In Bhutan the Royal Society for Senior Citizens (RSSC) has been observing October 1 as the International Day for Older Persons along with the rest of the world. Senior citizens and members of the RSSC would meet and discuss issues affecting the elderly people on the day. This year we were unable to organize such a gathering as the day falls in the middle of the election period. However, we would like to take this opportunity to highlight issues related to older persons in our country and the activities of the RSSC. It is hoped the competing political parties will also take these issues into consideration.
The 2018 theme for observance of International day for older persons is to:
• Promote the rights enshrined in the Declaration and what it means in the daily lives of older persons;
• Raise the visibility of older people as participating members of society committed to improving the enjoyment of human rights in many areas of life and not just those that affect them immediately;
• Reflecton progress and challenges in ensuring full and equal enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms by older persons; and
• Engagebroad audiences across the world and mobilize people for human rights at all stages of life.
In Bhutan, just as the Throne introduced democracy in the country, His Majesty had commanded the establishment of RSSC in 2011.
His Majesty was pleased to command that the retired government servants have great potential to remain productive and contribute towards the well being of communities and in the process of nation building. He expressed the hope that the retired officials will put their wealth of experience and knowledge to productive use by forming partnership of senior citizens to foster harmonious living and well being of the senior citizens and the people in general.
Subsequently, a group of 18 retired government servants as founding members started the RSSC. It is registered as Public Benefit Organisation (PBO) with the Civil Society Organisation Authority of Bhutan from February 21, 2011. The Vision and Mission of the RSSC is to build an inclusive and harmonious society consistent with the principles of Gross National Happiness and enabling senior citizens to harness greater happiness for their family and rest of the society. The Society now has about 200 members who support the RSSC. The RSSC hopes to establish a chapter in each of the dzongkhags and gewogs in future.
The present situation and living standard of elderly citizens in our country today is a growing concern. The challenges faced by them as reflected by the National Statistics Bureau in 2017 report are:
· Around 63% face financial problem
· Around 30% suffer from poor shelter
· Around 26% suffer from food self sufficiency
· Around 15% are landless
· Around 15% are debt ridden
· Nearly 18% fear hunger among others and
· Almost 71% fear sickness and death
As a priority, the RSSC has been advocating a national policy and legislation to address the issues faced by elderly persons. In this regard, meetings were held with the member and committees of the Parliament and with the government of the day.
Bhutan has committed to implementing The Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, 2002, which is the global guiding document of the United Nations on population ageing. The key objective of the Madrid Plan of Action is to build societies for people of all ages by addressing the needs of older persons and strengthening their participation in economies and societies. It focuses on three priority areas: older persons and development; advancing health and well being into old age; and ensuring enabling and supportive environments. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development complements the Plan of Action in its aims to ensure that older persons are not left behind.
Our country, therefore, as a first step, needs to adopt a policy and pass legislation to address various issues related to elderly population in the country.
While awaiting the policy and legislation to be adopted we RSSC has proposed the following to the government:
1. Installation of elevators for buildings with 4 stories or higher.
2. Public busses to designate priority seats for elderly and the disabled.
3. Geriatric health programme, which is being implemented in the rural areas whereby health assistants visit the home of the elderly within their locality. We understand that the programme has been much appreciated, especially by those who are disabled and alone in their homes. We recommend that the programme be further improved and strengthened. If possible the programme could be expanded to urban areas also where also quite a large number of senior citizens who find it difficult to visit the hospital reside.
4. Accessibility to senior citizens for health care can be further improved with separate GDMO chambers and counter for medicines for senior citizens are instituted in all hospitals. Regarding the specialist services, medical appointments be given for senior citizens, if not for all, to make it convenient for them by not having to wait on first come first system. If a specific day of the week could be assigned for senior citizens when they could be given a health check up by a GDMO and a medical specialist would be very useful to detect sickness before it is too late.
5. Provide non-contributory pension scheme for poor elderly citizens aged 60 years and older.
6. Introduce voluntary contribution pension scheme so that even national workforce workers can provide for old age pension.
7. Support the establishment of Senior Citizen centres in urban areas where they can congregate and services for them provided
8. Considering the international trend of increasing ratio of senior citizens, Bhutan also will soon have a larger percentage of elderly people especially with the improving services of education and health and increasing income. It may, therefore, not be early to frame policies and legislation to meet the challenges of an ageing population.
9. Establishment of a seed fund through a one-time grant amount
We would like to also take this opportunity to thank the domestic airlines for introducing substantial discounts for senior citizens, the Bank of Bhutan for introducing separate counters and other banks following suit and the JDWNRH for introducing separate doctor chambers and pharmacy counters and the appointment system. We sincerely thank the ADB Country Office, corporate and private sector organisations that have generously contributed to the RSSC fund to support its activities.
Royal Society for Senior Citizens