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LETTER | Penang – taking the lead in planning for the elderly

Cecilia Chan

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“The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” – Gandhi

LETTER | This is a profound statement that Mahatma Gandhi uttered in a speech he delivered in 1931. The sensibility he spoke of then is just as, if not more crucial, relevant and critical in today’s world. 

Society is judged by how it treats and shows compassion for those who cannot protect or fend for themselves. It is deeply distressing that albeit all the news about the urgency of preparing for an ageing Malaysia for the past decades, the progress is painfully slow.

By 2050, the world’s older adult population will have doubled to two billion. We are part of this number which is striking. Without going into detail how the world is rapidly ageing as it has been done ad infinitum, suffice to say that many don't quite comprehend or appreciate how quickly the process is actually taking place.

We have heard periodically on the impending crisis from long-term care, think tanks and relevant departments issuing sporadic reports on what to do about it, predicting catastrophic consequences by the 2020s if the problem went unaddressed. But sadly and with much dismay, it did go unaddressed, perhaps because, like climate change, it was too mammoth a challenge, unpleasant to contemplate and seemingly far off in the future. 

Or the skepticism of its adverse impact on society. Meanwhile, our neighbouring countries with ageing populations, like Japan, Korea and Singapore, took action, offering a range of substantial benefits to family care providers, from directly compensating their work to subsidising professional home care and regulating service providers.

The Private Aged Healthcare Facilities and Services Act 2018 was gazetted in 2018. The act was (keep to past tense “was gazetted ”) expected to enable a more holistic regulation for the elderly care in Malaysia ensuring that all the service providers are licenced and regulated. However, this act has yet to come into force causing a lot of confusion, turmoil and setbacks in ensuring expectations of a certain standard of care.

Eldercare service providers are facing many challenges and obstacles due to the non-standardised and ever-changing interpretation of requirements from the various departments. The not so subtle stereotyping culture of ageism amongst Malaysians is also a deterrent in planning care and services to our elderly. 

It is appalling that a certain “Dato” at a tribunal court recently vehemently insisted that having an aged care facility within a gated residentially community will “lower” the standard and value of the prestigious community. His comment crystallises issues about ageism in particular and stereotypes in general that are detrimental to our value system. 

That is the very root of ageism in our culture. Such ignorance and bigoted views shamefully devalue the essence of dignity in ageing. One has to wonder that when he gets to the other spectrum of ageing how he would reflect on his bigotry of the aged.

In the midst of perpetual gloomy news, it is reassuring that the Penang government has had a head start in meeting the challenges of its ageing population. Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow had recently met with the representatives of a national NGO (Agecope, Association for Residential Aged Care Operators of Malaysia) to discuss how we can work collaboratively in ensuring the best standard of care for our elderly in Penang. 

The Penang government is initiating an integrated approach to encourage coordination and collaboration between agencies but including service provider in the planning of proper and effective guidelines in providing care and services to the elderly. 

By including and being collaborative with service providers, a better understanding and cooperation will be achieved in ensuring that all the centres will seek to be compliant and licenced. 

Such co-ordination involves network governance in which government action brings together decentralised associations of interconnected parties – government departments with different remits as well as the private sector and civil society actors all of whom move toward a conceptualisation of how policy comes into being and how the goals are achieved.

It is indisputable that our nation is getting older. Are we prepared? We applaud the government of Penang for taking an exemplary and commendable lead of how an aged care ecosystem should work, what needs to be set in place and how properly set regulations can support the infrastructure. 

Ageing residents of Penang would rightly and proudly feel that their welfare and security are seemingly looked after and in good hands.

So, back to Gandhi’s succinct statement, … let us be a nation that truly shows compassion for those who cannot fend for themselves, our elderly Malaysians who need our care and support.


The writer is the vice-president of Agecope.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini. 

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