A race against time

Friday, 3 October 2014 04:16 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The global day to recognise children is also linked to the celebration of World Elders’ Day, perhaps because they are vulnerable sections of the human community. However, since they each pose quite a different set of challenges, separate space is necessary for discussion. Sri Lanka, notwithstanding its comparatively high credentials in South Asia for old people, nonetheless has huge challenges as it also possesses one of the fastest-ageing populations in the world. By 2050 the number of people over 65 in Sri Lanka will increase by 200% other data suggest one in every three people could be old by as recently as 2041. Clearly, the challenges are many. Given that rapid economic growth is also driven by large markets with a youthful workforce, the financial prognosis for a country becomes bleaker when it is staring at the potential explosion of the top tier of its population pyramid. A country must get rich before it gets old. In the latest World Economic Forum Global Risks Report, ‘Management of Population Ageing’ is identified as one of the top 50 risks facing the world.  The Forum has devised five key recommendations for achieving the three fundamental objectives – staying healthy, active and autonomous – for positive ageing. The first point is embracing the new reality of ageing. An adjustment in behaviour, institutions and public policies is needed to reflect the new meaning of ageing and with it, the altered needs and capacities of older people. This means investing in older people, so that they can continue to learn and contribute to society; rethinking business practices to facilitate participation of older workers; and reforming pension and health systems to better meet the needs of older people. All this cannot be done without commitment at the highest level. History has proven that fundamental reform requires high-level champions. In the case of ageing, bringing about a commitment to an age-friendly society requires policy responses from the very top of decision-making structures. While efforts by the Central Bank to encourage financial institutions to promote retirement planning among other policies is laudable these are still too small to have the deep impact needed for social stability of a large scale. Given aging is a large scale problem the solutions can be nothing less. For this to happen early and swift action must take place. Waiting for a crisis to manifest itself is not an option. Many policy responses require very long lead times for design and implementation, far outlasting the mandates of current governments or chief executives. Social, political and economic change is needed at all levels. This is commonly called the multi-stakeholder approach. In terms of ageing, the phrase “we are all in this together” could not be more relevant. For example, urban, age-friendly design and the setting of legal retirement ages are national issues. The concept of human rights for older people is an international concern. Better use of existing resources and adoption of new technologies. Society can help people to stay active, healthy and autonomous by building age-friendly cities and ‘smart homes’ that deploy a range of monitoring and supportive devices to help older people manage life more effectively. Most importantly there is need to re-engineer health systems to focus on disease prevention and early screening, rather than on expensive intervention. These measures will contribute to creating better quality lives for older people: lives that are also inclusive and sustainable.