Vietnam faces rapidly aging population
VietNamNet Bridge - Vietnam is entering the aging process at an unprecedented high speed, said Ms. Victoria Kwawa, Country Director of the World Bank (WB) in Vietnam.

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According to the report “Live Long and Prosper: Aging in East Asia and Pacific”, released by the WB yesterday, Vietnam’s working-age population has peaked and is now declining.

The proportion of elderly people in Vietnam is currently at 11%. But in just 10 years, the number of elderly people will account for 1/5 of Vietnam's population.

Thus, the future workforce of Vietnam is at risk of deficiency.

The birth rate in Vietnam is currently at 1.8%. Like other countries in the region, this ratio is expected to fall to 1.5% then 1.4%.

This phenomenon has occurred in South Korea, China, Thailand and other countries.

This can also happen in Vietnam if the government does not have support policies.

Vietnam’s demographic of senior citizens aged 65 and older is expected to double from 7 per cent to 14 per cent in 18 years, according to the report.

Comparatively, the same demographic is expected to reach 14 per cent in Thailand in 17 years; Laos and Indonesia in 20 years; Timor-Leste, China and Singapore in 25 years; the United Kingdom in 45 years; the United States in 69 years; and France in 115 years.

The change will result in a rapid decline in the working-age population in East Asia and Asia Pacific countries.

The report also pointed out that people in rural areas work longer, and those in urban areas retire earlier, particularly female workers and those working in formal jobs.

In addition, elderly people in Vietnam rely mainly on their own work for financial support, and 60 per cent of people polled by the World Bank said they expected more Government support in addition to their pension and support from children and other family members.

Philip O’Keefe, Regional Lead Economist for Human Development for the East Asia and Pacific Region, said aging presents challenges for healthcare systems.

Firstly, the current over-reliance on hospital care could exacerbate the cost pressures brought on by an aging population with multiple non-communicable diseases.

Secondly, the poor quality of primary care presents challenges for the cost-effective management of conditions that increase with age, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Thirdly, pharmaceutical spending and procurement creates inefficiencies in healthcare, which will be exacerbated by an aging population.

He said reforms across the healthcare delivery and financing system are needed. This entails reorienting the delivery system from the intensive use of hospital care to greater reliance on primary care with improved quality and case management, as well as reforming provider payment mechanisms from fee-for-services to case-based approaches.

The report also recommends increased participation in the labour force among urban residents in their 50s and 60s. Vietnam should also improve labour productivity to compensate for fewer workers, it said.

Deputy Minister of Labour, Invalid and Social Affairs Nguyễn Trọng Đàm said yesterday that the Government considers the aging population one of its major challenges for socio-economic development.

The country now has about 10 million people who are 60 or older, accounting for about 11 per cent of the total population. The rate is expected to reach 20 per cent in the next decade.

A larger senior citizen population could lead to labour shortages, increased funding for social welfare and a heavier burden on the public healthcare system, Đàm said.

“An aging population not only requires the country to have a better healthcare policy for older people, but also sustainable development policies, including a reproductive health policy, employment, pensions and services for senior citizens,” he said.

A 2012 report by the Ministry of Health revealed that only five per cent of elderly Vietnamese are in good health, while the rest suffer from diseases - particularly non-communicable diseases, including high blood pressure (almost 40 per cent), arthritis (over 30 per cent), lung disease, diabetes, and vision or hearing impairments.

Shared challenges

According to a World Bank report, East Asia is aging faster than any other region in history, and some middle-income and wealthier economies could lose up to 15 per cent of their working-age populations by 2040.

The report found that 36 per cent of the world’s population aged 65 and over, or 211 million people, live in East Asia.

By 2040, the graying of the population could shrink the number of working-age adults by more than 15 per cent in Korea and more than 10 per cent in China, Thailand and Japan. In China alone, that would translate into a net loss of 90 million workers.

The rapid pace and sheer scale of aging in East Asia raises policy challenges, economic and fiscal pressures, and social risks. Without reforms, for example, pension spending in the region is projected to increase by eight to 10 per cent of the GDP by 2070.

In addition, most East Asian health systems aren’t prepared for age-related spending, as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other chronic illnesses could account for 85 per cent of all disease burdens by 2030.

Rapid aging in East Asia is partly a result of the region’s breakneck pace of economic development in recent decades, the report says. Higher incomes and better education have led to steady increases in life expectancy, and have been accompanied by sharp declines in fertility rates, with a growing number of countries now well below replacement levels.

As a result, by 2060, one in five of the oldest countries in the world will be in East Asia, compared with just one in 25 in 2010.

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