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27 February 2024

UAE urged to invest in infrastructure for the ageing

Statistics show the number of people aged 75 and above will double in the next 20 years. (AFP)

By Karen Remo-Listana

The UAE and the Arab World should lead in exploring business opportunities on the burgeoning ageing population, industry experts told Emirates Business.

The ageing issue is a very serious and critical problem that needs to be addressed and the Gulf is well placed to take advantage of this situation, Hiroko Akiyama, professor of Social Psychology at the University of Tokyo and a member of the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council, said.

"There is no infrastructure to cater to the old people. And this should be addressed before it's too late," Akiyama said. "Japan is experiencing this but so is Singapore and South Korea. This problem will also be felt sooner or later by the Arabic and European countries."

While the UAE young population is growing at a mercurial pace, its elderly population is also growing at a rate of 10.3 per cent annually, one of the highest in the world. Currently the old age group is only six per cent of the total age group. However, the rapid increase in this class has prompted medical experts to emphasise the need for a substantial increase in healthcare resources. "This is not only a headache; this also offers business opportunities," Akiyama added. "Japan has been the forerunner of this issue but there should be an international collaboration. Arabic countries can and should take the lead."

Akiyama said the number if people aged 75 and above would double in the next 20 years. And with no infrastructures dedicated for this age cluster, governments would soon feel the pain of abrupt investing if they continue to ignore this fact.

"There are currently 10 million people aged 80,90 and 100. And there will be 10m more in the next 10 years. The social system is not designed nor prepared to meet the needs of this age group. There is no plan and no infrastructure. This should be addressed now because you can't change the social system in a short period," she said.

David Bloom, chairman of WEF's Council on Healthcare systems added that people aged 60 and above will increase from 670m today to 2bn in 2050.

Bloom says population ageing, as a global phenomenon, has barely been realised. "This is the case because the extremely large cohorts born during the post Second World War era will reach retirement ages in the year 2011, and from that year forward the age structure of our species will be permanently transformed."

He said these challenges will confront developed and developing nations alike, and it will occur so rapidly that individuals and nations may have a difficult time coping unless a broad range of policies are enacted to address them. "Some of the most difficult and urgent challenges will occur in developing nations where the largest number of older people will live – and there is reason to believe these nations are ill equipped to handle the forthcoming transition given the numerous other health, economic and environmental issues they face," he said.

The ageing of individuals and populations, he said, leads to complex issues involving the onset and expression of fatal and disabling diseases, the ageing brain, an understanding of how social institutions such as marriage and retirement will need to be transformed, coping with the unique needs of an older population in terms of the physical environments in which we live and work. We need to avoid the pernicious effects of ageism, identify new and innovative technological fixes to extend and enhance the quality and duration of human lives, address economic challenges and opportunities to individuals, employers and governments linked to the extension of life and a shifting age structure, and formulate new approaches to life-long learning and other enhancements to quality of life.