This rate was only 7.47 per cent in the census of 2011. Along with people’s growing life expectancy, the number of senior citizens is increasing.

According to the census, the growth rate of population is low in the country. On the opposite, the rate of senior population’s growth is high.

An estimation of United Nations Population Fund says, in 2025-26 the number of senior citizens will cross 20 million. In 2050, the number will reach 45 million, which will be 21 per cent of the total population then.

Data of the latest population and household census shows, families in the country are growing smaller in size. Keeping in line with the decreasing family size, the risk of elderly members of the family getting separated arises there.

Their income shrinks away for the old age and most of them lose their way of earning. They are left to financially rely on others. No specialized treatment facilities for them have been launched in the country yet. They don’t get treatment at the right time. These people are rising in number in the country.

ASM Atiqur Rahman, a professor at Dhaka University’s Institute of Social Welfare and Research has been working on the senior population for more than two decades now.

He said to Prothom Alo, “We have no preparation to combat old age. Our senior citizens suffer from long term old age complications. They require specialized treatment and facilities but, those are not available in the country.”

Specialized service essential

A significant number of senior citizens in the country does not get old age allowance. According to the information provided on the website of the Department of Social Services, 5.7 million people have been given old age allowance of Tk 500 monthly in the fiscal year 2021-22.

The government has made housing arrangements for all people. All the citizens can avail healthcare for almost free of cost at the government hospitals. Besides, there are 14-15 government and private old homes, ‘Probin Nibash’, which can accommodate around 2,000 people.

However, these initiatives are somewhat inadequate compared to the health issues, senior citizens face.

On last Friday a resident of capital’s Shahbag area told this reporter, his mother is 91 years old and has several complications. She has to take eight medicines routinely in the morning, afternoon and at night.

“My mother is unable to take medicines on her own and has to be fed them. She lives with me, so she is well provided with medicines. However, not all mothers live with their children,” that man added.

Medicine experts say, just as there is a separate branch in the medical science for children, there is another distinct branch for elderly people named ‘geriatric medicine’ there.

Shohael Mahmud Arafat, chairman of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU)’s medicine department said to Prothom Alo, “There’s a memory loss complication elderly people suffer from, called dementia.”

“Senior citizens have a common tendency of falling which does not happen to people of other ages. Their muscle and physique grow feeble. Elderly people suffer from several long term ailments simultaneously. Geriatric medicine is the treatment of these,” he added.

This specialised medical service has not been separately launched in any government or non-government hospitals in the country yet. There are only two beds in this name at BSMMU’s medicine department. However, authorities have said that the process of opening a separate department is in the last stage.

As per the population census, there are more female in the country compared to male. Another record shows, women’s life expectancy in the country is about two years more than men’s. And, widows suffer the most for they don’t receive required services.

Research on promises

Prior to the parliamentary election of 2018, Awami League had promised in their election manifesto that all children aged less than a year and all elders above 65 years will be given free medical services.

Since the election, four budgets have been passed in the national parliament. No allocation has been heard of in the annual development programme to implement this electoral commitment.

The latest census data shows, the number of people aged above 65 years in the country is a bit more than 9.7 million (9.7 million 27 thousand). They occupy 5.89 per cent of the total population.

Health ministry has taken an initiative for a research on determining the ways of fulfilling the promises made in the health sector. Government’s Health Economics Unit has been given the responsibility of this research. And, the Health Economics Unit has outsourced the project to a private company.

When asked about the progress of that research Akhtaruzzaman, programme manager of Health Economics Unit said to Prothom Alo on Friday, “We hope to get the first draft of the research in our hand on the first week of September.”

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