In order to explore the effective means of promoting and strengthening the participation of older persons in different aspects of social, cultural, economic, civic and political life, a massive drive has been undertaken round the world to utilise the experience and talents of older persons to make changes in the society.
The contributions of elderly persons with wide experience of life could be tapped properly and translated into action in a planned way to ensure development in the country and enrichment of the society.
It is estimated that by 2030, the number of persons aged 60 and above will exceed that of young people aged 15 to 24 and the total number of older persons worldwide will increase by 56 per cent. It indicates that persons working in the field of economy, social and political life will be mostly persons above 60 years of age, both male and female.
Life expectancy at birth around the world has increased remarkably during the last few decades.
In addition, birth rate has declined significantly with the improvement of child health care, preventive and environmental health knowledge and awareness. At present, in Bangladesh, life expectancy at birth is 73.2 years with male 71 years and female 75.4 years. This appears to be a remarkable success in reducing infant and child mortality and at the same time taking intensive health care during old age.
The life expectancy at birth is highest in Japan 83.84 years on average. In Sweden, it is about 82.55 years and in Canada 82.2, in France 82.67 years on average. On the other hand, average age in Lesotho, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe has declined to around 43 years with female dying earlier than male. This has happened due to HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases that appeared as endemic and the concept of good health receiving no importance in the society and the state is very much indifferent to making the nation healthy.
In Bangladesh, the society and the state as such, trying to optimise the opportunities for maintaining good physical, social and mental health of older people to enable them take active part in the society and contribute to the nation with their experience and wisdom.
Taking care of ageing is to take a holistic approach towards life to live longer with sound health and enable the family to manage diligently, enrich the society with experience and contribute to the nation as a whole. In Hungary, senior citizens usually form walking clubs. Austrian people take more ripen apple, senior citizens of United Kingdom prefer to form voluntary programmes to make lives of senior citizens more attractive and enjoyable with pension and old age financial benefits receiving from the state and from their own savings. Thus the plan of action for stepping into the future must have multi-dimensional approaches with different modalities.
In Bangladesh, the government has raised age of retirement by two years for civil servants so that they can contribute efficiently with experience. On the other hand, retirement of judges of the high court or supreme courts has been extended up to 67 years. This is done in order to add values to the wisdom so that wise judgment flows from experience and wisdom.
With the increased life expectancy at birth in Bangladesh, the population pyramid is going to be changed rapidly and the life style of the people is taking a different shape throughout the country. Although, Bangladesh is a country of young population, the number of ageing population is increasing quickly (more than 6 %) and they are found very active in economic and social life. In fact, number of ageing population might increase to 10 % within a short span of time and they might play a vital role in the society.
This is why this year, the International Day of Older Persons-2017 is being observed round the world underscoring the link between tapping the talents and contributions of older persons and achieving the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the Madrid International Plan of Action on ageing which is currently undergoing its third review and appraisal process. The Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing in April 2002 marks as turning point in how the world addresses the key challenges of “building a society for all ages.”
This plan of action focuses on 3 priority areas: older persons and development, advancing health and well being into old age and ensuring enabling and supportive environment.
It is a resource for policy making, suggesting ways for government, non-government organisations and other actors to re-orient the ways in which their societies perceive, interact with and care for their older citizens. These are very important interventions every country should keep in mind and formulate their strategy to step into the future.
The Sustainable Development Goals 2030 also emphasises the health for all ages and creating opportunities to involve population of all ages into productive and gainful employment for the benefit of the country and the community. It is now for the nation to formulate policy how to facilitate participation in old age, including technology, education and life-long learning, access to information as well as overcoming barriers that exclude or discriminate against older persons.
Keeping good health is a critical issue in old age and taking care to elderly persons should be the norm of the society and the family itself. Besides, health services providers, social workers, peer groups, community leaders should come forward with advices on ageing and changes in the life –style, food habits and a discipline life style to stay completely fit to contribute to the society and the family. It is necessary to take care of ageing persons and keep them always happy so that they never suffer from any depression out of feeling of being neglected by the society.
According to mother Teresa, “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our homes to remedy this kind of poverty.”
In fact, facilities for movement, food and other privileges for ageing population is very poor and almost absent in some places in Bangladesh. The policy formulated by the government highlighted many interventions but in reality in the course of implementation, those are not followed meticulously or with due respect.
In many countries, there are opportunities for ageing population for concessional rate of interest on savings, priority ticketing in public transport etc. which should be followed in Bangladesh also. Bangladesh government, as social security system, introduced many old age benefits for poor and allowances for widow. There must be a plan of actions to make ageing population’s opportunity to contribute to the society.
Bangladesh Association for the Aged and Institute of Geriatric Medicine (BAAIGM) and Bangladesh Retired Government Employees Welfare Society on different occasions placed plan of actions suggesting how to utilise the experience of older persons and ensure their participation in the national welfare and development.
The Ministry of Social Welfare might consider those plans for implementation whichever is possible and feasible. Supporting the ageing population with financial help from the government treasury is not the only way to say that the nation is committed to supporting the older persons but their participation in the society and nation building activities should be the answer and strategy for stepping into the future.
The writer is a retired Secretary to the