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Senior citizens in a sorry plight

Rahman Jahangir | Published: December 26, 2015 22:20:14 | Updated: October 24, 2017 00:39:21


Many good decisions of the government remain confined in official files and the execution of many others progress at a snail's pace. Sometimes even snails move faster! A cabinet meeting, with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the chair, approved the draft National Policy on Elderly People on November 17, 2013. The draft policy seeks to ensure that the elderly people, who have contributed to the development of the country, may pass the remaining days of their lives without much worries. Two years have already passed but little is known what the implementing ministry, the Ministry of Social Welfare, has so far done.   
As indications have it, the ministry is proceeding very slowly with the execution of the draft policy. The secretary of the ministry Tariq-ul Islam told this writer last week that his ministry was in the process of full implementation of the National Policy. But then, the ministry is yet to prepare a full picture of what it is really doing nor is there any official briefing or any media focus in this regard. 
The draft policy recognises people aged 60 years or above as senior citizens. In developed countries, people aged 65 years or above are considered as the elderly while the UN policy recognises those who are 60 or above as elderly people. Bangladesh has accepted the UN standard.
Bangladesh has already introduced allowances and welfare programmes for old people who are insolvent, and the new policy will add more steps to ensure a better living of the senior citizens. Provisions of the draft policy include ensuring dignified, poverty-free, healthy and safe social life for the elderly people, providing them with ID cards, health cards, and reserved seats, at reduced rates of fare, during their travel in buses, trains, steamers, mono rails. Old homes would be established. Health-care access vouchers, health service cards and savings schemes would be introduced. The private sector would be encouraged to contribute, alongside government initiatives, towards ensuring aged persons' welfare.
In fact, the population aged 60 years and above is likely to exceed the population aged below 15 years in 2046. The elderly population will face many difficulties due to poverty, disintegration of family and community support networks, changing family structure, social and cultural norms, inadequate health care facilities and poor transportation. The most pressing problem that the senior citizens face today is the absence of any discount for them on medical treatment. 
In neighbouring India, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has ensured separate queues for elderly persons in hospitals for registration and clinical examination and ordered setting up of special clinics for elderly persons in all hospitals. The services include health check-ups, operations, treatment of physically invalid, gynecology, ENT and ophthalmology along with pathological and radio therapy facilities.
In Sri Lanka, the senior citizens receive a higher interest rate of 15 per cent per annum for their savings up to a maximum level of Rs.1.0 million for funds deposited in commercial banks. The Lanka Private Bus Owners Association (LPBOA) issues special cards to senior citizens who travel by bus and charge 50 per cent of the total bus fare from them.
In fact, population ageing is already having major consequences and implications in all areas of life, and will continue to do so. In the economic area, population ageing will affect economic growth, savings, investment and consumption, labour market, taxation, etc. 
The National Policy on Elderly People  aims at protecting the rights and ensuring welfare of the elderly people. But sadly, as the Bangladesh Association for the Aged and Institute of Geriatric Medicine observed recently at a recent in Dhaka, the problems of ageing are largely being ignored. The association has urged the government to establish a full-fledged geriatric institution to ensure better health-care to the aged and to facilitate higher education and training on geriatric. 
The problem of ageing must be dealt with more seriously in the coming days as the ratio of the older people in the total population is increasing. The older section of the population is increasing much faster than the total population. While 6.9 per cent of the population of the country was classified as elderly in 1950, the figure is projected to increase to 8.0 per cent in 2020 and 17 per cent by 2050.
arjayster@gmail.com
 

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