MANILA — The issue of Asia-Pacific’s rapidly aging population was among the larger themes in the ADB’s just-concluded 51st annual meetings. By 2050, the number of elderly in the region is projected to grow to more than 1 billion.
Over the past few years, the bank has started to build awareness and knowledge of the different challenges posed by this demographic shift, such as pressures on health care, and the kinds of innovative models and service delivery that could help inform the work they do in the region.
The elderly population is at an increased risk of suffering from chronic conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, but the treatment and management of these diseases are often excluded from most insurance coverage. Some countries also lack enough human resources trained to accommodate the growing number of elderly and to cater to their specific needs.
“This is a relatively new area for everybody, so we've been trying to build our capacity, to understand, to network with a lot of institutions and centers of excellence all over the world, and really build our knowledge base,” said Wendy Walker, who leads ADB’s social development thematic group.
Instead of creating a separate program focused on providing long-term care and addressing the needs of the elderly, the bank is currently building on its core social areas, such as health, social protection, and education, to include improved elder care.
Under health, for example, the bank developed regional technical assistance aimed at helping a number of developing countries experiencing rapid aging create new policies and long-term care services. This includes carrying out country diagnostics to understand the long-term care needs in each country, the capacities available on the ground, the policies in place or lacking, the existing programs and insurance coverage, as well as human resource constraints related to elder care.
The project is being implemented in Indonesia, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tonga, and Vietnam. In China, some of their projects with community-based care components look to utilize, renovate, and/or rehabilitate existing urban spaces, Walker said.
“That’s a very important thing, to help people to stay within their communities and to be able to access services conveniently,” she said. “It takes a lot of initiative on the local level to decide to do that rather than something else. And going forward, we see that there are big opportunities for bringing this thinking more into our urban development program.”
This is line with the goal of livable, sustainable, and inclusive cities, she said. But in terms of integrating elderly persons’ needs into the ADB’s infrastructure projects — for example, a transportation project such as railway stations — Walker said the bank still has work to do.
“It's a part of our broader social and poverty analysis projects. We do try to take into a broader perspective, but focusing particularly on the needs of the elderly for a train station — I don't think we're quite there yet,” she said.