'Twi­light Villa': Home of Myan­mar's aban­doned el­derly

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

Par­a­lyzed on one side by a stroke and barely able to speak, Tin Hlaing was left to die at the side of a road-by her own chil­dren. The 75year-old only sur­vived be­cause a stranger took pity on her as she laid on the street and brought her to the "Twi­light Villa" nurs­ing home on the edge of Yan­gon. Her story has be­come in­creas­ingly fa­mil­iar as im­pov­er­ished Myan­mar strug­gles to cope with a rapidly ag­ing pop­u­la­tion that is pil­ing pres­sure on its al­ready ane­mic health sys­tem. Twi­light Villa's vice chair­woman Khin Ma Ma said many of the res­i­dents, like Tin Hlaing, ar­rive be­wil­dered and sick after being aban­doned by their fam­i­lies. "She was in a ter­ri­ble state-dis­ori­en­tated, de­hy­drated and above all very an­gry," Khin Ma Ma told AFP. "It was im­pos­si­ble to com­mu­ni­cate with her." Set up in 2010, the re­tire­ment home al­ready cares for 120 peo­ple over the age of 70 and has more than 100 peo­ple on its wait­ing list. The wards are crowded with beds, all just a few cen­time­ters apart, filled with el­derly peo­ple who sit qui­etly star­ing into space or lie hud­dled un­der blan­kets.

On one, a frail old lady whis­pered into the ear of a smil­ing plas­tic doll, her only com­pan­ion since she moved to the fa­cil­ity from the shed she used to oc­cupy in her fam­ily's back yard. Khin Ma Ma re­mem­bers an­other woman who was thrown out of a car next to a rub­bish dump, where she was found cov­ered in cuts and bite marks from rats. She made it to the nurs­ing home but sur­vived for only a few months. "Some­times we find only a small note in their pock­ets with their name and age. That's all. When we ask them ques­tions, they can't even re­spond," she said. "Old peo­ple should not be treated like that in a civ­i­lized so­ci­ety and those who aban­don them should be pros­e­cuted."

'Here to die'

Decades of mis­rule by a bru­tal junta, strin­gent sanc­tions and eth­nic con­flict have re­duced Myan­mar to one of the poor­est coun­tries in the world. Now it is fac­ing a de­mo­graphic cri­sis that is al­ready squeez­ing the life out of Asia's for­mer tiger economies.

The UN es­ti­mates some nine per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion is cur­rently over 65 but that will surge to a quar­ter by 2050, out­strip­ping the num­ber of un­der-15s. "Eco­nomic re­al­i­ties oblige many peo­ple to con­tinue heavy man­ual la­bor into old age to sur­vive," said Janet Jack­son, the UNFPA's Myan­mar rep­re­sen­ta­tive. "This un­der­lines the need for ad­e­quate so­cial ser­vices and poli­cies that serve the aged." Al­ready in tat­ters after 50 years of un­der­in­vest­ment by the for­mer junta, Myan­mar's health sys­tem is strug­gling to cope. Since tak­ing of­fice last year, the new civil­ian gov­ern­ment has set up only one new care fa­cil­ity, ex­clu­sively for the over 90s, which re­ceives just 10,000 kyat a month in fund­ing-around $7.

Tra­di­tion­ally most se­niors are cared for by their fam­i­lies, but the pres­sures of poverty, dou­ble-digit in­fla­tion and rapid ur­ban­iza­tion mean more and more peo­ple are aban­don­ing their rel­a­tives. "We have nowhere to go. We have come here to wait to die," said Hla Hla Shwe, who has lived in an­other fa­cil­ity in Yan­gon run by monks for the past three years. "Here we feel less alone and peo­ple feed us, thanks to the do­na­tions," the 85year-old added.

'Good old days' - But to the east of Myan­mar's com­mer­cial cap­i­tal, one group of ac­tresses is find­ing so­lace to­gether in their twi­light years. Set up by for­mer screen queen Nwet Nwet San on a do­nated piece of land, "Mother's Villa" has be­come a refuge for more than 20 ag­ing film stars. "The later years can maybe be very dif­fi­cult, even for for­mer ac­tresses," the 77-year-old founder told AFP."I saw some peo­ple die in ter­ri­ble con­di­tions, so I de­cided to set up this place."—AFP

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