An ageing population is posing a challenge to Vietnam’s health sector as healthcare services for the elderly are suffering from a number of shortcomings.

Director of the Health Ministry’s Department of Medical Services Luong Ngoc Khue said that the network of healthcare centres for this group remains inefficient with a low budget and a lack of specialists and nurses. Caring for the elderly is mainly undertaken by relatives and untrained people, creating extra problems, he added.

According to the latest population census, there were more than 8.6 million aged 60 years old and above in 2011, accounting for nearly 10 percent of the population, while the rate of over 65-year-olds was 7 percent.

A country is considered to have an ageing population when the rate of 60 years old and above reaches 10 percent or the rate of 65-year-old and above is 7 percent. Once the rates reach 20 percent and 14 percent respectively, the country will have an aged population.

Experts have warned that the transitional period from an ageing population to an aged population in Vietnam will be about 18-20 years, much shorter than in other countries such as France (115 years), Sweden (85 years), the US (70 years) and Japan (26 years).

Arthur Arken, Country Director of the UN Population Fund in Vietnam, said that while population ageing is taking place in all regions and all countries, Vietnam is recording one of the fastest rates in Asia.

On the other hand, the lifespan of the country’s elderly is also increasing. In 1979, the rate of 80-years-old and above accounted for 0.54 percent of the total population. It rose to 0.7 percent, 0.93 percent and 1.47 percent in 1989, 1999, and 2009 respectively.

In spite of the growing life expectancy, 95 percent of Vietnamese elderly are burdened with non-transmitted chronic diseases.

Meanwhile, medical expenses for this group, who takes up to 50 percent of the society’s medicine, are 7 – 10 times higher than that for young people.

Vietnam issued the Law on the Elderly in 2009, established the National Committee on Ageing and launched a national action programme on this group.

Only when caring for the elderly is considered as work that reflects the country’s moral standards and culture can it receive adequate material and human resource investment, experts have argued.-VNA