Dar es Salaam. Mzee Francis Kanyasu, alias Ngosha, died last week at the age of 86. At first, little was known about him; and by the time he shot into the limelight, Ngosha was already too ill to relish his moment of glory. It is said he is the “creator” of the national coat of arms.
He passed away at the Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH) on Tuesday, May 30 and was buried yesterday at Nange Village in Mwanza.
In his twilight years he was visibly frail, impoverished; and with no guaranteed access to healthcare—it is only his neighbours who would later come to his instant rescue when his health had acutely deteriorated.
His is a sad story relatable to those of a significant number of the aged population in Tanzania, and it comes amid a clamour from among stakeholders who have been advocating better living conditions and health care for the elderly.
Government statistics indicate that Tanzania has between 2.5 and 3 million elderly people. Mzee Kanyasu whose relatives showed up for burial arrangements last Friday, is part of a section of the elderly people who are yearning for the societal support.
At Buguruni Malapa suburb in Ilala District, was Ngosha’s Dar es Salaam home. He was living in a shack made of iron sheets. After his death, The Citizen went around looking for his relatives and neighbours at Buguruni Malapa. We learnt he had no known relatives in the city.
His shack was secured with a padlock by the time The Citizen camped at his home. Little was known about how earned his daily bread.
MNH was forced to use the media to call on Kanyasu’s relatives to show up and arrange his funeral.
Prior to his death, he left a message that his relatives should be contacted to decide where he would be buried. However, it also remains a mystery as of how he got to Dar es Salaam from Sengerema District in Mwanza Region where he is said to originate from.
Still, his story hasn’t been told, save for what is already in the public domain about his role in creating one of Tanzania’s most important identities—the national coat of arms.
One of his neighbours at Malapa, Mr Hamisi Seif, 53, says that when Kanyasu’s health started deteriorating, people in the neighbourhood rushed him to Amana Hospital in Dar es Salaam on May 25.
The government was jolted into action—especially after news began spreading like bush-fire in dry weather, that the ailing old man had been neglected despite his purported contribution in creating the national emblem.
“When the media reported about him, we saw the deputy minister of health coming to the hospital. He ordered Ngosha’s transfer to MNH because his condition was worsening,’’ said Mr Seif.
It now became clear, that he was in the hands of the authorities—after many years of perceived neglect.
On the Sunday preceding his death, President John Magufuli paid a visit to the sick at MNH and consoled Mzee Kanyasu.
“He has been receiving medical care since he arrived at the hospital. But his condition became worse (that night), the doctor’s efforts to save his life proved futile,” said the MNH executive director, Prof Lawrence Museru.
Clearly, were it not for his neighbours’ initial intervention and the media’s role in raising the profile of Mzee Kanyasu’s predicament, perhaps the story of his illness, lack of health care and eventual death; would have not have been told.
The old man’s story is one that highlights the plight of the elderly in Tanzania. It tells us—explicitly—that long lives are not necessarily the happy ones, and how the elderly men and women have continue to wallow in poverty, isolation and very little access to health care.
Ngosha’s case comes at a time when the government is boasting of having invested in the care of the elderly by passing a law that exempts them from paying at public health facilities.
However, during a recent Dar es Salaam conference organised by HelpAge, an organisation advocating the improvement of services for elderly, tales of elderly people who report to public health facilities and denied treatment cropped up.
Yet, the number of elderly people is increasing in Tanzania and beyond. There were around 378 million people aged 60-plus in 1980.Today the figure stands at 759 million, 10 per cent of the global population. By 2050 it is projected to almost triple—making older people around 21 per cent of the world’s population. Mr Alenziari Nyoni, in his 60s, a resident of Songea District, Ruvuma Region, says that the government’s decision to introduce a health exemption policy for the elderly actually means that elderly people are given priority at hospitals—and not necessarily getting the treatment they need.
“We have been getting assistance and support from health experts, but the disappointing thing is that when we are diagnosed, we are given prescription chits to go to private pharmacies and buy the medicine,” he said.
According to Executive Director of HelpAge International Tanzania Smart Daniel, most of the elderly, especially in developing countries, are looked after by their children but those who don’t have children are left to themselves.
HelpAge is working with the Economic and Social Research Foundation (ESRF) in facilitating a baseline survey that will show how the elderly in Tanzania can be helped through a Universal Social Pension (UNP). This, according to Mr Daniel, has helped to address the impact of the pension and better access to health for older people and their families in Zanzibar. The same can be applied for the elderly on the Mainland, he says.