Bhutan Observes International Day for Older Persons And Aims To Improve Well-Being Of Its Elderly Citizens
Bhutan has committed to implementing The Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing.
By Nima Wangdi (Vice President Royal Society for Senior Citizens) | Kuensel
In Bhutan the Royal Society for Senior Citizens (RSSC) has been observing 1st October as the International Day for Older Persons along with the rest of the world. Senior citizens and members of the RSSC would meet and discuss issues affecting the elderly people on the day.
The Royal Society for Senior Citizens (RSSC) would like to take this opportunity to highlight issues related to older persons in Bhutan and highlight the activities of the RSSC.
The 2018 theme for the observance of International day for older persons is to:
- Promote the rights enshrined in the Declaration and what it means in the daily lives of older persons;
- Raise the visibility of older people as participating members of society committed to improving the enjoyment of human rights in many areas of life and not just those that affect them immediately;
- Reflect on progress and challenges in ensuring full and equal enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms by older persons; and
- Engage broad audiences across the world and mobilise people for human rights at all stages of life.
In Bhutan, just as the Throne introduced democracy in the country, His Majesty had commanded the establishment of the RSSC in 2011.
Tapping on the rich experience of senior citizens for the benefit of society at large
His Majesty was pleased to command that the retired government servants have great potential to remain productive and contribute towards the well-being of communities and in the process of nation building.
He also expressed hope that the retired officials will put their wealth of experience and knowledge to productive use by forming partnership of senior citizens to foster harmonious living and the well-being of senior citizens and people in general.
Subsequently, a group of 18 retired government servants started the RSSC as founding members. It is registered as a Public Benefit Organisation (PBO) with the Civil Society Organisation Authority of Bhutan from February 21, 2011.
The vision and mission of the Royal Society for Senior Citizens (RSSC) is to build an inclusive and harmonious society consistent with the principles of Gross National Happiness while enabling senior citizens to harness greater happiness for their family and the rest of the society.
The Society now has about 200 members who support the RSSC. The RSSC hopes to establish a chapter in each of the dzongkhags and gewogs in future.
Problems faced by the elderly citizens in Bhutan today
The present situation and living standard of elderly citizens in Bhutan today is a growing concern. The challenges faced by them as reflected by the National Statistics Bureau in 2017 report are:
- Around 63% face financial problem
- Around 30% suffer from poor shelter
- Around 26% suffer from food insufficiency
- Around 15% are landless
- Around 15% are debt-ridden
- Nearly 18% fear hunger among others and
- Almost 71% fear sickness and death
As a priority, the RSSC has been advocating a national policy and legislation to address the issues faced by elderly persons. In this regard, meetings were held with the member and committees of the Parliament and with the government of the day.
Implementing The Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing in Bhutan
Bhutan has committed to implementing The Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing. It is the global guiding document of the United Nations on population ageing.
The key objective of the Madrid Plan of Action is to build societies for people of all ages by addressing the needs of older persons and strengthening their participation in economies and societies.
It focuses on three priority areas: older persons and development; advancing health and well -being into old age; and ensuring enabling and supportive environments.
The 2030 Agenda for the Sustainable Development complements the Plan of Action in its aims to ensure that older persons are not left behind.
Bhutan therefore, as a first step needs to adopt a policy and pass legislation to address various issues related to elderly population in the country.
Proposals by the RSSC to the Bhutanese government
While awaiting the policy and legislation to be adopted, the RSSC has proposed the following to the government:
- Installation of elevators for buildings of 4 storeys or higher.
- Public busses to designate priority seats for the elderly and disabled.
- Geriatric health programme, which is being implemented in the rural areas whereby health assistants visit the home of the elderly within their locality.
The programme has been much appreciated so far, especially by those who are disabled and alone in their homes. However, it can be further improved and strengthened. If possible the programme could also be expanded to urban areas where quite a large number of senior citizens find it difficult to visit the hospital.
- Accessibility to senior citizens for health care can be further improved with separate GDMO chambers. Counters for medicines for senior citizens should also be instituted in all hospitals.
Regarding the specialist services, medical appointments must be given to senior citizens, if not for all, to make it convenient for them by not having to wait on the first come first system.
If a specific day of the week could be assigned for senior citizens when they could be given a health check up by a GDMO and a medical specialist, it would be very useful to detect sickness before it is too late.
- Provide non-contributory pension schemes for poor elderly citizens aged 60 years and older.
- Introduce voluntary contribution pension scheme so that even national workforce workers can provide for old age pension.
- Support the establishment of Senior Citizen centres in urban areas where they can congregate and services for them provided
- Considering the international trend of the increasing ratio of senior citizens, Bhutan also will soon have a larger percentage of elderly people, especially with the improvement in services of education, health and increasing income. It may, therefore, not be too early to frame policies and legislation to meet the challenges of an ageing population.
- Establishment of a seed fund through a one-time grant amount
This article first appeared in Kuensel and has been edited for the Daily Bhutan.