Challenges of an ageing population

Syed Tashfin Chowdhury | Published: September 08, 2018 21:25:34 | Updated: September 11, 2018 21:09:05

The life expectancy of Bangladeshis is increasing at a steady pace every year. Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics' report titled 'Report on Bangladesh Sample Vital Statistics 2017' published in June this year, has revealed that average life expectancy of Bangladeshis at birth rose to 72 years, up from 71.6 years in 2016.

For 81.4 million males in the country, life expectancy has increased to 70.6 years in 2017, from 70.3 years in 2016. Life expectancy, for nearly 81.3 million females, has seen a better increase to 73.5 years, from 72.9 years in 2016.

Medical professionals have explained out that the increase can be attributed to the drop in infant mortality rate. Also, Bangladesh now has the means to treat many critical diseases, allowing survival rate of senior citizens to increase in the country.

The life expectancy for Bangladeshis has continued to rise over the years. According to statistics of the World Health Organisation, the average life expectancy in Bangladesh was 47.52 years in 1970, 48.87 years in 1975, 55.24 years in 1980, 56.95 years in 1985, 59.47 years in 1990, 62.12 years in 1995, 65.35 years in 2000, 67.97 years in 2005, 70.08 years in 2010. Over the past seven years, the increase in life expectancy has been around 0.27 per year on average. 

Bangladesh is currently faring better than other South Asian countries. Nepal, Pakistan, India and Myanmar have average life expectancies of 69.20, 66.38,  68.30  and 66.04 years, respectively.

Average life expectancy in Bangladesh continues to increase, thanks to increased exposure to health-related information in public and private medical facilities, the internet, on electronic and print media and other sources. Also, middle-aged and young people are more focussed about their fitness, nutrition and diet.

Gone are the days when a chest pain or an unnatural mole on any part of the body was largely overlooked. Regular and annual medical checkups are encouraged and offered by private and public health facilities in the country. Also, midlevel and upper income households can now afford to go to neighbouring countries or to Southeast Asian countries to seek treatment.

There is also the fact that the rate of introduction of recently launched international healthcare machineries, equipment and practices is higher in the country now than ever before. Internationally, almost every month, scientists are making breakthroughs in organ and tissue rejuvenation under the field of regenerative medicine. Scientists are also researching in the field of genetics to understand how blocking certain activities of some genes can expand lifespan. Most of these projects are scheduled to be complete by 2020, paving the way for anti-aging treatment and medicines by 2025.

Under these circumstances, as the life expectancy in the country will continue to increase, a new challenge will be faced by policy-makers of the country: dealing with an ageing population. In about a decade from now, Bangladesh is likely to face the same problems, currently being faced by Japan, Singapore, Australia and many Scandinavian countries.

The primary problem is the decline in working age population. With more people aged 65 years and up, shortage of qualified workers will increase making it difficult for businesses and factories to thrive. As a result, the economy will face lower productivity, decline in business expansion, higher labour costs, decreased international competitiveness and more. To tackle these problems, most of the above mentioned countries had to seek skilled immigrants from other countries.

A study, conducted by the University of Kent's School of Economics in 2016, analysed the effects of projected population ageing on potential growth in Asian economies over the period 2015-2050. The study revealed that a rapidly ageing population will also increase government consumption through increase in demand for healthcare services. The study predicted that increase in government consumption can lead to a lower productivity that will eventually reduce annual per capita gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate by 0.40 percentage points.

Most Scandinavian countries with ageing population are also getting lower tax revenues, as dependency ratio continues to increase. Some countries with more elderly citizens are considering the move of increasing retirement age. If such steps are taken, it can ensure some tax revenue. But it will also mean increased unemployment among young citizens.

As Bangladesh moves towards its vision of becoming a middle income country by 2021, the challenges of dealing with an ageing population will be even greater. Policy-makers need to strategise from now and come up with solutions that can address the issue effectively in the long run.


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