Haiti / Covid-19: The elderly need us more than ever

8 April 2020
Covid-19: The elderly needs us more than ever

Port-au-Prince, April 8, 2020 --- Jeannine, 80, who lives in the north of Port-au-Prince was already cloistered at her daughter's, 50, only allowing herself a small daily nap on the gallery.

But since the arrival of Covid 19 in Haiti, she has limited her outings to the gallery, remaining confined to her room.

“I heard about the Corona. I am told that the elderly people are more vulnerable to the disease. So, I take the maximum of precaution. I stay in my room”.

The distress and fear that Jeannine experiences are no different from that of many seniors around the world, panicked by the idea that the pandemic is in the air, even avoiding venturing onto their balconies.

Jeannine knows the symptoms of the disease by heart, her daughter having explained them to her.

Symptoms may include fever, cough, and breath shortness. In the most severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia or difficulty breathing. More rarely, the disease can be fatal.

Also, Jeannine, she observes the basic hygiene rules recommended by the Ministry of Public Health and Population. "I wash my hands several times a day, I don't put my fingers in my nostrils, I sneeze at the elbow."

Jeannine is far better off than most of the elderly in Haiti, because her children work and provide for her needs.

In Haiti, there are 5 people aged 65 and over for every hundred members of the population. Their essential rights are struggling to be recognized, most of them remain exposed to financial insecurity or poverty.

The lack of social security increases the number of older workers on the labor market, especially in the informal economy. The scenes of octogenarians sitting in front of their small business, tracking buyers, in the hubbub of the capital, are not at all rare, added to this panorama elderly people indulging in begging.

Seniors are more vulnerable to Covid-19 due to physiological changes associated with aging, reduced immune function and multimorbidity. The World Health Organization (WHO), in a report published last February on the situation in China, demonstrated that patients who declared that they had no comorbidity had a mortality rate of 1.4%, while those with comorbidity had much higher rates: 13.2% for cardiovascular disease, 9.2% for diabetes, 8.4% for hypertension, 8.0% for chronic respiratory disease and 7.6 % for cancers ”. Haiti is facing an epidemic of chronic noncommunicable diseases. For example, more than 2 million Haitians suffer from high blood pressure.

"It is our duty to protect them by respecting the basic instructions of the Ministry of Public Health and Population so as not to endanger their lives," said a well-known Haitian singer in an awareness video produced by the UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. James Germain reminds us that we must not abandon them at a time when they need us most.

"Seniors are certainly the most exposed to the risk of COVID-19, but everyone must act to prevent the spread in the community", advises the World Health Organization (WHO). In this spirit, Heart-to-Heart International in partnership with UNFPA Haiti has deployed community health workers in "Marche La Coupe" (La Coupe market) in Pétion-Ville, in order to sensitize the merchants on the behaviors and good gestures to adopt to protect against the Covid-19. The said market has no less than 3000 sellers, 81.3% of whom are women.

According to the Executive Director of UNFPA, the global scourge of Covid-19 requires a global response. Dr. Natalia Kanem urges the international community to come to the aid of all those affected by the crisis: both those suffering from COVID-19 and those trapped in isolation, and who are deprived of services which they desperately need.

Story : Vario Sérant

Photo: Maxence Bradley