Speech - Dr Stephen Gatt

Dr Stephen Gatt is a highly qualified Maltese in the medical field and occupies a key place in several health departments in Australia. He produced an excellent report on the general demographic situation in New South Wales, Australia, with particular emphasis on the Maltese population of the area. This was based on the studies carried out during the International Year of Older Persons held in 1999. The detailed technical statistics he provided are of great interest, and these can be simplified as follows:

  • An "elderly persons explosion" is described in the phenomenon of recent decades, and this will affect the world in the next fifty years.
  • This seems to be manifested on a larger scale among the immigrant ethnic population of the late 1940s to mid 1960s from Malta to Australia, Canada, and U.S.A. (The UK does not provide such statistics as yet).

    During the four hundred years between 1540 and 1940 the percentage of elderly population changed only a little, from 5 to 8 per cent. This means that for centuries there were few old people around.

  • We are in the middle of a rapid change, which began in around 1930 and will last for another thirty years from now.
  • Provision of services to the aged must take into consideration the number of elderly people from immigrant communities.
  • Life expectancy continues to rise at a steady (alarmingly?) rate. The estimated average fife span for men is 75 years, and for women 81 years.
  • Women live longer than men, and the Maltese live longer, are healthier, live in better conditions and with more access to resources. Most live in the community and few are those who live in institutions.
  • The problem with elderly arises when there is lack of attention by relatives. Many experience neglect, isolation, boredom, and even deprivation.
  • A high percentage exists of uneducated and academically unqualified Maltese migrants, which can contribute to bitter experiences in later years when elderly. Language difficulties can be the major problem.

Taking into consideration the above factors, Dr Gatt urged that the Convention should affirm that older Maltese Citizens are entitled to ethnically-appropriate services for the elderly, with adequate advice delivered in the language they understand, and most of all, the offer of services specifically suitable to meet the needs of the elderly Maltese people. The Maltese Government must be actively involved in providing them with ongoing support to meet all the aspects of their social and cultural life. He suggested that:

  1. The bilateral agreements between Malta and other countries should be expanded;
  2. Facilitate the return of Maltese elderly citizens to Malta;
  3. Create services in Malta to meet the needs of the returned emigrants; and
  4. Send qualified social workers and welfare officers to provide rehabilitation services to elderly Maltese citizens abroad.

For this purpose the Church too must endeavour to use its clerical resources to stay close to the old folk. The best respect demonstrated towards the elderly can come from volunteers who will have greater concern for the plight of the ageing Maltese community. After all, what everyone is taught to show from a young age is reverence to those who loved and cared for them as children under the given order to "honour thy mother and father" in their old age.

Source: 'Malta' - Maltese Culture Movement, Issues 4,5,6, 2000.

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