Islamabad : Changing demographics and lifestyles call for parallel attention to the health needs of the elderly (aged 60 years and above) in Pakistan. Among the elderly population, Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) account for 85 per cent of the total burden of diseases, followed by communicable diseases (12%) and injuries (3%). Cardiovascular diseases account for more than 37 per cent of deaths. Cardiovascular diseases and chronic respiratory diseases are higher among men than women.
The above findings are enshrined in a knowledge brief released by the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE). Titled ‘Burden of Disease Among Elderly in Pakistan,’ the brief has been authored by Saima Bashir and Saman Nazir of PIDE.
According to the study, NCDs, which account for a large share of the country’s disease burden and are more prevalent among older people, have gotten little attention in healthcare policies and programmes.
The study informs that premature death (fatal burden) accounts for 80 per cent of the burden among the elderly. “There has been a slight shift from fatal to non-fatal disease burden (80% vs. 77%) between 2000 and 2019; however, fatal disease burden remains the biggest contributor to total burden among the elderly population,” the authors have pointed out.
Elderly men experience more fatal NCD burdens than women. In Pakistan, both men and women suffered from cardiovascular diseases; however, the proportion of fatal burden is higher for men. Chronic respiratory diseases are more common among elderly men than women. The proportion of fatal burden due to cancer is almost equal across gender, the study informs.
The authors have underlined the need to plan and implement a comprehensive and cost-effective healthcare strategy covering the medical, physical, social, and psychological needs of the country’s elderly population. The study points out that “the policy focus at the federal and provincial levels remains on improving mother and child health and combating communicable diseases. However, ongoing changes in the country’s age structure and epidemiology require parallel attention in focus to address the healthcare and medical needs of the elderly.”
The study calls for the strengthening of primary healthcare to include a wide range of promotive, preventive, curative, palliative, and rehabilitative interventions to address the health needs of the elderly population. “The state can play a major role by creating an age-friendly and enabling environment for old aged population by ensuring that health services are aligned with health needs,” the study states.
Almost every country in the world is experiencing growth in the elderly population. Pakistan’s older population is growing in both absolute and relative terms. The number of Pakistanis aged 60 and older is estimated to nearly double from 7 percent (14 million) in 2019 to14 percent by 2050. Due to improvements in hygiene, the introduction of vaccinations, and the application of newer diagnostic and treatment technologies, the world has experienced a significant increase in life expectancy. However, this demographic phenomenon, i.e., the increase in the share of older people in the total population, has increased pressure on healthcare systems due to complicated health problems and disabilities among the elderly population across the world.