Serving the elderly in rural areas a crucial task
The central authorities issued a comprehensive document last week guiding governments at all levels to cope with challenges posed by one of the largest and fastest aging populations in the world. Even the Law on Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Elderly says that coping with the challenge of aging population is China's long-term strategic task.
By 2050, China will have an aging population of 500 million. But since the ratio of elderly people in the rural population is higher than in urban areas, the aging population problem is more serious in rural areas. Also, due to the economic gap between urban and rural areas, senior citizens in the countryside face more difficulties, including weaker support from their children, serious health problems, relatively poor living conditions, and the risk of falling into poverty due to weak monetary support.
The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China report advances that the aging population problem should be actively dealt with by building a better eldercare system, including a combined medical treatment and eldercare mechanism. And the Fourth Plenary Session of the 19th Communist Party of China Central Committee said the construction of a comprehensive eldercare system should be expedited by combining medical care and eldercare, and establishing better coordination between family and community eldercare systems.
The country's leadership has been paying special attention to the aging population problem, and has issued 80 documents and policies since 2013 to promote eldercare services, including those for senior citizens in rural areas.
During our research, we found that some rural areas have explored several ways to improve the eldercare system. For instance, Taikang county in Henan province has established a rural eldercare system that combines the efforts of the family, neighbors, village committees and other social forces in order to provide support for elderly people in rural areas according to actual conditions.
The 19th Party Congress as well as the Fourth Plenum of the 19th CPC Central Committee have advanced to build a better elderly care system. As a charity organization established in 1986 with the aim of serving elderly people nationwide, the China Aging Development Foundation has launched a series of eldercare projects－including those targeting disabled senior citizens－and studies into smart elder support services.
China has 16 million "left behind" elderly people in rural areas－who are the most vulnerable group of senior citizens as they lack adequate old age pension. To tackle the issue, the CADF has launched a project for helping senior citizens in the countryside.
The project is mainly aimed at building smart old age homes in rural areas, and establish a team of volunteers to provide support services, including daily care, health management, counseling services, education, legal aid, and safety protection for the "left behind" elderly people. It also aims to build affordable facilities for senior citizens in the countryside.
Research shows that many "left behind" elderly people in the countryside face two basic problems: daily food, and loneliness. Senior citizens in rural areas can hardly cook for themselves. And many senior citizens lead a lonely life, because their children work in cities.
The project will make efforts to meet the two basic needs of elderly people in the countryside first. The CADF plans to provide economic support and smart eldercare equipment for some pilot old age homes in rural areas to improve their service capacity. And in the next two to three years, it will promote the pilot programs with the aim of building 2,000 to 3,000 rural elder support service centers nationwide, especially to provide service for "left behind" senior citizens in rural areas across the country.
To deal with the problem of elder support service in the countryside, in the next stage we propose to accelerate integration of urban and rural elder support service systems, increase fiscal support to elder support service system, improve elder support and medical insurance guarantee levels, and incorporate elder support in the rejuvenation strategy in rural areas. We also urge the local authorities to use innovative methods to improve the elder support service model for the countryside based on actual conditions.
The author is director of China Aging Development Foundation. This is an excerpt from his speech at a recent meeting organized by Aging Society 30 Forum and Pangoal Institution, a think tank. The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.