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The Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) and the Embassy of Italy in South Africa, held a virtual panel discussion on Social, Psychological and Health Impact of COVID-19 on the Elderly: South African and Italian Perspectives on 7 July 2020 as part of the ASSAf Embassy Series.

The elderly population has been included in the vulnerable population to the mental health risks of COVID-19. This group in our society is confronted with high rates of pre-existing depressive symptoms and the challenges of accessing mental health services. The elderly population has been reported to be more susceptible, especially those with underlying diseases, to COVID-19 infection and severe illnesses. Recent studies have showed a higher mortality of elderly patients with COVID-19 to those of young and middle-aged patients. The global distribution of deaths by age of the elderly and those with underlying co-morbidities ranges from 50 – 75% of the reported cases. To date, the South African Government has reported age distribution deaths of 54,9% for those who are 60 years and older. Italy has gone through a difficult period and has now seen a decrease in both infection and mortality amongst its citizens, while South Africa is beginning to see an increase in infection and mortality rates. This panel discussion explored the challenges confronting the elderly in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prof Jonathan Jansen, President, ASSAf and HE Mr Paolo Cuculi, Ambassador, Embassy of Italy in South Africa made the welcoming remarks and Prof Priscilla Reddy, Deputy Executive Director, HSRC, South Africa, moderated the event. The panellists were Prof Emanuele Nicastri, Scientific Director, Lazzaro Spallanzani National Institute for Infectious Diseases, Italy, Prof Ashraf Kagee, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa, Prof Fabrizia Lattanzio, Scientific Director of the National Institute for Health and Science on Aging, Italy and Prof Margie Schneider, University of Cape Town, South Africa.

The speakers made the following recommendations:

  • COVID-19 outbreak should be used as a model to build a new system to work with further outbreaks globally.
  • Attention should not only focus on the clinical characteristics of COVID-19 infection but also on using a comprehensive approach that takes different settings into account.
  • The emotional wellbeing of the elderly persons is neglected and require urgent attention. It is important to find ways to provide social, psychological and emotional support to the elderly.
  • Is it important to balance the risks and find a way to maximise prevention as well as wellbeing.

Access the full report Social, Psychological and Health Impact of Coronavirus Disease (Covid-19) on the Elderly: South African and Italian Perspectives