Exploration of needs, problems and living experiences of older persons in Uganda: implications for policy and decision making
The purpose of the study was to explore the needs, problems and living experiences of the older persons in Uganda and their implications for decision making and policy. The study was an exploratory descriptive cross-sectional study that involved triangulation of both qualitative and quantitative approaches. It was guided by five objectives, which included: exploring the living experiences of Uganda' s older persons living in both rural and urban settings; identifying the barriers to these people's effective participation in society; establishing the mechanisms that they use to cope with the barriers; evaluating the extent to which their needs are addressed by policy; and proposing policy strategies needed to address their plight. The study sample consisted of two purposively selected sub samples of 165 older persons for qualitative data and 50 key informants for quantitative data. The key informants were selected from Ministries of Gender, Labour and Social Development; Urban, Housing and Physical Planning; Agriculture; Health; Education and Sports, Public service, and nongovernmental organizations dealing with the older persons in Uganda. Data were collected using in depth interviews with older persons, self administered questionnaire to key informants and documentary review. The qualitative data was analyzed using content analysis including documentary review, while the quantitative data was analysed using the frequency option of the descriptive method of SPSS, and graphical method of the Excel programme. Results show that the living experiences of most of Uganda's older persons are characterised by pathetic economic, health, social, housing and accommodation, water supply, and sanitation conditions. The barriers to the effective participation of these people in society take the form of age-related prejudices, problems, and limitations faced at personal, household and community levels. They basically include constraints to the physical fitness, healthcare, economic status, food security and nutrition, and realization of accommodation and housing conditions desired by these people to live a life by which they can effectively participate in society. Other barriers include: large numbers of grandchildren most of whom are orphans left behind by the older person's children claimed by the HIV/AIDS pandemic and community members ignoring them as helpless people who have outlived their usefulness. Accordingly, the coping mechanisms used by these people were established as the psychological, physical, healthcare, and economic ways by which they deal with each of the aforementioned barriers. A review of development policies such as PEAP, PMA, NAADS, HIV/AIDS policies among others revealed that a number of policies and programs in Uganda exclude the older persons from active participation. Findings show further that though the extent to which the Constitution of Uganda government recognizes the plight of the older persons is appreciable, it is largely insufficiently translated into policy action by which the plight can be effectively addressed. A number of strategies were therefore proposed to help address this insufficiency, thereby solving the needs and attending to the barriers facing these people in an effective policy manner. The strategies focused on improving older persons' physical fitness, access to healthcare, economic capacity, food security and nutrition, and housing and accommodation. Other strategies focused on dealing with the impacts of HIV/AIDS and community prejudices held against older persons. The study was concluded by observing that although the quality of the living experiences of Uganda's older persons can be improved by dealing with the barriers faced by these people, the mechanisms that they use to do so are not adequate. It was also noted that there was need to translate the constitutionally recognised plight of the older persons into effective policy action. Consequently, it was recommended that the proposed policy strategies should be adopted and translated into the needed policy action. Further research was also recommended into the legal implications and funding implications of the proposed policy strategies.