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Old & disabled ignored

General elections in Pakistan are round the corner. Politicians and political parties are crying themselves hoarse promising change, an improved economic situation for the people, freedom from debt and slavery of the US and elimination of corruption.

I am not sure if all or even some of these promises will be kept by the party elected to power or by parliamentarians to make any dent in the quality of legislation or improvement in the lives of the common man. There is not even a promise to provide an opportunity of a better life for the aged and the disabled.

In most civilised countries care for elders or measures to meet the special needs of the disabled are provided as a matter of routine. The form of elderly care provided varies from nation to nation, and changes are made to the usual facilities to meet the special needs of senior citizens and ‘special’ people. Even within the same country, regional differences exist taking into consideration cultural and geographic differences.

Help may include residential family care homes, assisted living facilities, day care, long-term care, hospice and home care. A family care home is a residential home with support and supervisory personnel arranged by an individual or an organisation to provide room and board, personal care and rehabilitation services in a family environment to the inmates.

Traditionally, care for the elderly has been the responsibility of family members within the extended family system. Elders who no longer earn a living or are incapable of handling their physical needs are typically cared for. But with the gradual break-up of the joint-family system, the desire of younger members to live independently has become the order of the day.

With life expectancy rising, the number of elderly people in a family has gone up sharply with the result that the family budget is burdened with the cost of medicines, doctors’ fees and hospitalisation expenses. As a consequence, elder members of the family are reported to be in poor health and consequently inactive.

Care for elders includes meeting the social and personal requirements of those who may need special assistance with daily activities but who wish to lead their lives with dignity and honour without being wholly or even partially dependent upon others in the discharge of their daily activities. To achieve this objective the design of the housing, services, activities and training of worker support must be customer-centred.

Indeed, why just the aged and the elderly? The disabled are also in need of help. But how this is extended is the crux of the matter. Some years ago, a physically handicapped Pakistani student who was selected for graduate studies at Tufts University in the US was asked to submit a detailed description of his physical condition.

It came as some surprise to the young scholar that the apartment allotted to him was designed and equipped with facilities that made his movement inside it smooth and trouble-free. He was able to move around and use the facilities including the rest-room and a small kitchenette without any problem. In his hostel room in Faisalabad, he could not perform his normal tasks without the help of his room-mate.

But help and support inside a home are not enough. The elderly and handicapped have to be provided with facilities that would enable them to be mobile outside their homes without help and thus preserve their self-respect.

My young friend Asad Raza Khan who lived in Geneva for five years recalls with amazement the social support system that prevails in the tiny European city. The metro system, that connects every corner of Geneva, has special ramps for the aged and the disabled members of society to facilitate them during boarding and disembarkation. There are special seats for them on public transport.

There are separate queues and proper seating arrangements in government and public offices. As if this were not enough the state plans for expansion in all areas for the elderly are based on forecasted demographics. In Pakistan senior citizens are frequently made to stand in the harsh sun for their meagre pensions. Some have even collapsed and died in the process.

Even though the number of doctors and hospital beds in Switzerland far outstrip the number of patients there is still a strong emphasis on fitness and health programmes for the elderly. The government liaises with corporate organisations and private employers to ensure that the employee health programme is on their charter and no one, least of all the aged and the disabled, is denied prompt and high-quality healthcare. Few in our country have missed seeing two or even three patients placed on a single hospital bed with complete disregard for hygiene and risk of infection.

Impaired mobility is a major health concern for senior citizens affecting a large number of those above 80, or even 70, for that matter. Adults lose the ability to walk, to climb stairs or even to rise from their chairs as easily as they once could.

Yet, ironically, the Election Commission of Pakistan has disallowed people from using vehicles to the polling booths. Not infrequently, the polling room is located on the first or second floor in dilapidated schools or colleges where stairways are dicey and broken. However, if the political forces have nothing to offer to the aged and disabled, preventing this segment from casting its vote is not such a bad idea.

The writer is a freelance contributor

Anwar Abbas, "Old & disabled ignored," Dawn. 2013-04-30.
Keywords: Social sciences , Elections-Pakistan , Political parties , Election commission-Pakistan , Society-Pakistan , Corruption , Social issues , Economic issues , Asad Raza Khan , Pakistan , United States , Geneva