Duarte de la Rosa, Special correspondent
WHILE aging is a natural phenomenon,
the perception of age is also related to bio-psychic
and socioeconomic factors. For any society seeking
the prolongation of life in conditions of well-being,
heath care for older adults is a major aspect.
A gradual increase in senior
citizens is a visible process in the world
population, brought about by a sustained decrease in
fertility rates and extended life expectancy.
However, in Latin American and Caribbean countries
demographic patters vary as the result of unequal
population structures. In the evolutionary context,
groups with better conditions have a higher life
expectancy rate and are able to control fertility,
while the poor, with lower educational levels and in
the main resident in rural areas, have high
fertility and mortality rates.
With a high percentage of its
population living below the poverty line, Haiti has
an average fertility rate of four-plus children per
woman, one of the highest in Latin America.
According to UNICEF statistics, approximately two
thirds of the population live in rural areas and
life expectancy, which stood at 37 years in the
early 1950s, currently fluctuates around 58 years of
In the country, mortality patterns
in older adults, who represent 3.9% of the
population, record infectious and acute degenerative
disease, hypertension and heart disease. Most adults
do not complete elementary education and live, like
other inhabitants, without access to basic medical
Institutionalization in senior
citizens’ homes, treatment programs or primary
medical attention for improving quality of life are
virtually nonexistent. The Ministry of Public Health
does not have articulated policies for providing
protection, health security and specialized services
for the elderly.
Due to high unemployment, few
persons receive retirement pensions and it is
commonplace for the majority, even persons aged over
70 years, to continue working in order to subsist.
Others, victims of discrimination in terms of age
and resigned to their comparative disadvantage in
relation to younger citizens, stop working and are
forced to beg.
"The situation of the elderly in
Haiti is delicate, hardly anyone has family or state
support and their quality of life is very bad,"
explains Cuban doctor Isel Fresnego who, together
with nurse José Raúl Cedeño, has created a senior
citizens’ club in Mont Organicé, a remote mountain
commune in the country’s Nord Est department.
"We are trying to improve their
quality of life, based on our community work
experience in Cuba. However, making these links has
been difficult because they are not used to
receiving this kind of help, but little by little we
are seeing results; we began with one person and now
we have 15."
The specialist notes that, given the
lack of specific health programs, it is important to
educate elderly Haitians on diet, what they can and
cannot eat, and teach them how to avoid certain
disorders. "There is still a lot to do in relation
to health and quality of life for the third age,"
It is a fact that older adults in
Haiti are in a highly unfavorable situation.
Moreover, their poverty levels are below that of the
rest of the population. Beyond the heterogeneity of
situations related to the vulnerability of age,
actions of support, sustenance and the development
of concrete policies are needed in terms of
attention for the aged. Until this is the case,
Haitians approaching old age cannot count on any
expectation of enjoying a long life in good health.