|Doctors conduct medical examination and give free medicine to residents under preferential treatment policy of HCM City's District 3 –– VNA/VNS Photo Thanh Vu
by Gia Loc
HCM CITY (VNS) — As a member of The Elderly Helping the Elderly Club in District 10's Ward 10 in HCM City, Ngo Thi Nam visits people of her own age group each month, inquiring about their family and health.
Each city ward and commune has such clubs, all of which are staffed by volunteers.
Nam, who is 66, provides counselling on nutrition and disease prevention, and encourages people to do physical exercise.
When visiting, she observes whether neighbours have help from their children or relatives, and if not, she arranges social welfare from the ward.
For people aged 80 and above who may be seriously ill, Nam and a doctor of the ward's healthcare centre visit their homes.
In Nam's neighbourhood, there are five people aged 80 and above; two people between the ages of 75 and 79; and 21 people aged 55 and above.
In District 10's Ward 10, many free screening programmes for chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and osteoporosis are provided to people aged 55 and above. Free medicine is also given to people taking part in the programme.
"These programmes help detect disease so that treatment can be given in a timely fashion," Nam said.
She and other club members also raise funds to provide free meals and gifts to older residents every three weeks.
Bui Thi Hong Mao, 67, of District 3's Ward 9, who is a member of the ward's club, said: "Many elderly often feel isolated and have mental stress. They need to talk and have someone listen to them."
Mao said club members visit to chat and to arrange assistance from the ward's healthcare centre, and also help them obtain social welfare payments as well as necessary items to live.
6% of population
According to the city's Department of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, HCM City had about 500,000 people aged 60 and above in 2013, accounting for 6.26 per cent of the population.
Associations of the elderly in the city's districts, wards and communes have raised funds totalling VND34 billion (US$1.5 million) for monthly allowances to the elderly, visits to neighbours who are ill, and construction or repair of houses.
In addition, as many as 73,556 people aged 80 and above without retirement salaries and 1,888 of the disadvantaged elderly aged 60-79 receive health insurance cards and social welfare, including monthly allowances worth VND380,000 ($17).
Of the city's elderly, 61,013 are 70 to 101 years old, including 208 people who are 100 years old and 371 people 101 years old.
The elderly associations and the Elderly Helping the Elderly clubs also regularly orgainse parties to celebrate the longevity of the very old.
The city has six public social welfare centres that take care of 1,060 older patients and 13 private centres that care for 546. Most of them do not have relatives or children to take care of them.
Under the Law on the Elderly, the city also exempts bus fees for people aged 80 and above.
New city regulations
In HCM City, there are only nine hospitals with geriatric wards, including Nguyen Trai, Nguyen Tri Phuong and Gia Dinh, while 51 hospitals have only examination rooms for older patients.
Vo Hoang Thu, deputy head of the administrative board of the Elderly Association in Binh Chanh District, said the city did not have enough geriatric hospital wards.
In Binh Chanh District, for example, there is no hospital geriatric ward, Thu said, adding that people aged 60-79 are often examined and receive medicine or treatment with patients of other ages, without any priority for older people.
"For some people of that age, an hour of waiting can make them feel tired," he said.
Under national law, priority at healthcare centres and hospitals is only given for elderly aged 80 and above.
Tran Thi Xuan Ha of the city's Department of Health said that many hospitals did not have the space to build geriatric wards.
Pham Quang Menh, chairman of the Elderly Association in Binh Thanh District's Ward 6, said: "The elderly do not want to travel far for health exams and treatment. Our ward's healthcare centre is often their only choice, but there is no doctor for examination and treatment."
Menh said the city should add doctors to ward healthcare centres or hire more doctors at centres that already have them.
Nguyen Quoc Cuong, deputy chairman of the Elderly Association in District 5's Ward 10, suggested that healthcare centres use IT in health management.
He said that social welfare policies should also lower the age of eligible recipients from the current 80 to 75 years old.
The average age of the older population (defined as 60 and above) in the country is 73. More than 70 per cent of the older population live in rural areas with financial difficulties, and need better access to social welfare policies.
Many of them die without ever having received any benefit from such policies, Cuong said.
Nguyen Duc Nhung, deputy head of administrative board of the city Elderly Association, said that bus ticket exemptions for people aged 80 and above should also be reduced to age 60. The number of people aged 60 to 79 travelling by bus is high, he said.
Manh Thanh Hai of the city's Department of Transport said the department had submitted a plan to lower the age to 75 for bus transport to the city's People's Committee. It is expected to take effect next year, according to Hai.
Nguyen Van Tan, deputy head of the General Office For Population Family Planning, said: "Talking about care of the elderly is easy, but it is actually difficult to do. This is an important matter with several problems. Material and physical care is only one of the many issues that need attention." — VNS