As populations age, countries around the globe are beginning to focus attention on unpaid caregivers. Such people typically spend hours each day bathing, feeding, and helping an elderly or disabled relative. Often, they undermine their own health and career to take care of a loved one.
Now, an initiative launched a year ago by the healthcare business of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, (which operates its businesses as EMD Serono, MilliporeSigma and EMD Performance Materials in the US and Canada) to help improve the situation of such caregivers is being welcomed as timely and useful.
Under the initiative, Embracing Carers, The company is funding research and information campaigns as well as convening major caregivers’ organisations to exchange ideas and best national practices.
The intention, according to a press release from the company, is to “elevate caregiving as a global public health priority”.
In launching the initiative, Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany said that too little was being done to support caregivers’ health and well-being.
The company released a survey of over 3,000 unpaid caregivers across seven countries (Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom, United States). The poll found high levels of impact on caregivers’ health and careers.
Some 55% of those surveyed reported their physical health had suffered from their role as a caregiver. Almost the same number said they don’t have time for their own medical appointments, while 57% felt they needed care or support for a mental health problem due to being a caregiver (such as depression, anxiety or stress), but nearly half of them (25% of the total) had not sought medical help.
Meanwhile, 21% felt their careers had been negatively affected by their caregiver role, with 12% reporting they had to give up their job.
Experts say the role of such unpaid carers is only growing as countries across the globe face both increasing demands for care for ageing populations and a decline of the large families that traditionally provided such care.
Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany’s initiative is aimed at supporting global collaboration among carers’ organisations to raise the visibility of unpaid carers, support initiatives on their behalf, and lobby for national laws and practices to support them.
Policies that advocates say are especially important to fight for include flexible work hours and paid or unpaid leave to help carers juggle care and work, stipends for carers since the hours spent helping a loved one often reduces their earnings, and day centres or home aides to give caregivers regular breaks.
Projects funded under the initiative include a toolkit created by the International Alliance of Carer Organisations (IACO) to aid in the creation of carer organisations in countries where none exist.
The toolkit covers a wide range of topics drawing on the expertise of the carer NGOs in the IACO member nations and other global examples. It includes guidance in starting a national carer organisation, helping young and rural carers, and assessment of carer needs.
Meanwhile, a global social media campaign to raise the profile of caregivers is about to be launched under the name “By Day, By Night.” New multi-media campaigns in the United States to educate and support caregivers have also been funded, created by the American Cancer Society and Can Do Multiple Sclerosis, an MS support group.
Scott Williams, co-lead of Embracing Carers, said the company spent many months consulting with health advocates before it decided to create the initiative. Williams, a vice president of EMD Serono, has himself been caring for his ailing mother for two decades.
Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany’s efforts to bring together organisations to exchange ideas and coordinate internationally are especially valued, experts say.
“The initiative is really important in facilitating dialogue between [caregiver organisations in different] countries,” said Emily Holzhausen, Director of Policy and Public Affairs at Carers UK, the oldest carers’ organisation, established in 1965, and one of nine such organisations that are official collaborators of Embracing Carers.
“We all have different systems and social assistance programmes, but the core experience of carers around the globe is very similar.”
Dr. Anil Patil, founder and executive director of Carers Worldwide, a London-based group currently working in India, Nepal and Bangladesh, and another of the initiative’s collaborators, said the research and support Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany is providing is having an impact. “I’m really pleasantly surprised with their commitment.”
Carers Worldwide head Dr. Patil, a veterinarian by profession, said the importance of unpaid carers is exploding in the developing world. “During the last 15-20 years the traditional model of large and extended families is eroding faster than could have been expected.” He added the problem is particularly acute in rural areas.
Dr. Patil said Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany’s initiative addresses a real need. “Up to now, they have been focusing on the patient. It is wonderful they are now looking at improving the situation of caregivers as well.” — Burton Bollag
This article has been amended to clarify the full name of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, and to remove a reference to an unrelated American company with a similar name.
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