Experts have warned that the transitional period from an aging 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).

According to the latest national population survey, there were more than 8.6 million elderly people of 60 years old and above in 2011, accounting for nearly 10 percent of the population, while the rate of over 65-year-old was 7 percent. A country is considered to have an aging population when the rate of those 60 years old and above reaches 10 percent or the rate of 65-year-old and above people is 7 percent. Once the rates reach 20 percent and 14 percent, respectively, the country will enter the period of aged population.

The Country Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in Vietnam, Arthur Arken said while population aging is taking place in all regions and all countries, Vietnam records one of the fastest aging rates in Asia.

Together with the fast rising number of elderly people, the number of those living alone also increases. In 1993, 80 percent of elderly people lived with their families, but the rate has dropped to 72.3 percent at present and continues to fall.

Alongside the growing ageing group, the birth rate in the country is steadily decreasing and has fallen below the replacement level (2.11 percent in 2005, 2.03 percent in 2009 and 1.99 percent in 2012). While this is a great accomplishment of the National Target Programme on Population and Family Planning over the past year, it also means that the country will have to face great challenges in meeting the needs of the elderly population in the context of falling number of people in the working age group.

An ageing population has profound impacts on the elderly people themselves, their families, the community and society as a whole, posing a multitude of problems, the biggest of them are health care and social security for this group. According to Dr. Pham Thang, Director of the National Institute Gerontology, the group of elderly people, while accounting for only 10-20 percent of the population, uses 70 percent of a nation’s total medical expenses and 50 percent of medicine consumption.

It is notable that only 4.8 percent of elderly Vietnamese enjoy very good or good health, while as many as 65.4 percent are weak or very weak. More worrisome, their access to health care services is limited, with remarkable gap between urban and rural areas. More than 26 percent of elderly people in the country do not have any kind of health insurance and more than 51 percent cannot afford treatment costs and as a result, refraining from seeking treatment. At the same time, the health care network in Vietnam is not prepared to cope with arising problems relating to care for elderly people.

Statistics also show that only 35.6 percent of elderly people in urban areas have some kinds of pensions or State allowance to live on, while the rate is only 21.9 percent in rural areas.

Vietnam has entered the group of middle income countries in 2010 and is keeping up an impressive growth rate while working hard to fulfill all Millennium Development Goals by 2015. However, even when the country accomplishes all MDGs by 2015, it will still have to deal with challenges brought by an ageing population. It is not early now to start working on policies to cope with the looming problems.-VNA