Population Aging

How Have Southeast Asia Countries Prepared for the Aging Tsunami?

The world’s unprecedented growth of aging population in dramatic. Projections in Asia point out an increase in older population between 22% and 27% in three decades. Older adults aged 65 and over in Japan will grow up to 36.5% of the total population in 2050. Hong Kong will hit 35.5%, Singapore 28.9%, South Korea 34.9%, China 23.9%, Indonesia 15.8% and India 12.7%. However, developing countries will expect the most rapid growth, quadrupling in the next 50 years. Fulfilling the demand for social policies to support the population must be greatly challenged by economic struggles.

An alarming population aging could be indicated in three developing countries in Southeast Asia (SEA). Cambodia’s older population will hit 19% (3.6 million) in 2050, but, those in Vietnam and Myanmar will grow to a walloping 24.5% (13.5 million) and 30.8% (32 million), respectively. This demographic transformation is, without a doubt, one of the biggest achievements in social development and political stability in these economically emerging SEA nations. Yet, the question is: how have these countries prepared for their older people?

This question requires a recall of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA) in 2002, a milestone initiative for population aging.  The Plan of Action proposes three priority directions, namely 1) older persons and development; advancing health and wellbeing into old age; and 3) ensuring enabling and supportive environments. All the three countries above are signatory to MIPAA.

Cambodia has rather prepared for aging population. The National Policy for the Elderly, established in 2003 in response to MIPAA, highlights support for older people in social, health and economic sectors. On paper, the policy is claimed to offer technical trainings for health-care staff on geriatric care and comprehensive mental health-care services for older people. In practice, no tangible action plan on health-care has been initiated yet. It is evident, according to World Bank, as Cambodians’ out-of-pocket health expenditure is more than 90% since early 2000.

Furthermore, the Health Sector Strategic Plan 2008-2015 was established, as the country adopted a National Policy on the Health Care for Elderly and Disabled People in 1999, to combat non-communicable diseases (NCD). Yet, NCD is still an attention-seeking health issue for poor older Cambodians due to a lack of awareness of social benefits (i.e., the ID Poor Card) to which they are entitled. The nation has no universal pension policy; only former government officers and veterans get a small amount of pension.  In practice, Cambodia has done very little to make older Cambodians aware of pension benefits, which is accessed by only 5%

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