Addressing Ageing in ASEAN

The Khmer Times, 28 February 2018

In the face of a rapidly ageing population, Asean needs to further promote dialogue and knowledge sharing on the issue and develop common pathways that support effective and productive participation in old age, writes Chheang Vannarith.

A fast ageing population is emerging as one of the key social and economic issues in Southeast Asia, and the rate of people getting older in the region is much quicker than that of Europe and the United States.

Southeast Asian countries are facing the phenomenon of getting old before getting rich. The challenges include the need to reach a standard definition on key terms such as formal care and informal care, and how to transform ageing into a new source of social-economic development.

“The ageing issue affects Southeast Asia’s political, economic, and socio-cultural developments,” stated Choi Shing Kwok, director of ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, at a three-day workshop in Singapore that ends today. The workshop is on “Ageing and Demographic Change in Asia” co-organised by ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation (SPF).

Japan is the most-aged society in Asia. One in four people are aged 65 and above. In the next 20 years, Singapore will face the same ageing issue that Japan is facing now. Southeast Asian countries can learn from Japan’s experiences in dealing with an ageing population, both in terms of success stories and failures.

“Although Japan is not officially part of Asean, given its proximity and similar past experiences, Japan should share its experiences with Asean and the region,” said Shuichi Ohno, president of the SPF.

According to the study by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), the proportion of total population in the geographical region aged sixty or over was about 10 percent in 2016 and will be doubled by 2050. And the old age support ratio was about four percent in 2015 and will be about 12 percent in 2050.

The challenges arising from ageing populations are increasing old-age dependency ratios across the region and fiscal constraint in providing social pensions and institutional care.

Other related issues are that the traditional family-based care system is getting weaker, income insecurity for the older people is further rising, and women are disproportionately affected.

Political will and commitment from state actors are critical to developing a comprehensive and holistic approach in addressing the ageing issue. Policies may include age-sensitive market reforms, age-sensitive social and economic infrastructure development, and age-sensitive facilities.

Joint national and international efforts, cross-sector partnership, inclusive social protection policy, fiscal and financial sustainability, social innovation, and resource mobilisation are some of the interconnected approaches.

Asean leaders adopted the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on Ageing in 2015. The policy guidelines include the adaptation of healthcare and social support systems, public awareness and capacity building, and developing concrete steps towards the empowerment of older persons.

As a chair of Asean this year, Singapore is planning to organise a ministerial forum on ageing population, said Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State of the Ministry of Health and Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, at the workshop.

At the national level, Asean member countries are facing different levels of ageing and have crafted policy at varying levels. In Singapore, addressing the issue of a fast ageing population is one of the three major shifts – the other two are the shift in global economic weight towards Asia and the emergence of new technologies.

Singapore is working towards the realisation of a “silver dividend” by unlocking the opportunities generated from an ageing society and building an inclusive community. Linking longevity with productivity would help transform an ageing population into a new source of growth.

Answering the question on how to moderate the impact of rising healthcare and social costs, Dr Khor said “shared responsibility” and “value-based cost-effective treatment” need to be carried out. In addition, the government must constantly review its level of subsidies to ensure inclusive and equitable care.

Dr Khor added that “health is wealth”. Integrated care services – the combination of homecare and daily care centres or the “heartware” and the “hardware” – and the development of care networks and age-friendly facilities are the key elements of promoting a sustainable care model.

Moving forward, at the national level, a whole-of-government approach is required to address the ageing issue.

At the regional level, Asean needs to further promote dialogue and knowledge sharing on the ageing issue in the region, developing common pathways that support effective and productive participation in old age.

Developing a master plan on older persons will contribute to the realisation of a people-oriented, people-centred Asean as well as a more inclusive and resilient Asean.

Social innovation – referring to the development of novel solutions to social needs and issues – needs to be further strengthened to holistically address issues associated with an ageing society.

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