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Population Ageing in Viet Nam: Challenges for the Country’s Socio-Economic Development

Ha Noi – Viet Nam’s population is ageing quite rapidly as a result of longer life expectancy and declining fertility and mortality rates. This demographic trend represents a great achievement for Viet Nam, and is linked to significant improvements in health, nutrition and overall socio-economic development. However, Viet Nam's rapidly ageing population will also create tremendous challenges, according to a recent report presented today at a media session organized by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.

“Population ageing is a global phenomenon affecting every man, woman and child. The steady increase of older age groups in national populations, both in absolute numbers and in relation to the working-age population, has a direct bearing on the inter-generational and intra-generational equity and solidarity that are the foundations of society,” emphasized Nobuko Horibe, Director of UNFPA’s Asia and the Pacific Regional Office at the media session.

Data from the 2009 census in Viet Nam shows that the number of elderly persons has risen more rapidly than any other population group and as such the ageing index is also rising swiftly, while the potential support ratio is decreasing significantly. The time for Viet Nam to transit from an ‘ageing’ to an ‘aged’ population structure will be much shorter than many countries with higher development levels. For example, it took 85 years in Sweden; 26 years in Japan; 22 years in Thailand, while this transition is projected to take only 20 years in Viet Nam. This has tremendous implications for economic growth, as well as the social protection schemes required to address the needs of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable elderly persons.

It is important to note that there are more elderly women than elderly men. According to the 2009 census, the number of elderly women to 100 elderly men increases substantially from 131 for the 60-69 years age group, to 149 for the 70-79 years age group, and to 200 for the 80 years and older age group. Such a situation results in a ‘feminization of ageing’ in Viet Nam. Elderly women usually face more risks than elderly men in terms of income, disability, and access to health care services and social health insurance.

“Viet Nam has entered its ageing phase at a rapid pace, and thus, time is of the essence, if national policies and programmes are to be designed and scaled up to meet the anticipated social protection and health requirements of a large elderly population. As such, Viet Nam needs realistic and appropriate policies and strategies designed and implemented using evidence from carefully orchestrated quantitative and qualitative studies. These studies must analyze the relationship between the ageing population and economic growth and the social service needs for the elderly,” said Bruce Campbell, UNFPA Representative in Viet Nam, at the media session.

Taking care of the elderly is an important policy component that the government has emphasized at all stages of the country’s development. Since the first Constitution in 1946, the elderly have been an important part of social and economic policies and programmes. “Population ageing has been included as one of the prioritized issues in the new national strategy on population and reproductive health for 2011-2020. In the coming years, the number of elderly people continues to increase, thus Viet Nam needs to have better policies in taking care of the elderly,” said Dr. Duong Quoc Trong, General Director of General Office for Population and Family Planning.

However, policies and programmes are evolving at a relatively slow pace, which has resulted in underdeveloped geriatric healthcare services; low access to quality elderly health care; a pension fund which is fragile for an ageing labour force and involves gender and generational inequity; and significant inclusion and exclusion gaps in social other assistance programmes.

If ageing is not considered as an important socio-economic development issue today, appropriate research, policies and programmes to deal with ageing will not be initiated.

"We are at a unique moment in history, where, based on carefully designed policy research, complemented by lessons learned from other countries, there are a number of policy options and investments that can be made that will have a far-reaching and positive impact on the health and well being of the growing elderly population in Viet Nam,” concluded Campbell.

For more information, please contact: 
Nguyen Thi Hong Thanh, tel. +84 4 3822 4383, ext 117,