A nationwide homecare system will be set up to ensure elderly people enjoy "a comfortable and less lonely" life, a top official said yesterday.
According to a directive circulated by the State Council last week, the government has set a goal to provide care services for the elderly in every community of every city by 2010, Li Bengong, deputy director of the China National Committee on Aging (CNCA) office, told a press conference.
Comprehensive service centers for the elderly will be built in 80 percent of all rural townships, and one-third of all villages will get a center providing cultural and medical services for seniors.
Figures from the CNCA show that 149 million, 11.3 percent of the population, were aged over 60 at the end of 2006, up from 10.2 percent in 2000.
However, almost 50 percent of the country's urban elderly live apart from their children, up from about 42 percent in 2000. The ratio is as high as 56 percent in major cities.
Yan Qingchun, deputy director of the CNCA office, said: "With more parents of the only-child generation becoming old, the ratio of lonely elderly families will certainly grow, and the demand for care for the old is mounting."
A home-based eldercare system was less expensive than old folks' homes, he said.
Yan called for additional funds from the government, as well as donations from the private sector to help develop the new system.
According to a survey disclosed by the CNCA yesterday, 85 percent of the elderly people surveyed in six provinces said they preferred home-based care to nursing homes.
Yan put it to the traditional practice of Chinese families, where elderly and their children place great emotional attachment on living in their own homes.
But officials have also said that a lack of facilities and skilled nurses are major obstacles for managing the aging population.
Li said high demand for eldercare facilities by those over 80, half of whom can no longer care for themselves, has become the biggest problem hindering the country's eldercare efforts.
Figures from the CNCA show existing eldercare institutions can serve less than 1.2 percent of the aging population, compared with a figure of about 8 percent in developed countries.
Also, while 48.5 percent of elderly in cities said in the survey they now need home nursing, only 16 percent said they had access to domestic services.
The country needed 1.8 million nurses to care for its elderly population in 2006, and the number is expected to grow to 6.5 million by 2020, according to the CNCA survey.
Li said his committee is working with labor authorities to plug the shortage.
The home care and nursing services sector is valued at 70 billion yuan.
(China Daily February 22, 2008)