Although the proportion of older people in lower and middle-income (LMIC) countries is still lower than in wealthier countries, increasing longevity and decreasing fertility rates in these regions is resulting in rapid population ageing. According to the United Nations’ most recent population predictions, two-thirds of the world’s elderly live in LMICs and it is expected that this proportion will reach 71% by 2050. Despite its still relatively youthful population, it is expected that the size of Africa’s elderly population will triple from 46 million in 2015 to 157 million by 2030. 

South Africa has the highest percentage of old people in the African region (8%). The number of people over 60 have increased from from 2.8 million in 1996 to 4.1 million in 2011 and it is expected that this number will reach 15.4 million by 2030. 

This growing population of older people presents a significant challenge to health and welfare systems, which are poorly equipped to deal with the needs of older people. Health systems in particular have neglected the needs of older people, having been hitherto focused on younger populations and communicable diseases, particularly in countries heavily affected by the HIV epidemic like South Africa. Older people are more likely to have complex multi-system and chronic problems, which require comprehensive assessment and multi-disciplinary interventions, thus challenging under-resourced health systems. As a result, older people often receive poor quality care, particularly at the primary care level. 

In order to develop appropriate, evidence-based policy and health systems interventions in South Africa, significantly more research is needed on disease, disability and health risks in the elderly population, as well as their health and mental health needs and existing care gaps. 

The Samson Institute for Ageing Research, was founded to address these knowledge gaps. SIFAR is a registered Non Profit Organisation. In 2016, it received an initial funding grant for five years from a private charitable trust, the Samson Family Foundation. 

SIFAR began operating in November 2016 and is working to establish linkages with local & international academic institutions in order to conduct research, share resources and develop materials for training and practice.