Access to Information and Implications for Healthy Ageing in Africa: Challenges and Strategies for Public Libraries.

Author:Ezema, Ifeanyi J.


Since the past decades, the efforts to achieve health for all coupled with improvement in living standards have raised life expectancy in many parts of the world. The causes of this increase in life expectancy are very obvious. Inclusive efforts and the attention given to health issues by the United Nations Organizations and her agencies, several research in pure and social sciences, genetic engineering, etc have enormously helped to push up the global healthy ageing and old age thereby, increasing life expectancy in different places.

Healthy ageing and old age have to do with a gradual but a steady movement toward ageing devoid of acute health challenges. This means paying requisite attention to the health of all the individuals at different stages of life. It is not really waiting for people to get old before giving health care. Rather, it involves getting old and yet being active and striving to attain some goals so as to counterbalance the physical losses that are associated with ageing and old age. While everybody aspires to be old, the desire to grow towards it in a healthy body and soul is very critical to national development. Its advances actually offer unprecedented demographic and epidemiological changes whose consequences are very glaring.

Research available and World Development Indicator have shown that in places like China, Japan and other industrialized countries, life expectancy and healthy ageing have become apparent and tremendous. Their governments have instituted and implemented policies that protect the rights of the elderly and cater for their healthy ageing. In Africa South of the Sahara, where old age is respected and seen as a treasure, this level of life expectancy and healthy old age are yet to be attained. Though several health related variables such as inadequate health facilities, poor environmental health conditions, growing increase in preventable diseases among others contribute in many ways in the low life expectancy and unhealthy ageing, observations have shown that illiteracy and inadequate health information dissemination inhibit the attainment of increased life expectancy and healthy ageing in Africa. The belief is that adequate health information services could to a large extent increase life expectancy and healthy aging in Africa. Regrettably, it appears that little or no attention is paid to the provision of timely and adequate health information services that will guide the people on healthy living habits which will translate to healthy aging and increased life expectancy like the industrialized countries. The reason for this is that public library services which are central in the provision of such information are not well developed or entirely absent in most African countries. If Africans would strive alongside with other continents and be able to attain the level which those continents have reached in achieving healthy old age for their populace, all the public libraries in Africa must brace up for the future. The purpose of this paper is to highlight the role of public libraries in enhancing healthy old age, detect impediments to role actualization and recommend solutions. In order to achieve these, the paper is designed under the following sub headings:

  1. Health challenges in Africa

  2. Issues in healthy ageing

  3. Challenges of Healthy Ageing in Africa

  4. Access to information and healthy ageing in Africa

  5. Implications for public libraries

  6. Strategies for Health Information Provision

  7. Conclusions

Health Challenges in Africa

In all ages and among all people worldwide, governments, institutions, and organizations have placed a lot of emphasis on the longevity of life and the health needs of the people. In some few African countries, this emphasis has shown itself in the efforts to provide free medical services designed to upgrade and sustain the good health of the citizens. Good health means that people remained healthy, have free access to effective and efficient health care, better nutrition, improved living conditions, useful health information and absence of avoidable premature deaths. However, in many other countries corrupt and sharp practices of government officials impede the expected growth in the health system. This increases the health challenges in these countries.

In order to strengthen African health system, African Union developed African health strategy: 2007-2015 in line with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) so as to decrease disease burden through improved resources, systems, policies and management (African Union, 2007). The AU noted with regret the ravaging effects of the triple burden namely; communicable and non communicable diseases, injury and trauma which continue to deplete African population continuously. Women and children remain the greatest victims of this burden with 4.8 million children dying annually while maternal mortality also takes its toll (African Union, 2007). The African health strategy placed the health sector in the fore front of the efforts to advance women's participation since they constitute majority of the care givers in health facilities and the family.

Many national governments, organizations and individuals are assiduously researching and working towards the articulation of the processes of delaying untimely ageing, which comes as a result of hardship and sicknesses. These processes entail the determination of approaches to the prevention of disabilities through quality health care delivery and improvements of the socio-economic conditions of the citizens to reduce incidences of diseases which will by extension minimize the cost of health care delivery and promote productivity. Life expectancy will also be enhanced and a healthier and more productive population obtained. However, in many African countries the health situation is such that many die annually as a result of preventable diseases, poor health facilities, inadequate trained health personnel, lack of the required drugs and access to health information. This has resulted in low life expectancy of African countries in comparison with other parts of the world as can be seen in tables 1 and 2.

It has been argued that health information and adequate health statistics will go a long way in improving the health conditions of many African countries. The World Health Organization (2011) noted that "basic data and statistics are at the core of all health systems. Without them, it would be impossible to analyze evidence and extract action-orientated knowledge for decision making." The provision of access to health information to health workers and other members of the society accounts for the reason behind WHO initiative to develop an African Health Observatory and national health observatories aimed at narrowing the knowledge gap and strengthen health systems in the African Region by providing easy access to high quality information, evidence and knowledge, as well as facilitate their use for policy and decision making (WHO, 2011).

This report (WHO, 2011) provides glaring evidences of embarrassing health conditions of African countries when compared with the overall global indicators. Cooke (2009) captured the health conditions in Africa in these words "Nowhere are global health challenges more acute than in Sub-Saharan Africa. With just 13 percent of the world's population, this region carries 24 percent of the global burden of diseases." p.1 These conditions result from high rate of poverty, underdevelopment, failure of public health system, corrupt government official and lack of social security in the counties.

The implication of this is that preventable diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis among others couple with the ravaging effects of HIV pandemic are taking their toll on countries of Africa. Cook lamented that while tuberculosis and malaria have attracted global attention, other tropical diseases such as vector-borne protozoan infections, bacterial infections and parasitic worms are neglected resulting in preventable deaths in many African countries.

Healthy ageing require improved health care and medical services to the citizen. However, evidences abound showing that health services in developing countries particularly Sub-Saharan African countries are yet to provide good health care to their teaming population which results in very low life expectancy when compared with other countries. Health indicators from World Bank provide a vivid picture of inadequacies of the health and medical services available in these countries as can be seen in table 3.

Issues in healthy ageing

Healthy ageing is evidenced in the steady rise in the number of children who reach adulthood and adults who reach old age, yet enjoying very good health. The meaning and the on-set of old age is usually determined according to cultures. However, the United Nations at its First World Assembly on Ageing chose 60 years as the beginning point of old age. Healthy ageing therefore means that few people die in all ages, and the surviving number reach old age in good health, continues to enjoy living, and contributes to the happiness of others.

When the young and the adults advance towards old age in good health bereft of physical difficulties and diseases, healthy ageing results. In his definition of healthy ageing, Baltes (1997) observed that rather than taking it to mean the avoidance of the problems that come with age, it implies continually striving to maximize health gains and minimize health losses. Ageing is a progressive loss of adaptability with the passage of time so that individuals are less and less able to react adequately to the challenges from both external and internal environment (Bujari, 2004). As a biological process, ageing is inevitable and irreversible. Healthy ageing is a lifelong process of optimizing opportunities for improving and preserving health and physical, social and mental wellbeing, independence, quality of life and...

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