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Japans Lessons on Ageing Populations Shared with Africa

29 August 2019

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Tokyo, 29 August 2019: The Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia(ERIA) hosted ‘Towards Population Ageing in Africa—Current Approach to Elderly Care, and Lessons to be Shared Across Continents’ in cooperation with Japan Center for International Exchange (JCIE) on the sidelines of the 7th Tokyo International Conference of African Development (TICAD7). The TICAD7 brought together influential policymakers, NGO representatives, and academics for a dialogue on the challenges of ageing populations in Africa. More than 100 guests attended, representing research institutions, international organizations, civil society organisations, and the private sector.

‘As is well-known, Japan is the most aged country in the world and there are many lessons that could be drawn from Japan’s experience in tackling ageing-related challenges. Under AHWIN [the Japanese government’s Asia Health and Wellbeing Initiative], we aim to promote regional cooperation that fosters sustainable and self-reliant healthcare systems, and work towards the goal to create vibrant and healthy societies where people can enjoy long and productive lives. Today at TICAD7, in collaboration with Dr Masuda’s KAKENHI project team, we are extending our scope to Africa,’ said Mr Akio Okawara, President and CEO of JCIE, in his opening remarks. Mr Okawara referred to Dr Ken Masuda, Associate Professor in the School of Tropical Medicine and Global Health, Nagasaki University.

Even though the relative number of elderly people in Africa is still low compared to other continents, that number is expected to triple in the next 30 years. Population ageing is a positive outcome for healthcare systems, but it also presents a variety of new challenges. Health and long-term care systems will find themselves under increasing pressure as they tackle an increase in noncommunicable diseases while still grappling with persistent infectious diseases. Furthermore, disparities in access to or quality of long-term care represent a potential new cause of social instability and a barrier to continued development.

Former Minister of Health for the Republic of Senegal, H.E. Madame Awa Marie Coll-Seck, who currently serves as the President of the National Committee Chair of the Initiative for Transparency in Extractive Industries (CN-ITIE), discussed the current situation regarding elderly care in Africa and in Senegal in particular.

‘In sub-Saharan Africa, political and health authorities are clearly announcing that the elderly are one of the priority vulnerable groups that are gradually becoming a priority population. Some countries, including South Africa, Benin, Nigeria, or Senegal, have developed action plans to protect, promote, or care for the elderly. These plans reflect the recommendations of the second World Assembly on Ageing (Madrid 2002) or WHO Strategies. More concretely for the elderly, countries such as South Africa have se up pension systems different from those reserved only for Retirees. Some, like Senegal, offer free basic health services,’ she said.

The panel discussion focused on healthcare, social protection, and welfare, as well as on the potential for sharing information and lessons between Asia and Africa. One of the topics featured was the development of long-term care systems, taking into consideration the role of the family in providing elder care. In Japan, for example, a long-term care insurance scheme was introduced that enabled older adults to be supported by society as a whole, instead of relying on families to shoulder all of the responsibility. However, such schemes are yet to be established in Africa or in many Asian countries such as Indonesia, where the concept of family-based care is still deeply rooted as a social norm.

Facing the increasing number of older persons, relying on family care alone will not be feasible, and thus an integrated framework to provide care via governmental organisations and local communities will be necessary. In light of the diverse races and ethnic groups living in Africa, family values tend to be complicated and sensitive to traditional practices and social prejudice. There is no one simple solution that can be shared across regions, but it was agreed that countries should work toward taking a holistic approach to address the population ageing issue by learning from each other’s lessons and experiences, as well as identifying potential challenges.

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