Health and social services utilisation is seen to be more closely related to age than to other socio-demographic characteristics. Many health problems are known to increase with age and this demographic trend may lead to an increase in the absolute number of health conditions in this population. However, questions are still emerging as to how the elderly seek care in response to their needs in the context of a war-torn region.
The aim of this study was to determine the behaviour of the elderly in seeking care during a time of conflict.
A descriptive cross-sectional study was carried out in the health district Goma, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), using a multistage sampling of 500 senior citizens. Eight trained field-workers were deployed in the field where they administered a structured questionnaire.
The public health sector was well known and preferred by 186 participants (37.2%), but only used by 16 (3.2%) participants. Financial support received by the elderly came from their own relatives and fellow believers in 33.5% and 20.2% of cases, respectively. Almost 71% of monetary support is the result of begging and unknown sources – there is no government involvement whatsoever. Much of the external support that the elderly receive involves support in the form of food. Disease expenses remain a main concern of the elderly themselves.
Government support for the elderly in the DRC is non-existent. There is an overuse of private sector and traditional medicine, despite the preference indicated for the public health sector. As a recommendation, a general increase in income-related activities could contribute to alleviating the health state of the elderly in a war situation. Further studies might explore in future the contribution of those results on the health of elders.