Beijing, 26-29 May 1998
I. ORGANIZATION OF THE WORKSHOP
1. The Regional Workshop on Preparations for the International Year of Older Persons was convened by the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) at Beijing from 26 to 29 May 1998.
2. The main purposes of the Workshop were: (a) to exchange national experiences and views on ageing-related issues with a view to enhancing the quality of life of older persons in Asia and the Pacific, as well as of information on national programmes and activities for older persons, particularly those in support of the International Year of Older Persons (1999); and (b) to provide inputs for a draft regional plan of action on ageing by identifying priority areas and setting regional and national targets on ageing and older persons.
3. The Workshop was attended by representatives of the following ESCAP members and associate members: Bangladesh, Brunei Darussalam, People's Republic of China, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Islamic Republic of Iran, Kazakhstan, Macau, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam.
4. Representatives of the following United Nations bodies and specialized agencies were also in attendance: United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and International Labour Organization (ILO).
5. The following non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other organizations were represented: Bangladesh Association for the Aged and Institute of Geriatric Medicine (BAAIGM), China National Committee on Ageing (CNCA), Gerontological Society of China, China Research Center on Ageing, Hong Kong Charity Association, Heritage Medical Centre, Indonesian Association of Gerontology, Japanese Association of Employment Development for Senior Citizens, Japan College of Social Work, Japan Association of Longevity, National Council of Senior Citizens Organizations Malaysia (NACSCOM), Age Concern New Zealand, Coalition of Services of the Elderly (COSE), 6th Asia/Oceania Regional Congress of Gerontology Seoul, Korea Institute of Gerontology, HelpAge Sri Lanka, Senior Citizens Council of Thailand, American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), National Association of Older Persons in Viet Nam, HelpAge International/ Asia (HAI), International Association of Gerontology (IAG) and International Federation on Ageing (IFA).
6. The Government of Malta was represented as an observer. Representatives of the International Social Security Association (ISSA) and of the following agencies and organizations in China also attended the Workshop as observers: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, All-China Women's Federation, Research Office of the State Council, Ministry of Trade and Economic Cooperation, Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Civil Affairs, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, People's University of China, Beijing University, China Research Centre on Ageing, China Fund for the Elderly, China Association of Universities for the Aged, Gerontological Society of China, Shandong Provincial Committee on Ageing, Tianjin City Committee on Ageing, Beijing City Committee on Ageing, Shanxi Provincial Committee on Ageing, Zhejiang Provincial Committee on Ageing, Sichuan Provincial Committee on Ageing, Guangdong Provincial Committee on Ageing, Shanghai City Committee on Ageing, Guangxi Provincial Committee on Ageing, Xiamen City Committee on Ageing, Xiamen City Veteran Cadre's Bureau, and Haerbin City Committee on Ageing.
II. OPENING OF THE WORKSHOP
7. Mr Bienvenido Rola, Officer-in-Charge, a.i., ESCAP Social Development Division, presided over the opening ceremonies. In welcoming the participants, he stated that, bearing in mind the objectives of the International Year of Older Persons and taking note of the tremendous social and economic challenges facing countries in Asia and the Pacific, the Workshop offered a most timely opportunity to reflect upon past achievements and the current situation of older persons in each country of the region. He noted that population ageing across the region had given rise to a myriad of shared concerns for the well-being of older people and their roles in their respective societies into the 21st century. Central to this host of concerns were issues relating to the unprecedented social and economic implications of a large elderly population, a shrinking labour force and expanding social security systems, the breakdown of traditional support systems based on family and community solidarity and institutions, and the continued technological advances, particularly in the health care system which will have considerable effects on the life expectancy and quality of life of older people. He stressed that, compounded by the current economic crisis in the region, the situation will have serious impacts on those who are least able to cope - the poorest of the poor, many of whom are older persons - and will prevent them from pursuing fulfilling lives. Mr Rola underlined that the search for sustainable solutions to those problems amidst the world's rush for economic growth and with the limited resources of governments, NGOs and the public at large called for concerted efforts at all levels and required vision and viable and practical strategies for the future. He noted that in proclaiming 1999 the International Year of Older Persons, the United Nations adopted the Proclamation on Ageing in 1992 which set out the guidelines for national and international action for the benefit of older persons. In accordance with this mandate, United Nations bodies and specialized agencies including ESCAP had embarked on supportive activities.
