The autumn and winter phases of life, much like the seasons, are marked by their own characteristics of change and quietude. The international day of older persons, celebrated on the first of October every year is an ode to senior citizens, signifying commitment to their happiness and well being.
Between 1965 – 70, the world population was growing at its fastest, at 2.1 percent per annum. This came down to half, to 1.1 percent per annum in 2015 – 20. By 2025, India’s population of 60+ is estimated to be over 175 million.
The factors that have contributed to the growth in aging population include an improvement in health index, resulting in people born during the high fertility era living longer, and reducing fertility rates causing a decline in the number of babies born.
A facilitative policy ecosystem for senior citizens could ensure that they live in good health and acquire skills to work in an ever changing, technology driven world. In fact, the new thinking is that this segment of the population can be morphed into a national and a global strength.
Covid-19 poses the biggest threat to the lives of the elderly who are especially susceptible to the virus. China has reported that 80 percent of deaths due to Covid happened to those who are above 60 years while Italy reported that 80 percent of deaths due to the virus happened to the age group of 70+.
Taking forward the agenda of creating a better world for senior citizens, CII has undertaken a host of initiatives. Here are some policy recommendations made by CII to create a healthy, safe and facilitative ecosystem for the elderly.
CII recommends that Government of India should lend its helping hand first and foremost to the workers who are above 60 years working in the unorganized sector.
It is imperative to launch a senior citizens’ helpline, on the lines of the Childline – a single phone number that will be dedicated round the clock for senior citizens across the country.
Government schemes like Kisan Samman Nidhi that support farmer families are extremely crucial as there is no restricted age limit for working in the fields and farmers usually continue working for many years in the fields. The Government should come up with more such schemes to benefit the poor.
Creating awareness amongst the elderly on the importance of maintaining hygiene, techniques of handwashing, avoiding contact with surface, avoiding touching the face, etc. should happen aggressively to beat Covid and maintain optimum health in the future.
There is a need to work closely with insurance companies to cover ‘care at home’, assisted living under the purview of insurance products. Not only will this enable faster penetration, it will also help the elderly get essential healthcare services in the safe and secure environment of the home.
There is also a need for creating an industry body with adequate representation from senior care companies and government officials to create awareness about the senior care sector and facilitate in building a sound policy ecosystem for the faster development of the senior care industry.
It is imperative that we create a uniform set of guidelines that can be implemented across the sector that will leverage home healthcare workers for monitoring of seniors. The Government can identify the seniors to be monitored / quarantined and the private players can create the facility at a fractional cost.
The Public Distribution System should use electoral booths, schools with large compounds for distribution of essential items, ensuring families come in turns, maintain social distancing and minimum contact to check the spread of Covid.
A comprehensive package could be offered to the 60+daily wagers, MGNREGA workers, factory workers, fishermen, farm labourers, street vendors of various categories who did not register for any of the Government schemes.
Caring for the elderly is an essential component for building an inclusive society and all key stakeholders should come together to make it happen.