Fannuel Muzondo (73) of Mbare struggles with amnesia. He has trouble remembering his doctor’s instructions about how, when, and in what doses he should take his tablets, and is at risk of an accidental overdose. These problems are compounded by the difficulty in getting his medication in the first place.
Muzondo suffers from a number of ailments including asthma, dementia, and hypertension, and he frequently experiences chest pains and difficulty breathing. “When I go to the hospital, I only get the medical consultation for free and I am then told to pay for the required medication, which I cannot afford. If I am treated there, I get billed for it. Look at my age, where can I get the money from?” he asked. Muzondo told Harare News that he cannot afford medical services and receives help from his only son, who is not formally employed and is also struggling to provide for his own family.
He says fee exemptions on medical services for the elderly are no longer available. On top of that, pension payments give very small amounts and are only paid erratically, leaving the elderly more vulnerable than ever before as they try to fend for themselves.
HelpAge Zimbabwe executive director Priscilla Gavi says the elderly in Zimbabwe are living below the poverty line. “The elderly need a system providing free, complete healthcare support but because of the insufficient health budget, the government is only offering free medical consultations,” she said.
She added that any savings that the elderly might have managed to accumulate over the years were wiped out by Zimbabwe’s decades long economic decline, leaving them to rely on meagre pension payouts, families, churches, and charities. She went on to say that the elderly depend on these hand outs but they are not consistent or reliable because of the multitude of financial difficulties being faced across all sectors of the economy. Gavi said government support in the form of a special fund is needed.
Dr Rutendo Bonde, chairperson of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR), says the government has in the past always had policies dealing with social protection services, like user fee exemptions for those older than 65, but owing to the financial collapse this is no longer practical.
“The elderly often experience a number of health complications like failing eyesight, hearing impairment, loss of memory, dementia and the degeneration of the body’s cells. All of these conditions need specialised medical attention which the elderly find hard to access because of the lack of decent social services,” she added.
She concurred with Gavi that the national Treasury urgently needs to establish a special fund exclusively for the welfare of the elderly and added that our constitution compels the state to make provisions for their health and well-being.