of the programme on Ageing and Generational Dynamics in Africa (AGenDA) at the Optentia research focus area on the campus in Vanderbijlpark.
People are growing older worldwide
In the past 100 years, the average human life expectancy worldwide has increased dramatically, he says.
The African continent is no exception. The number of people aged 60 and above in Africa is expected to increase from the current 70 million to around 230 million in the next 30 years. This will be 115 million more than in Northern and Western Europe combined and 100 million more than in North America.
This poses many challenges for the continent, even though significant advances have been made in terms of development, and Africans have a diversity of ageing experiences. The big challenges that Africa faces as we move towards the middle of the century are poverty and inequality, migration and the quadruple burden of disease, cross-cut by changing family dynamics.
Who will care for them?
One of the core questions of the AGenDA programme is: who will care for our older generations when they are in need of such care, and how?
Although long-term care in Africa has mainly been provided by unpaid female family carers, family care is on the decline as a result of various constraints on carers, including finances, time, knowledge and skills, infrastructure and health.
The gap left cannot easily be filled. In almost all countries in Africa, except South Africa, which has its own limitations, there are no significant formal care provision systems or capacities, whether public, private or third party.
Finding long-term solutions
For this reason, as the older population increases, the AGenDA programme is keen to explore the need for a range of Africa-appropriate and long-term care options beyond institutionalisation. This includes looking at how long-term care systems for older adults in need could potentially provide employment opportunities for younger generations. Part of this entails exploring the role that technology could play in care giving.
“We owe it to our older generations to explore accessible and sustainable long-term care futures now,” says Jaco. “All of us somehow at some point will have to manage care – either our own or that of a significant other.”
In the search for solutions to the care needs of older people in Africa, the age-old Ghanaian proverb certainly rings true: “I was there when you cut your teeth; you be there when I lose mine.”