Ms. Anna Russell is currently completing a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellowship through HelpAge USA, the U.S. headquarters of an international network of NGOs focused on including older people in international development and ensuring that they have access to emergency relief, income security, health services and basic human rights. Anna is also pursuing her MPH in Global Health Program Design, Monitoring, and Evaluation at George Washington University. In this blog post, she writes about her experiences as a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow with HelpAge, supporting the organization’s Health Outcomes Tool.
The Health Outcomes Tool: Making Older People Count
by Anna Russell
“How would you rate your health?”
“To what extent do you require support from other people?”
“During the past three months, how affordable was healthcare?”
These are all questions asked in the Health Outcomes Tool, a mixed-methods survey focused on older people’s quality of life in developing countries. The tool focuses on six main areas of concern for older people: qualitative experiences of health, functionality, dependence, self-care, health care, and a quantitative measurement of certain physical and mental functionalities. These are all areas that older people tend to experience differently than younger people. The tool not only provides validated quantitative data on the abilities of older people, but also includes context for the way older people experience their day-to-day lives.
HelpAge is an international NGO focused on assisting older people in humanitarian and development settings. The organization and its partners created the Health Outcomes Tool to shine a light on the perceived needs and barriers that are faced by this group. HelpAge has published an annual Global Age Watch Index since 2012, which uses publicly available data and information to rank countries based on the quality of life for older people. However, it was noticed that data for these rankings were usually incomplete or even nonexistent. Older people are often not counted in traditional monitoring systems, which typically stop data collection at age 49. They tend to have more health problems and less functionality than younger people but are invisible in most monitoring systems. The lack of data means that they are often not considered during the creation of global health programs. This group would benefit tremendously from health interventions, and collecting qualitative and quantitative data is a step in that direction. The Health Outcomes Tool has been implemented in four pilot countries: Bolivia, Colombia, India and Tanzania. The organization hopes to expand it to the Philippines.
(HelpAge staff and partners implement Health Outcomes Tool training in Ethiopia)
The good news is that the need for data on older people has just become part of a plan passed by the World Health Organization (WHO) at last week’s World Health Assembly. The Global Strategy and Action Plan on Ageing and Health – a follow up to the WHO’s report in 2015 on aging and health – includes 5 steps, one of which is to increase the data collection of older people’s health metrics. International commitment through the global strategy and resources like HelpAge’s Health Outcomes Tool will bring attention to the needs of older people. With this awareness, it will hopefully increase programmatic and technical support to those most vulnerable in the developing world.
I first learned about HelpAge at a global health policy event, and was intrigued by their work and the Health Outcomes Tool. I have always been fascinated by monitoring and evaluation systems and quickly learned that the tool fills a niche that otherwise had been ignored. Through my work as a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow, it has been truly valuable to see this work up close, and to work with HelpAge’s international partners on the effort. While currently small in scope, the Health Outcomes Tool is already assisting the organization to understand and better address the unique experiences of older people in developing countries. Through HelpAge’s tireless efforts in implementing this tool, older people are starting to be counted.
(Dr. Prakash Tyagi, Executive Director of HelpAge partner GRAVIS, performs a functionality test of an older man in Colombia)