The country’s population is still predominantly young, but a sharp rise in the proportion of those over 60 could make it ill-prepared to provide care for them.
The number of people in the age group at the last census was over 1.53 crore, or about 9.28% of the total population of 16.51 crore. In the 2011 census, this group constituted 7.48% of the population.
The 1.8 percentage point increase between the two censuses is the largest increase between consecutive censuses in the country’s history.
According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), by 2050, people aged 60 and above in Bangladesh will number 3.6 crore and constitute 22% of the total population.
This matches global trends. According to the World Health Organization, by 2030, one in six people in the world will be aged 60 or over.
Demographers and economists have said that the existing health system and facilities are not at all sufficient for the care and support of a growing number of elderly citizens.
Under the aegis of the Ministry of Social Welfare, there are currently six retirement homes. Several shelters and traditional retirement homes are also run by charities.
Contacted yesterday, Ashraf Ali Khan Khasru, Minister of State for Social Welfare, said: “There are all kinds of arrangements for the elderly. Allowances for the elderly are granted. Ten percent of places in all government orphanages are reserved for the elderly. But if people don’t go there, we can’t do anything.”
The continued increase in life expectancy is one of the reasons for the aging population, experts said.
“Our society is not ready to take care of the aging population. The issue is not well integrated into the government’s development strategy, nor is it an integral part of our economic planning,” the official said. economist Hossain Zillur Rahman at the Daily Star.
He said the issue should be considered from a more strategic point of view. “For example, the birth rate is falling. So, would it be wise to open new primary schools? Are we developing facilities for the elderly in our towns?”
Selim Raihan, a professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Dhaka, said: “This is a matter of concern. Home care and health facilities are inadequate for the aging population. .”
He said out-of-pocket spending on health care was gradually increasing and would put pressure on the elderly population with little or no savings.
“We need to invest in the care economy. Social protection needs to be extended, otherwise the elderly will be a big burden on the state,” he said.
According to the health economics unit, Bangladeshis have to pay 68.5% of their total treatment costs out of their own pockets.
He said patients spend 64% of their healthcare expenditure on medicines, while 23% is used for hospital expenses and 8% for diagnostic purposes.
The ruling Awami League, in its 2018 election manifesto, pledged to ensure free health services for children under one and citizens over 65. But this has not yet been implemented.
The AL government has taken initiatives such as an old-age allowance and a universal pension scheme. “But the government needs a comprehensive approach to tackle the problem,” said ASM Atiqur Rahman, a professor at the Institute of Social Welfare and Research, University of Dhaka.
Paraphrasing a quote from John F Kennedy, he said, “We could add years to life, but we could not add life to years. It has become a big challenge for the elderly.
He said the number of people aged 80 and over was also on the rise and older women made up the majority of this group.
“There is no preparation at the state level to address this serious issue. There is no action for long-term care,” he said.