Cuba’s active elderly undeterred by coronavirus

by Moises Avila

The elderly are the most vulnerable demographic to the deadly coronavirus pandemic but in Cuba, despite food shortages and widespread poverty, many senior citizens are still out and about, mainly undeterred.

“Who’s old?” jokes 85-year-old Caren More, who lives with her sister Olga, 74, and brother William, 71, in a modest home in Havana.

All three suffer from various stages of senile dementia and are among the substantial elderly population on the island nation of 11 million.

“Age is a risk factor with this illness… Our population has been aging,” said Francisco Duran, the director of epidemiology at the health ministry.

“There are provinces and municipalities with an (average) age group over 60, it’s high and they have to be protected.”

Of the more than 2,100 people infected in Cuba, 63.7 percent were elderly. Meanwhile, 80.7 percent of the country’s 83 deaths occurred in people over 80 years old.

Cuba has one of the largest proportions of the elderly in the region.

Most of the country’s older citizens have to make do with a pension worth $10 and must rely on help from family members, although health care is free and medicine is cheap.

Other seniors live alone or in shelters. They have a monthly food portion but it’s not enough.

Havana’s El Vedado municipality has the highest average age in the country.

It’s where 31-year-old musician Degnis Bofill lives. He’s part of the Corona Volunteers group that helps at-risk people, such as Caren More and her siblings, whom he brings food.

“It’s about them not being alone,” he said.

“Old people in Cuba are very strong. Sometimes when I’m buying food I meet old people in the queue who say to me: I’m not going to stay at my house because if I do, how am I going to eat?” Bofill said.

Olga More echoed the same sentiment: “We feel fine, and with all the companions and friends who come to this modest house to visit us, what more could we ask for?” (AFP)