A firsthand account: Social distancing in Tanzania
Theresia Christian is a Communications Officer for our in-country partner in Tanzania, HelpAge Tanzania. In this firsthand account, she writes about how coronavirus and social distancing measures are affecting older people there.
By April 29th Tanzania had reported 508 coronavirus (COVID-19) cases with most cases in Dar es Salaam. Dar es Salaam is usually regarded as the busiest city in the country. While there is no lockdown, people are taking preventive measures like staying at home as much as they can. Yet this is seen as a luxury because many rely on going out to work for daily wages for their everyday needs.
Older people are worried to go out and worried to stay home, because they will lack food. I remember seeing one older woman on TV news explaining how it took her 4 weeks to sell a sack of small sundried fish when it usually took her a week.
“I have four grandchildren to care for. I have stopped going to the fish market because customers keep decreasing as days go by. I am not sure what I will do to provide for me and my grandchildren”.
Because I cannot travel for my safety, I have been relying on phone calls. In one call with a partner organization in Mwanza, a colleague shared with me a story about an older couple who are living alone. He recalled them saying:
“We older people are very worried. The youth around tells us that this disease is for older people and that it is going to wipe us away”.
Fear and distress are not only felt among the older people in remote locations, who lack direct and proper information. I also hear statements such as “we older people are the target” in my conversations with some age care organisations.
Social distancing has been introduced to reduce the spread of coronavirus, but it is causing older people to be neglected. In an incidence in Simiyu, an older woman caring for her son’s children told our colleagues that her son took the children away from her and left her alone, because he believed that older people are the ones who suffer from COVID-19. Older people are experiencing more distress and fear since the spread of COVID-19 in different regions of the country.
Some older people fear going to hospital because they may be suspected of having COVID-19. One older man said
“I am usually coughing and with mild fever as I am always in pain in different parts of my body. If I feel sick, I cannot go to the hospital now. They will say I am infected with COVID-19. Because I have all the symptoms mentioned of COVID-19.”
At HelpAge Tanzania, we have supported 700 Home-based carers who visit homebound older people with different protective equipment such as masks, soap, and hand sanitizers. We have supported the district disaster management teams, trained our staff and some health care workers. Support from DFID-UK, Irish Aid, Jersey Overseas Aid and UNHCR have enabled us to respond to COVID-19 and support older people far and wide. But we need more funds to support our older people, many of whom lack the right information and protective equipment and experience high levels of neglect, abuse, stigma and ageism among society.
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Older people in the poorest parts of the world affected by conflict or living in refugee camps need help urgently to survive the silent threat of COVID-19.
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