By Cecilia Russell
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Jan 29 2021 – Internationally COVID-19 extracted a heavy toll on older people – raising concerns in the Asia Pacific region where more than half of the world’s ageing population live.
“Rising inequalities have resulted in the increasing poverty, insufficient access to health and social protection services, which have been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Bjorn Andersson, Regional Director of UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Asia Pacific said. He spoke at a webinar to discuss a recently released policy review undertaken on Vietnam, Australia, Thailand, and Kazakhstan.
“Older women, who constitute most of the sector (some are above 80 years old), often bear the brunt of old age and poverty. Older men usually have more financial security as a result of their lifetime of earnings,” Andersson said, noting that older persons were more significantly impacted by the COVID-19 virus which results in mortality and comorbidity. He pointed out that this scenario also disrupted the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action’s achievements and the 2030 Agenda.
The study’s leader, Keizo Takemi, the chair of the Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development (AFPPD) said while most low-income Asian countries had not been affected by the crisis on a massive scale, it was an “unfortunate reality that some sovereign nations tend to be exclusive and focus only on their people when it comes to health intervention such as vaccine, immunisation and delivery systems.”
There was a need to develop a global governance structure to create accessible development and allocation system fairly and efficiently given the limited resources, he said.
Each country studied had diverse social issues – and had come up with different solutions for their older population during the pandemic.
Dr Nguyen Van Tien, former Vietnam parliamentarian and AFPPD’s vice-chairperson, said that only a few older persons had pensions in Vietnam. In Hanoi, for example, many needed help with their daily routines, but the human resources to care for them were few.
Many, especially women living in rural areas experienced loneliness and isolation in old age, and abuse and violence were also experienced.
“Critically it was important to ensure that attention is drawn to older people in emergency situations – due to their old age and inability to cope with and fully take care of themselves, coupled with the lack of adequate care from society during disasters, older persons are the most vulnerable to death,” Van Tien said.
Independent consultant Hadley Rose presented data for both Australia and Thailand.
In Australia, about one million older persons received aged care at home or community-based setting. It used technology – a COVID-19 call line to mitigate boredom, loneliness or feeling of isolation during the lockdown periods to managethe pandemic.
Telehealth services, a consultation facility via phone or video chat, were available mainly for older persons (70 years and older). Going to the clinic for medical consultation becomes the last option, and a “COVID Safe” app was set-up for smartphones for contact tracing. Older persons are encouraged to use the app to know if they came in contact with a COVID-19 positive person. When the vaccine becomes available older persons and aged care workers will be prioritised, she said.
In contrast, Thailand’s older persons were mostly living with their relatives or near to them.
“While this is good in terms of limiting the spread of COVID-19, this set-up puts pressure on the families, especially since some breadwinners in the families have lost their jobs as a consequence of the pandemic,” Rose said.
Thailand had adopted its second national plan of action for older persons in 2001 and will be effective until 2021. Because residential health care was not common,the country relied on 50,000 medical health volunteers to assist in older persons’homes.
During March and April 2020, about one million health volunteers managed to do COVID-19 screening for eight million households across the country.
Svetlana Zhassymbekova presented the result of the legislative and policy reviews for the republic of Kazakhstan. According to a UN Policy Brief, Kazakhstan’scommunity-level responses from volunteers’ networks ensured social support of older persons affected by COVID-19 was a best practice worth citing. Kazakhstan has more than 200 volunteer organisations, which the national party was providing funds. These organisations delivered various humanitarian packages.
The packages included providing protection and humanitarian assistance to older persons to restore familyties. Where people lived alone, they were provided with an electronic device to access information and seek help if required.
Professor Keizo Takemi, chair of AFPPD, said the discussions on older persons were crucial. Eighty percent of deaths caused by COVID-19 were people aged 70 and above. He called on parliamentarians to serve as “catalysts for change (working) toward more efficient handling of COVID-19 and continuously protecting people from the infection.”
The research report: Legislative and Policy Reviews on Ageing was undertaken with the support of the Japan Trust Fund and UNFPA, APDA and AFPPD launched the project featuring comprehensive policy review in four countries, namely, Vietnam, Australia, Thailand, and Kazakhstan.