Take 5: Conversation with Gloria Langat on Aging and Development with a focus on care work

May 8, 2023

Dr. Gloria Langat, head of the Aging and Development in the Population Dynamics and Urbanization theme at the Center spoke to Florence Sipalla about her work in Aging and Development, with a focus on the unit’s signature issue on long term care for older persons. Gloria gave a quick overview of her education background and how an internship as a field worker sparked her interest in research that led her into her line of work.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself (Could capture your history at the Center)

My interest in research started when I was halfway through my Bachelor’s degree when we had a long recess at the University and I opted to look for an internship opportunity. Luckily, the National Council for Population and Development in Kenya was hiring temporary fieldworkers to conduct the repeat cross-sectional Demographic and Health Surveys.

My interest in demography started and upon completing my Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Geography from Kenyatta University, I immediately started a Master’s degree in Population Studies at the University of Nairobi which then landed me the research traineeship programme at APHRC. After the program, I went to pursue a PhD in Social Statistics and Demography at the University of Southampton (UK). I did my postdoctoral fellowship at Southampton sponsored by the British Academy and joined the Faculty rising through the ranks to Associate Professor before returning to APHRC as a Research Scientist to lead the Aging and Development Unit.

2. What motivated you to develop an interest in gerontology and what insights have you gained from your years of study and research work in the field?

My interest in gerontology, which is the study of the biological, social and psychological aspects of ageing, was accidental as my early research was on child health and adolescents transition to adulthood. The focus of population and health research then, and is still the case now, was driven by the high fertility and infant mortality in Africa. During the 90s and early 2000s at the peak of the HIV and AIDS pandemic, a greater share of research was to understand the impact of HIV/AIDS on society. Older people emerged as those indirectly affected and impacted through their role as caregivers for orphans and vulnerable children and those infected with HIV and AIDS. My research and interest in gerontology then grew to include aspects of sexuality, relationships and sexual health of older people, living arrangements and intergenerational exchange, migration and ageing in urban informal settlements, health and social protection. What has emerged quite clearly over the years is how gerontology is so multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary from economics, to biology, sociology, social work, health, business, political science and so on.

3. What kind of research does the Aging and Development Unit focus on and how does it speak to the signature issues as articulated in the Center’s current strategic plan?

The signature issue for the Aging and Development Unit (ADU) is to advance evidence around long-term care (LTC) for older people in Africa. Long-term care is the health, social, instrumental and personal care offered to those no longer able to live independently without the support of others. The primary research focus for the Aging and Development Unit is therefore to understand the dynamics of formal and informal LTC systems in Africa, the patterns, trajectories, challenges and the emerging forms or models of care in Africa. The current strategic plan emphasises the need for sustained policy engagement in order to influence policy and transform lives, we therefore work very closely with stakeholders and policymakers to ensure co-design and co-generation of knowledge for better uptake and evidence informed decision making.

4. Many of us hope to live to a ripe old age and are perhaps in the sandwich generation, taking care of older parents and children. How does the work in the Aging and Development Unit speak to this population?

The importance of understanding care through a life course perspective influences our work on long term care. It is all about timing and the different trajectories and experiences across and between different generations. The models of care both for children and for older persons are evolving and the care experiences of our parents will be completely different from the care experience of the current sandwich generation. Care is and will continue to be provided largely by the family however with more women participating in the labourforce, there is need for transformative care systems that take into account changes in family systems, declining family sizes, increasing median age of child bearing and changes in living arrangements.

5. In many parts of the African continent, care for children and for older persons is still largely informal. Why is it important to change this on a practical and policy level?

There is a need as well as demand for professional quality care, therefore it is crucial to build a care workforce by formalising care and domestic work through training and skills development. Quality care provided to children at the early ages enhances their physical and cognitive development leading to a productive and strong human capital necessary for economic advancement. Further, quality care for persons with disability and those unable to live independently enhances their potential and intrinsic capacity. Evidence exists which shows that having a trained workforce providing care for older people in need of long term care reduces frequency of hospitalisations, delays transfer to institutional care and reduces the incidence of secondary health problems ultimately improving the quality of life and wellbeing of those receiving care.