'Poverty' clouds health status of Swiss elderly

The Local/AFP
The Local/AFP - [email protected]
'Poverty' clouds health status of Swiss elderly
While Switzerland is one of the world's wealthiest nations, many of its seniors face poverty, report says. Photo: Ernst Vikne

Switzerland is one of the best places in the world to grow old, according to a UN-backed study that ranks the mountain country as among the top places on the planet when it comes to life expectancy.


The Swiss score less well, however, when it comes to income security with 17.6 percent of residents 60 years and older facing poverty, receiving less than half the country’s median income, says the Global AgeWatch Index for 2013, released on Tuesday.

Overall, Switzerland ranks sixth among 91 countries judged for their ability to treat senior citizens, behind top-ranked Sweden, Norway, Germany, the Netherlands and Canada.

Afghanistan is rated the worst place to age, according to the study that warns many countries are ill-prepared to deal with the old age time bomb.

In a rapidly greying world, the Global AgeWatch Index — the first of its kind — found that Sweden, known for its generous welfare state, was best equipped to deal with the challenges of an ageing population.

With 23.4 percent of its population over 60 (around 1.8 million people), Switzerland expects to see this proportion shift to 37 percent by 2050.

The country currently boasts a life expectancy of 25 years for residents currently 60 years old, the world’s best performance.

But when it comes to income security for the elderly, as compared to the rest of the population, the Swiss rank only 28th.

How countries care for their senior citizens will become increasingly important as the number of people over the age of 60 is set to soar from some 809 million today to more than two billion by 2050 —  when they will account for more than one in five people on the planet, the report said.

"The 21st century is seeing an unprecedented global demographic transition, with population ageing at its heart," the authors of the study said.

The survey ranked many African and South Asian countries as the worst places to be retired, with Tanzania, Pakistan and Afghanistan rounding out the bottom three.

The index was compiled by the HelpAge International advocacy group and the UN Population Fund in a bid to provide much-needed data on ageing populations worldwide.

It ranked the social and economic wellbeing of the elderly by comparing data from the World Health Organization and other global agencies on older people's incomes, health, education, employment and their environments.
While the world's richest countries — including Western European nations, the US and Japan — predictably ranked highly, the report somewhat surprisingly found that a number of lower-income countries had put in place policies that significantly improved the quality of life for their elderly.
Bolivia, which offers free healthcare to its older citizens despite being one of the poorest surveyed countries, and Sri Lanka, with its long-term investments in health and education, were among those singled out for praise.
HelpAge's chief executive Silvia Stefanoni said a lack of urgency in the debate about older people's wellbeing "is one of the biggest obstacles to meeting the needs of the world's ageing population".
The study also noted that some of the top-ranking countries had introduced successful policies to care for the elderly at a time when they were still emerging economies.
Sweden for instance put in place its universal pension system a century ago, while Norway introduced its system in 1937, it said.
"Limited resources need not be a barrier to countries providing for their older citizens," the report said. 


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