8. He drew the Workshop's attention to resolution 54/5 adopted by ESCAP at its fifty-fourth session in April 1998 titled: "International Year of Older Persons: Towards a Society for All Ages" which urges the formulation of a Plan of Action on Ageing for Asia and the Pacific. He pointed out that the regional workshop was part of a series of ESCAP activities in support of the Year. He noted with appreciation that it had been convened by ESCAP with the financial support from the Government of Macau through the Department of Social Welfare and the assistance of China, through the China National Committee on Ageing (CNCA), which had generously provided host country facilities and services. He reminded the workshop of its objectives which were to exchange views and experiences on the situation of older persons and preparations at both the regional and national levels for the International Year and to prepare inputs for a draft plan of action on ageing for Asia and the Pacific. The said draft, he said, will be considered at a regional meeting to be held at Macau from 28 September to 1 October 1998. Finally, he noted the high level of representation of governments, NGOs in the workshop and expressed high expectations that the workshop will meet its objectives successfully.
9. Ms Maria de Fatima dos Santos Ferreira, Director, Macau Department of Social Welfare, expressed support for the concept and themes of the International Year of Older Persons. She informed the Workshop that her Government had always been concerned with improving the support given to older persons by providing adequate facilities and support services to contribute to their well-being. The Government of Macau, recognizing the key role that NGOs could play in managing facilities and services for older persons, plans in the coming years to develop further NGO capabilities to run and manage the said facilities in order to guarantee quality services to the aged at lower costs.
10. Ms Ferreira indicated her belief in the need for cooperation between governments and the civil society as well as the family in planning and implementing programmes and activities for older persons. She expressed her Government's support for relevant ESCAP activities in the hope to contribute positively to regional cooperation in the social field. She noted that, in June 1997, Macau hosted the ESCAP Regional Seminar on Government-NGO Cooperation for Older Persons and will be hosting the ESCAP Regional Meeting on the Formulation of a Plan of Action on Ageing from 28 September to 1 October 1998.
11. In welcoming the participants, the President of the China National Committee on Ageing (CNCA), Mr Zhang Wenfan, highlighted efforts and achievements that have been made in China regarding the improvement of the quality of life of older persons in the country. The President of CNCA informed the Workshop that a Plan of Action for the observance of the International Year of Older Persons has been adopted in China. The President emphasized the need to prepare societies for the process of population ageing and its implications, to follow a forward-looking approach to the issue and to mobilize every member and every sector of the society to participate in the commemoration of the Year.
12. In his inaugural statement, Mr Duoji Cairang, the Minister of Civil Affairs of China, praised the United Nations initiatives in launching the International Year of Older Persons and in supporting activities in observance of the Year. The Minister of Civil Affairs drew the attention of the participants to the need to have common understanding of ageing-related issues and to change negative attitudes and perceptions of older persons.
13. The Minister informed the participants that, in China, services for older persons had been expanded and the Government had formulated national policies for the benefit of older persons. In this regard, he further informed the Workshop that the Law on the Protection of Older Persons in China was adopted in 1996. He concluded by emphasizing the role and contribution of older persons in the implementation of the overall strategy for sustainable development.
III. ADOPTION OF THE AGENDA
14. The Workshop had before it the following agenda:
15. The Workshop had before it documents SD/RW/IYOP/INF.1 titled "Older Persons: A Regional Overview" and SD/RW/IYOP/INF.2 titled "Asia and the Pacific Into the Twenty-first Century: Prospects for Social Development" which it used as a guide for its deliberations.
16. In reviewing the regional situation, the Workshop underscored the importance of community-based care and other services for older persons. It observed that such services would supplement the family support for older persons and that it was an important social safety net for older persons who lacked adequate social support. However, it was pointed out that the implementation of community-based programmes required the collaboration of government agencies and NGOs in order to be successful and sustainable. The use of older persons as paid workers or volunteers in community activities, especially in rural areas, was advocated by the Workshop as a major step in better tapping the potentials of older persons as a resource.
17. The Workshop recognized that the issues facing rural older persons differed from those faced by urban elderly. While addressing the needs of the rural elderly, the participants pointed out the lack of service infrastructure and the prevalence of subsistence living which made older persons more vulnerable. It was noted that rural-urban migration was one of the causes disrupting family care for rural older persons.
