‘The elderly plays a critical role in the fabric of society’ – Mkhize explains the longevity dividend in a South African context

Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize says the epidemiology of ageing demands that society approaches public health care and fiscal policies differently such that we derive the most out of a rising population of older persons.

Mkhize was on Monday speaking in a webinar hosted by the International Longevity Centre on the launch of their flagship report, ‘Healthy Equals Wealthy: The Global Longevity Dividend’.

Mkhize argued that that the longevity dividend has always been well appreciated in African antiquity, and that older persons play a critical role in the social fabric of our society, including their direct and indirect economic contributions.

He said that in South Africa specifically, the historical legacy of high labour migration and non-marital childbearing has for a long time made many grandparents to be the primary caregivers of their grandchildren.

This was later to be exacerbated by the HIV epidemic which resulted in the upsurge of adult morbidity and mortality, he said.

“The Statistics South Africa 2018 report on Grandparenthood presents a revelatory study that shows that our thinking around an aging population is premised on theoretical prepositions that are not based on reality. The household headship by grandparents remained largely unchanged, at around 12% per cent across censuses of 1996, 2001 and 2011. 12% cannot be ignored by the economy,” Mkhize said.

“So the question should not be whether we should be investing into health to deliver on our mandate of a long and healthy life for all, as we have promised our people here in South Africa, but what we should be investing in to not only promote longevity but mitigate against the effects of aging.”

Mkhize said the rollout of Universal Health Coverage is of utmost importance.

“Indeed as we fought COVID-19, South Africa has taken opportunities in practice to begin implementing the tenets of our National Health Insurance, the instrument by which we will roll out Universal Health Coverage,” he said.

“Fundamental to attaining UHC is a strong primary health care system that ensures optimal access to health care for communities. Integral to PHC is the promotion of preventative health strategies such as good nutrition, enabling environments for exercise and recreation, and creating awareness and motivation for proactive screening and testing of common non-communicable diseases.

It is clear that there needs for policy reform that are cross cutting the various sectors in society and departments in government: that being, inter alia, health; finance; social development; education; trade and industry; labour; science and innovation.”