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‘Elderly Can be Contributors, Not a Burden’

TOKYO, Oct 1 2012 (IPS) - According to popular belief, the world’s rapidly ageing societies face the risk of poverty, dementia and loneliness. But not necessarily so, says a United Nations publication unveiled in Japan Monday. Better management by governments can support a better life for the elderly, and lead them to becoming important contributors to society, it says.

The report ‘Ageing in the Twenty-First Century: A Celebration and A Challenge’ published by the United Nations Population Fund with HelpAge International, a leading non-governmental organisation, points out that ageing can be a cause for celebration if the elderly enjoy economic and social security.

“Longevity is a triumph of development,” Dr Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund told IPS. The elderly can make a social and economic contribution to society, he said. “Harnessing these contributions will be very important.”

He pointed out that population ageing is no longer a developed country phenomenon. By 2050 nearly 80 percent of the world’s older persons will live in developing countries, making a population of 2 billion, or 22 percent of the global population. In 2000 there were already more people aged above 60 than children under five.

Japan is the world’s oldest country with 30 percent of its 123 million people above 60 years of age. The situation is commonly described as a national financial and social burden. But Richard Blewitt, CEO of HelpAge International, pointed that this status is cause for celebration as it proves the country has invested heavily to promote life expectancy and provide its citizens better health access and economic security.

“Well done, Japan. Older people are active in many ways as growth givers. We need to rethink the value of the elderly,” he told IPS.

But Japan does grapple with important issues that face its ageing population. Three million Japanese suffer from dementia. Abuse of the elderly, especially older women, has grown steadily. More than half of the elderly in Japan live alone.

In dealing with this, Japan has emerged as a leader in dementia care. It has extensive programmes to care for elderly citizens, including mobile units visiting communities. Despite the burgeoning healthcare budget, Japanese social security policies continue to offer health and home care for the elderly.

Experts here commended the new UNFPA report, pointing out that the decision to launch the report in Japan has boosted the status of the elderly, and projected the need for care for the elderly to be brought into the international debate.

“The report has turned the spotlight on re-examining ageing as an international issue,” said Junko Fukazawa, 64, a care giver attending a symposium on ageing held to mark the launch of the UN report. “It is a landmark step in Japan where ageing experts have worked hard to bring the issue from a closed family affair into a social phenomenon.”

Fukazawa said her father died last month at a hospice. Arrangements she made to provide for her father’s care allowed her to continue with her career. In her mother’s generation care for the elderly was the sole responsibility of women, she said.

Dr Babatunde said the time has come to raise the importance of the greying generation in the international development agenda, after decades of ignoring one of the most important global issues.

He called for care for the ageing to be incorporated as a Millennium Development Goal, and for increased support for new research and data collection.

A highlight of the UN report was a global survey that showed how more than 60,000 persons above 60 in 60 countries are campaigning with the aim ‘Age Demands Action’. The campaign calls on governments and on the international community to address the rights, concerns and needs of older persons.

Voices collected in the report of more 1,200 older people in different countries suggest how older people want to play a role in society.

 
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