Nguyen Van Tan, vice chief of the Ministry of Health's General Office for Population and Family Planning, spoke with Thoi bao Kinh te Viet Nam (Viet Nam Economic Times) about solutions to problems created by demographic changes.
Against a backdrop of low socio-economic development and increasingly limited resources, Viet Nam is experiencing some dramatic demographic changes. How is this situation affecting the nation's development?
There are now 63 million people of working age (15-64), that is roughly 69 per cent of our national population of over 90 million. This labour force has great potential to create material wealth for the country and to invest in development. Altogether they have tremendous purchasing power and constitute a huge market. Their abundance, typical industriousness and competitive labour costs make Viet Nam an attractive destination for international investors.
On the other hand, a great number of working-age people newly entering the labour market pose a big challenge for the employment rate. An insufficient provision of employment opportunities will lead to negative impacts on social order and security.
When it comes to unemployment, the issue isn't just a lack of jobs, but also that the labour force is not able to satisfy work requirements such as general education, professional skills, work management skills and stamina. The very fact that Viet Nam, to date, cannot manufacture a decent screw or a small engine component ordered by an international investor justifies this assessment.
Additionally, Viet Nam will become one of the world's fastest aging populations. It is expected that by 2050, Viet Nam will face something like what Japan is facing now.
Worse still, despite our high life expectancy, the healthy period in an average person's life is relatively short in Viet Nam. This basically translates into high healthcare costs, further compounded by the fact that nearly 70 per cent of senior citizens living in the countryside have very little savings. This will really challenge the state's healthcare and social insurance systems.
The 2011-2020 Population and Reproductive Health Strategy sets a target of keeping the population below 93 million by the end of 2015. Is this target achievable?
The mid-term population and housing census conducted in April 1, 2014 by the General Statistics Office of Viet Nam shows that the country's population at the time of survey was 90.49 million and the population growth rate is 1.06 per cent. This translates to an annual addition of 900,000 people; the target is definitely achievable.
The goal seems to be to reduce the population growth rate and maintain a low birth rate in order to both improve population quality and balance out the population structure. What measures must be taken to achieve this?
At present, birth rates vary by region and by province. In cities the rate is 1.85 births while it is 2.21 births in rural areas for every woman aged 15-49.
The replacement fertility rate, the rate at which women must give birth to enough babies to sustain the region's population level, is particularly low in the Mekong delta and Southeast regions. In the latter's case, the rate is only 1.56 births, which nears the rates in developed countries.
What we have to do then is to provide some reproductive services to people, especially young people, in areas with low replacement fertility rates.
As for population quality, we will carry out projects in collaboration with other sectors and engage every level of society to improve the quality of and access to resources to improve national socio-economic development.
To improve care for senior citizens, the approach will be family and community based. We will extend ongoing projects that have received positive feedback from the general public such as pre-birth and post-birth screenings, discouraging child marriages and inbreeding, and providing health consultation and examination services before marriage, especially people from ethnic minority groups.
State funding for population and family planning has seen sharp cuts in recent years. What difficulties has this created for the sector?
Our funding comes from a single source, that is the per cent of the state budget earmarked for the National Target Programme on Population and Family Planning. The recent cuts to this programme's budget have greatly affected our ability to procure means of birth control or pay for awareness raising campaigns.
If this programme is scrapped in 2016, many of the national population and family planning targets will not be achieved. This in turn will hurt the ability to meet other national targets as well.
Our monitoring agency – the Ministry of Health – suggests that the Government replace the programme with a new one called The National Target Programme on Population and Health to keep the efforts going. — VNS