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Recasting Policy for the Elderly
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Recasting Policy for the Elderly

A recent report on how 96 countries rank for older people’s wellbeing reveals that Iran, with 6.4 million people senior citizens or 8.3% of the 80 million population, is far from the global benchmarks.

So much so, Iran is not even included in the list, while distressed nations such as Ukraine, Iraq and Afghanistan have made it.

Authors of the report say the 98 countries missing from the report “is due to a lack of comprehensive data on older populations and their status.”

According to the Global Age Watch Index 2015, which measures the social and economic wellbeing of older people, Switzerland ranks number one for older people to live in. Norway and Sweden are second and third respectively. The US ranks ninth.

The ranking was based on how well countries scored in four domains: older adults’ income security, health status, capability (which included employment and educational status) and enabling environment (which included people’s physical safety, civic freedoms and access to public transport). The scores were calculated from a number of international data sources, including the World Bank, the World Health Organization and the International Labor Organization.

The report attributed Switzerland’s high score to its policies that promote older adults’ health and an enabling environment. Afghanistan, on the other hand, which came in last, has few, if any, local or national policies aimed at promoting the wellbeing of older people.

“This index is vital in representing the lives of older people globally as it enables us to compare not just their pension and health but also the age-friendly environments in which they live,” Ashar Zaidi, a professor at the Center for Research on Aging at the University of Southampton in England and developer of the index, said in a statement.

“It is unfortunate that Iran, for whatever reason, is not on this list given its large number of senior citizens,” said Farid Barati, head of the Secretariat of the National Council of the Elderly (SNCE), quoted by the Young Journalists Club.

Barati had earlier said that Iran’s “grey citizens” would further increase as of 2021. In addition, elderly women will comprise 14% of the population in 2041.”

The elderly population increased between 1966 and 2011 from 5.3% to 8.1%.  It is estimated that by 2025, the 60 plus and above will reach 12.3% and the percentage of those aged 65 plus will reach 8.1%.  Out of 6.4 million elderly, 4.2 million live in urban areas and 1.9 million in rural areas.

“The upcoming five-year economic development plan (2016-2021) should devise a comprehensive plan for the aging population,” Barati said, stressing that “the challenges will be numerous if we fail to address the issue.”

 Demographic Changes

Rapid and extensive socio-economic and demographic changes have placed Iran among the countries facing an ageing population. The annual population growth rate for the general population is 1.2% while the annual growth rate for those aged 60-65 is 6%.

Population ageing is a result of decreasing mortality and increasing life expectancy, both positive development effects, thanks to improvement in healthcare in a growing number of countries. However as people live longer, the process brings along a set of economic, social and health-related challenges which have to be addressed.  

The Demography Department of the University of Tehran and the Statistical Center of Iran has cooperated with the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in Iran to conduct an extensive mapping of aging in the country, as one of four key emerging population issues.

It will help assist policy and decision-makers to effectively develop national policies and plans in order to cope with the implications of this issue. The analysis will be used in a series of advocacy and policy dialogue meetings with relevant stakeholders to further strengthen the capacity of the government, says the UNFPA website.

The difference in the employment rate among the elderly aged 65 plus is high, with the economic participation rate for men at 37.2% and for women, 5.1%.

Data has it that the proportion of aged population living alone is increasing. At the national level, it is 10% with a difference between males (15%) and females (5%).  Among those aged 60-79, the largest percentage of years lost due to ill-health, disability or early death (Disability Adjusted Lived Years/DALYs) is due to falls, strokes and ischemic heart diseases. A total of 72 HIV/AIDS cases were registered among those aged 65 and above.

Developing and implementing an integrated national program and policy for the elderly, with particular focus on health, is critical and requires special attention. The majority of health problems among the elderly are non-communicable and chronic diseases which require lengthy and costly healthcare. As a result, preventive policies, health promotion and early treatment are of high importance, as these save costs in the long-term. 

Addressing the lack of implementation of formal and informal support programs for the elderly is equally important. Programs such as financial support, pensions, and aid in cash and kind are unable to tackle socio-economic challenges posed by the high inflation and declining purchasing power.

In terms of kinship support, the elderly, particularly women, are typically dependent on their children and their needs, especially in female-headed households.

In today’s modern world, social responsibilities together with everyday life challenges, overwhelm children’s heartfelt desire to care for their parents. In Iran, where youth are migrating to urban areas, the dense traffic jams, high costs of nursing homes, and preoccupations related to careers and personal life do not leave time or room for youngsters to fulfill their filial duty.

The state of the elderly leaves much to be desired and should prompt legislators and the authorities to take policy action before it is too late.

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