Myan­mar strug­gles to care for its aban­doned el­derly

Poverty, in­fla­tion and ur­ban­i­sa­tion forc­ing many fam­i­lies to dump age­ing rel­a­tives

Muscat Daily - - FRONT PAGE - Mar­ion Thibaut

Myan­mar strug­gles to cope with a rapidly age­ing pop­u­la­tion that is pil­ing pres­sure on its al­ready anaemic health sys­tem

Paral­ysed 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 75 year old only sur­vived be­cause a stranger took pity on her as she lay in 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 age­ing pop­u­la­tion that is pil­ing pres­sure on its al­ready anaemic 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,” 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 cen­time­tres 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.

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 civilised 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 United Na­tions es­ti­mates some nine per cent 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 labour 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 those over 90s, which re­ceives just 10,000 kyat a month in fund­ing - around US$7.

Tra­di­tion­ally most se­niors are cared for by their fam­i­lies, but the pres­sures of poverty, dou­bledigit in­fla­tion and rapid ur­ban­i­sa­tion 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 85 year old added.

Good old days

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 age­ing film stars.

“The later years can maybe 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.”

In­side the build­ing the shelves are lit­tered with awards and film mem­o­ra­bilia, while fad­ing pho­tos of the women dressed in glam­orous out­fits from their hey­days line the walls.

To­day they of­ten dress up in the same out­fits and make-up for fun, and they have even set up a dance troupe which per­forms each year at Myan­mar’s wa­ter fes­ti­val cel­e­bra­tions.

“I had nowhere to go (but) here I am happy with my friends,” said res­i­dent Moe Thida Moe (73), who re­cently suf­fered a stroke.

“It re­minds me of the good old days.”


This file photo shows an el­derly res­i­dent of the Twi­light Villa nurs­ing home get­ting help from two nurses to sit up on her bed, in Yan­gon on July 4

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