The UN states that inequalities often are exacerbated by age. Although by mid-century, 80% of east Asians aged 80 or older will be in China, the fastest ageing populations are in Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong, with the growth rate of east Asia exceeding south-east Asia and south Asia combined.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that south east Asia’s proportion of people aged 60 or above will be 20.3% by 2050. Health problems that elderly people experience include non-communicable diseases (NCDs), mental health injuries and disabilities. For Asia, the ageing population, coupled with greater longevity, means that economic development policies need to make the population healthier, more productive, economically independent, and address gender and old-age economic insecurity.

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Asian women remain disadvantaged. Facing job inequality, the elderly need training and employability, as well as improved pension in the absence of minimum wage laws. Individuals either must save more while they are young or work further into old age. In urban areas, housing design needs to cater to the growing elderly population, promoting their independence, health and productive living.

Incidence of NCDs in Asia is growing. From a social cultural perspective, individualism has gradually eroded the Asian moral obligation to care for and support their elderly parents. Hence, authorities need to provide more integrated community health and social care systems, and provide universal health coverage for the elderly. 

In terms of mental health, the most common problem faced by the elderly is depression. Governments need to implement community care programmes to deal with depression, and prevent dementia and other ageing-related diseases. Other major challenges include training of more mental health professionals and effective psychogeriatric services.

Attempts to provide long-term care through palliative hospices, nursing homes, hospitals and residential facilities are often met with challenges in service delivery and financing. Technological innovations, like smart homes, are necessary to redevelop systems to help the elderly to remain able.

The Covid-19 vaccine rollout across the Asia-Pacific region is also unequal. Not all countries have joined the global Covax scheme, and some countries are still undergoing clinical trials while others have started vaccination. Richer countries’ preordering has provided them preferential access and over subscription. Countries slow to vaccinate face growing infection rates, overwhelmed hospitals, further lockdowns, and slower regional investment and economic recovery. Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar are unlikely to achieve mass vaccination by 2026.

Asia is only as strong as its weakest link. Will it be a single country slow to vaccinate that re-infects the region five years later, or its ageing population not adequately provided for in their twilight years that most impacts the region?

Lawrence Yeo is CEO of AsiaBIZ Strategy, a Singapore-based consultancy that provides Asia market research and investment/trade promotion services. 
E-mail: lawrence@asiabizstrategy.com 

This article first appeared in the February/March print edition of fDi Intelligence. View a digital edition of the magazine here.