Malaysia: Towards an Ageing Nation

Statistics show that Malaysia is marching towards an ageing nation.

An ageing society is defined as having a minimum 7% of its population aged 65 and older, while an aged nation has 14% or more in that age group.

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific’s 2016 population data sheet shows that as of last year, Malaysians aged 60 and above comprise 9.5% of the population.
This is projected to increase to 14.4% in 13 years’ time and nearly a quarter of the population (23.5%) by 2050.

Malaysia’s march towards this milestone is an accelerated one. Most developed nations took almost a century to reach this mark.

France, for example, took 115 years to move from being an ageing society to an aged one. For Malaysia, it should take us just 25 years.

In effect, such numbers reflect one of Malaysia’s success stories – healthcare.

It has been 60 years since independence and during that time, Malaysia managed to increase the lifespan by about 20 years.

Improvements in primary public healthcare such as sanitation, food safety and protection against infectious diseases via vaccination have all contributed to this increased life expectancy.

As of last year, the average life span of a Malaysian is at 74.7 years; in 2000, it was 72.2 years.

Unfortunately, living longer has not translated to better quality of life.

The rates of infectious diseases may have gone down, but the number of those afflicted with lifestyle/non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity and cancer has risen and more worryingly, continues to rise.

The National Health and Morbid­ity Survey 2015 revealed that obese Malaysians make up 17.7% of the population, while those categorised as overweight make up 30%. The obesity rate for 1996 was 4.4%, and 14% in 2006.

The same survey found that about 3.5 million or 17.5% of Malaysians aged 18 and above have diabetes. In 2006, this figure was 11.6%; it was 15.2% in 2011.

Malaysians are having to live longer in ill health or putting in another way "ageing unhealthily".

All this takes a toll on the healthcare system, with the Government having to allocate increased financial resources to help provide treatment to people living with such conditions.

The proposed Aged Healthcare Act is a start, which aims for better regulation and monitoring of aged healthcare centres in the country.

There is also a need to look at the delivery of healthcare to the aged with support services, infrastructure, laws that safeguard the elderly and community engagement prog­rammes, age-friendly culture that embraces the elderly instead of isolating them.etc as additional considerations.
Thus it is of importance to educate and implement "preventive healthcare" and  "wellness programmes" to the population at an early age so that on-ageing, the aged do not end up living the last 20 to 30 years of their lives saddled with multiple diseases that burden not only their respective families but also the community and country.

 /theSTAR 24-05-2017

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