18. The Workshop stressed the need to find alternatives to the mobilization of resources for services benefiting older persons. It was observed that the business sector should be tapped as a source of support to activities relating to aging and should become partners in social development.
19. Prevention of age-associated illness was recognized by the Workshop as an important step towards enhancing the well-being of older persons. It raised concerns over the access to primary and preventive health care services, especially by the poor and/or rural elderly and underscored the need to ensure the access to basic health services by every member of society. In this connection, the Workshop also reviewed the impacts of the privatization of health care, especially that on health delivery systems. While noting that privatization could bring better responses to the needs of older persons, the concern was expressed that privatization could lead to a fragmentation of the service delivery system, and higher costs of such services.
20. In reviewing social security schemes and employment issues in Asia and the Pacific, the Workshop noted the concerns about the adequacy of pension and social security provisions in ensuring a decent standard of living. In this connection, the need for lifelong preparation for old age, financial planning and individual responsibility for old age should be emphasized to all age groups. This could be done through school curricula and other educational activities. Furthermore, the Workshop observed the need for more social participation of older persons, including employment to promote their quality of life and to expand their financial self-support so that vitality in the society is maintained.
21. With regard to family care, the Workshop reiterated the importance of the family in the care of older persons and the need for all members of the family, especially women, and the younger members, to be supported in their role as carers. The Workshop noted that as the family could not be the sole provider of support to older persons, the community and the state had a role to play in sharing this responsibility. In this regard, the Workshop underscored the special needs of vulnerable groups such as the oldest old, the multi-generational family of older persons and older persons living alone, and the need to review existing legal frameworks and measures so as to ensure the availability of family support to older persons and to provide legal aid whenever required.
22. The Workshop discussed the special burden on women in the family who often bore the major responsibility of caring for older persons. The special needs of older persons, who were often widows, should be appreciated. Special programmes and services should be developed to assist these groups of women.
23. The Workshop emphasized the importance of empowering older persons as an effective way to promote the social position and contribution of older persons to society and of involving them in planning and implementation of programmes and services.
24. The Workshop, however, observed that older persons, as an increasingly important consumer group, would influence the market and could provide the grounds for initiatives by the private sector.
25. In reviewing existing national policies and programmes for older persons, the Workshop noted that governments needed to take a longer-term view in planning for older persons and to integrate this into national development which could lead to greater policy cohesion. In this regard, effective cooperation between governments and NGOs based on transparency and accountability were viewed by the Workshop as critical for any successful implementation of intervention strategies. To this end, NGOs should be resourced, strengthened and encouraged to take on more responsibilities.
26. In discussing programmes and activities in support of the International Year of Older Persons, the Workshop emphasized the need to set priorities in line with the specific conditions in each country and to address emerging issues related to population ageing. It was agreed that programmes related to the Year should not be limited to 1999 but should go beyond into the following decade. The Workshop underlined that forward-looking approach should be reflected in regional and national programmes for the Year.
27. The Workshop noted that government agencies and the public should be sensitized to emerging issues relating to older persons and that awareness raising should be further promoted in all the countries. In this regard, the media needed to be actively engaged in promoting public understanding of the concerns of older persons and in disseminating information on the International Year.
28. The Workshop underscored the need to set up national coordinating bodies on ageing to serve as the national focal point on ageing-related issues. A focal point should be established for the International Year of Older Persons, according to the indigenous situation.
29. The Workshop noted that programmes and activities for the International Year needed to be cost-effective, creative and sustainable and that they should range from income generation to social, cultural and arts activities. In particular, these activities should aim at assisting the marginalized among the elderly, including widowed, low-income and isolated older persons. The Workshop stressed that equal emphasis should be given to welfare and developmental programmes.
30. While acknowledging that Government-NGO cooperation was one of the best ways to promote the objectives of the International Year, the Workshop underscored the need to inform, educate and prepare each individual, each family and society of the various dimensions of ageing-related issues and of the significance of the International Year itself. In doing so, the Workshop agreed that youth organizations and schools are a channel to disseminate information and educate on issues related to older persons. In this regard, the Workshop emphasized the necessity for detailed demographic information on older persons in the region.
31. The need for enhancing the training of personnel working with and for older persons was emphasized by the Workshop. While discussing ways to expand training opportunities in the region, the participants observed that in-country training as well as inter-country cooperation in training care-givers and policy makers should be intensified.
