September 4, 2011

FIJI: Fiji works to raise awareness for senior citizens' welfare

SUVA, Fiji / Xinhua / September 3, 2011

Under the "Home Care for the Elderly Project of HelpAge Centre," concerned Fijian authorities are carrying out an awareness campaign to ensure senior citizens welfare, according to the Fiji Council of Social Services (FCSS) on Saturday.

As part of the campaign, many seminars have recently been conducted in several provinces of the Pacific island nation, which provide an opportunity for participants to assess their aging conditions.

The majority of the participants looking after the older members of their families expressed health and financial challenges they have to endure, but the key to the problem in Fiji is to provide home care for the elderly as the family is the most suitable shelter for graceful aging and the need for more awareness in this area, says the FCSS.

FCSS Director Hassan Khan held that this was the era of the older generation and Fiji was no exception but more needed to be done to ensure their rights and welfare protected.

He noted that the problems today is that most people of the elderly generation are either placed in welfare homes provided by the state or they live alone under poor conditions with state welfare, which is only 60 Fiji dollars (32 U.S. dollars) a month.

The rapid economic and social changes in the island nation have affected the elderly disproportionately, particularly rural dwellers, Khan said, adding that older people with modest income depended on Fiji's superannuation funds from the Fiji National Provident Fund pensions, however, the recent move to cut pensions is causing stress and uncertainty. "By 2030, for the first time in history those over 60 will outnumber those under 15, with the fastest growth in the developing world."

Hassan Khan, Director, Fiji Council of Social Services (FCOSS) (right) Minister for Social Welfare, Women and Poverty Alleviation, Dr Jiko Luveni and permanent secretary, Mr. Govind Sami. (Photo courtesy: HelpAge)

"This presents great challenges -- among them the need for urgent action to address the rising burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) for older people in Fiji."

The United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) has revealed that Fiji has the largest density of elderly people in the Pacific, while population aging is accelerating at a faster pace not only in the Pacific island countries but also around the globe.

Studies have proven that Fiji's elderly population has increased over the past two decades with further increase expected in the next 50 years as the elderly from the age of 60 years and over in the Pacific region is expected to increase from 367,000 in 2000 to 2.3 million by 2050.

Fiji's Social Welfare Minister Dr Jiko Luveni recognized that in the country, the older people are one of the most vulnerable groups, due to the changing family structures, internal and external migration, and the weakening traditional, cultural and social systems. Many particularly in the rural Fiji are facing increasing social isolation due to old age disabilities, poor health and longevity.

"With majority of the elderly residing in rural areas, the prevalence of old age disability is expected to remain high particularly in rural communities and against the backdrop of the financial economic crisis Fiji currently faces in the care and welfare of the elderly is becoming a bigger social concern," she said, adding through studies it has been found that disabled elderly are at a higher risk of poverty which leaves them to deprivation and insecurity."

Global commitment towards the welfare for the senior citizens was enhanced when the United Nations declared 1999 as the "Year of the Older Persons" and at Madrid in 2002 where the 2nd world assembly on aging was held.

Luveni promised that as the needs of elderly are expected to increase in the coming decades, substantial input and planning from government will be needed to articulate policy guidelines and allocate resources to create a safety net for the senior citizens in Fiji.

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