The challenge of an ageing population
Dr Caruana is Parliamentary Secretary for the Rights of People with Disability and Active Ageing
Over and above the repeated positive statistics and statements by international credit agencies, our people themselves have experienced in real terms Labour’s success in the fields of finance and the economy. The budget for 2017 is in itself proof that there has been a diligent sequence of annual financial plans that has led to a solid national prosperity that is to be further shared by all – including the low-income earners and pensioners – to further avoid crossing the poverty line for thousands of people.
Serious criticism is welcome
We have stated time and again that this government does not expect to be perfect and is, in fact, always open to varied views and constructive criticism. On various issues we have modified or changed our approach and we have never shied away from corrective measures or alternatives.
One thing is for sure, however, we have never diminished our focus on leading the nation towards a better standard of living. I do not say this as political rhetoric or a way with words for partisan gains. Like many others, I regularly meet families and – irrespective of their traditional party affiliations – they confirm that they are better off than they were three years ago.
From the start, delivering results has been Labour’s response to all forms of negative criticism. It has also been my way to silence baseless criticism, with an inner strength to never allow it to affect my duties and actions. No amount of fabricated hearsay or other threats have ever deterred me from carrying out my duties. Unwarranted as it may be, such intimidation can only enhance and invigorate my determination to forge ahead with what both sectors within my remit expect of me and deserve.
Delivering is the best reply
This was, in fact, my rationale in my two recent speeches in Parliament when debating the performance of my Parliamentary Secretariat and that of the Gozo Ministry. Needless to say, a good part of criticism came by way of the habitual creating of mountains from molehills. Unfortunately, even when their criticism tended to make sense, it was evident that the lethargy of past administrations in both sectors turned into sour grapes over what we have achieved in such a short space of time.
Some people should know better: effective success is not achieved through pompous words or colourful promises. The highest ideals can never be realised by the authors of decades of vacuum. Knowing the job, acknowledging the real facts, facing the challenge, consulting everyone involved and having the will-power to implement the necessary measures on time, are basically what it takes to deliver. The two important areas within my remit need action, where quality surpasses quantity at every stage.
From words to facts
The world’s population has never been as old and mature as it is now. Currently, the number of people aged 60 and above worldwide is well over 800 million. Those aged 60 can now expect to live for another 18 to 21 years and soon the world will have a higher number of older adults than children. In Malta, last year 105,000 people – 25 per cent of Malta’s population – were aged 60 or more, while while in Gozo the percentage is now even higher. The particular situation of Gozo was raised this week by Gozo Bishop Mario Grech during his homily marking Gozo Day.
Notwithstanding Labour’s success in providing hundreds of new jobs for Gozitans on their own island, through the tourism and other industries, we cannot disregard the age-related attraction on the part of young people to greater job opportunities in Malta and beyond. Recent statistics of the population in Malta and Gozo show that people under 18 accounted for 17.4 per cent of the total, while a further 19 per cent were aged 65 and over. Of these, 2,482 people – 1,754 women and 728 men – were 90 and over.
The fast-changing demographic patterns increase the challenges – and opportunities – to the duties within my portfolio. In such a reality, we appreciate even more the national policy and strategy on active aging that we have pursued these past three years. In the meantime we have implemented, within set timeframes, various projects and we are always monitoring how we can improve what we have done and looking ahead to new initiatives.
The wide array of services introduced in Gozo for the very first time addresses the needs of an ageing population. We are also transforming a challenge into opportunities – creating hundreds of jobs on the island in the care of the elderly sector. This is also encouraging the private sector to invest in services in Gozo for the first time, which will ensure a continuation of service provision in the years to come.
Health and social solidarity
It is a fact that older adults face special health challenges. Many of the very old lose the ability to live independently because of limited mobility, frailty or other physical or mental health issues and require some form of long-term care. Together with our programmes in the field of active ageing, we are equally committed to dealing with the health aspects. Our actions among the elderly define the very reason why the portfolio in respect of the elderly was removed from the Health Ministry to that of Social Solidarity. Despite this intelligent move, however, one sector does not exclude the other.
A case in point is the community services delivered by the Department for Active Ageing and Community Care where we will also shortly be administering the anti-influenza injection to those who are bed-bound. Similar cooperation can also be seen in the various professional upgrades in medical services that we have introduced at St Vincent de Paul long-term care facility.
Another interesting initiative relates to the Falls Awareness Campaigns and this week a group of around 50 older people attending the Active Ageing in Xewkija, Gozo completed a course and were awarded a certificate. The course was delivered by allied health and other geriatric professionals with the aim of raising awareness on the need to be more health-conscious, to avoid falls and to strengthen muscles and improve balance with the ultimate goal of a healthier life.
Dementia basic awareness is
Dementia is another increasing reality we have been handling over the past year. As well as improving awareness of this condition, we have moved on to professional training for carers, have procured additional beds for dementia sufferers and – particularly in Gozo – opened day-care and respite homes and established multidisciplinary intervention teams in Malta and Gozo. The budget 2017 will enable us to expand such projects and provide for respite services for carers within the community.
On a positive note, only last Thursday I read an interesting report in the UK media on what has been called “an Alzheimer’s drug to successfully target the most visible signs of the disease, raising hopes that an effective treatment could be finally within reach.” However encouraging such a report may be, one should be very cautious, knowing that renowned medical experts have warned that they are “eagerly awaiting the results of further clinical trials, as it is premature to speculate, however positive the first results are.”
In carrying out my duties, I not only consider the immediate tasks my Parliamentary Secretariat undertakes, but see beyond the immediate opportunities to identify and provide everything that we can do in respect of those who need and deserve further support. After all, the fair society we are building will never be complete if we rest on our laurels in respect of the results achieved, but only if we seek further ways of improving our performance and delivery.