32. In view of the leading role that ESCAP had been playing in undertaking activities and programmes in support of the International Year, the Workshop expressed the view that at the regional level, United Nations bodies and agencies, particularly WHO, ILO, UNFPA, UNESCO and UNDP, inter-governmental bodies and NGOs concerned with development should join together to implement programmes on behalf of older persons in preparation for the Year. ESCAP should continue to make available whatever resources and technical assistance to governments and NGOs in the observance of the Year, particularly the implementation of UN resolutions on the Year.
33. While discussing ways to enhance the mobilization of resources for the observance of the Year, the Workshop reiterated that older persons could be an important resource to tap in addition to the resources to be mobilized from the public and the business sector. Religious organizations and civic groups were also viewed as potential sources of support for activities for the International Year. The Workshop held the view that media such as newsletters and journals were useful in information activities and resource mobilization.
34. The Workshop reiterated that networking, including the sharing of knowledge, experience and resources, in working together for the International Year should be promoted at all levels, international, regional and national. The Workshop noted that networking should be expanded to cover research, training, policy development, planning and evaluation. Networking to support the implementation of ESCAP resolution on the International Year of Older Persons was considered important in this regard.
35. The Workshop reviewed the first draft of the Plan of Action on Ageing for Asia and the Pacific (Document SD/RW/IYOP/WP.1). It noted the importance of this document in providing guidance to governments, NGOs, regional and international agencies in meeting the challenges of population ageing.
36. The Workshop gave comments and suggestions with respect to the draft Plan. These included the following:
(a) The draft Plan should give a stronger, positive image of the older persons and a more optimistic view of ageing should prevail in the document;
(b) The draft Plan should give greater emphasis to the Government's role in generating greater awareness of and firm commitments to ageing-related issues;
(c) The draft Plan should contain a strong and concise introduction so that the urgency of the issues and concerns of the older persons could be conveyed. At the same time, efforts should be made to accommodate a detailed listing of issues in the main document;
(d) The draft Plan should address the issues concerning empowerment of older persons. This includes the integration of older persons into national decision-making processes;
(e) The draft Plan should reflect the wishes and hopes of older persons and written in simple language. It should be a plan of action not only for the governments, but also for the NGOs and older persons;
(f) The necessity of economic growth to provide for the allocation of financial resources to services for older persons should be addressed in the Plan. It is during years of economic growth that an appropriate infrastructure should be established. The government, however, should not be the only responsible party. The issues of population ageing should be dealt with at four levels: State, community, family and individual;
(g) The principle of older persons helping themselves and as a national "resource" should be promoted in the document, bearing in mind the United Nations Principles on Older Persons. The implementation of this principle should be carried out at all levels at which an older person operates, i.e, family, community, and NGOs, with the assistance of the government;
(h) Regarding health and nutrition, psychological, social and spiritual dimensions of health should be given due emphasis. Mental health issues should also be addressed. While the complementarity of primary and tertiary health facilities should be strengthened, the critical role played by secondary health facilities should not be overlooked. In particular, preventive measures and early intervention should be promoted. Since health care is an area that falls primarily within the government's responsibility, the government should strive to provide an adequate health care system for the population, including the older persons;
(i) The draft Plan should give emphasis to individual responsibility in preparing for old age, especially in financial and health dimensions;
(j) The draft Plan should give full consideration to the importance of healthy ageing and its impact on the wellbeing of older persons;.
(k) Greater emphasis should be given to the strengthening of the support system of the vulnerable groups and their special circumstances, including rural older persons, the frail elderly, older women, older persons in the informal sector, the destitute and displaced older persons;
(l) The draft Plan should attach great importance to the role of the family as the provider of care to older persons. Services supporting the family should be spelled out clearly in the draft Plan. It should recognize the contribution of older persons to the family;
(m) Governments, NGOs and voluntary organizations should promote integration of the older persons into the mainstream economy. The draft Plan should give full emphasis to the dimensions of productive ageing;
(n) The mass media should be actively engaged in the promotion of the positive roles and contributions of the older persons;
(o) The draft Plan should help promote international solidarity in Asia and the Pacific in meeting the challenges of the ageing world.
37. The Workshop submitted in writing detailed comments on the draft Plan to the ESCAP secretariat for its considerations.
VII. CLOSING OF THE WORKSHOP
38. The Workshop adopted its report on 29 May 1998.
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