Gonoshasthaya Kendra founder and trustee-board member Zafrullah Chowdhury said that a long life for elderly people has become a cause for their long sufferings as no system was developed in the country to keep them well.
He said that people’s average life expectancy in the country was increasing but there was neither necessary infrastructure nor the requisite policy support for ensuring a comfortable life for elderly people — both within and outside the home.
‘Gradually the average life expectancy in Bangladesh is increasing and the crisis of old-age people is also deepening,’ he said.
He offered a number of suggestions towards making old people’s life comfortable, which include a bond between them and children, their involvement in society, old people-friendly urban planning, subsidised transport fair and better medical services for them.
‘Elderly people want company but in our society they are now left alone,’ he said, adding that separation or isolation from the family, especially from their grandchildren, rendered them lonely.
Zafrullah, who himself is about to turn an octogenarian, advised that our education curriculum should incorporate a lesson for each student to mandatorily adopt an elderly person and take care of him or her. The relevant teacher would give the student marks on their behaviour with the aged person.
Zafrullah said that the urban planning based on which the cities in our country were developed was flawed in that people had no scope for breathing in a natural atmosphere.
‘We should have created a park in each neighbourhood so that the elderly people could breathe fresh air and enjoy nature, birds and other things there,’ he said.
He suggested that each flat should include a 100sqft room for the elderly members of the family so that they could happily stay with the family.
‘Old people would share their golden memories and children their future plans with each other,’ he said, adding that there should be a bond between the old and the new to keep the two generations happy both physically and mentally.
‘Whatever old homes are there in the country are like jails for the inmates,’ he said and added that the residents of these homes were kept captive there.
The state should provide the elderly citizens of the country with the opportunity of free or subsidised travel by bus, train and other public transports both in cities and across the country in the off-peak time, he added.
Zafrullah, one of the architects of the national health policy of Bangladesh, said that the country’s medical and nursing curriculums should also be modified.
‘Elderly people need nursing support more but our nurses do not help patients in relieving themselves or serve them medicine because they act like officers,’ he said.
He proposed that the authority should raise their salary to that of an officer but not make them officer because their duty was to give service.
‘Many elderly people have the capacity to make contribution to society,’ said Zafrullah, who is also a physician by training.
Educated old people can serve as honorary magistrates, inspectors of the city, primary school teachers depending on their academic and professional background, he went on.
He said that old people had little scope for recreation and they were compelled to live a boring life.
‘In each neighborhood we should build a library to give them reading opportunities, which would also give them a space for chatting and socialising with their peers or others,’ he said.
‘Elderly people need a warm hand, not money,’ he said, adding that the hand might be a hand of a nurse or a physician.
As to the elderly people in the rural areas, he suggested that the government should also create the provision of proper health services for the rural elderly people, staffed with doctors and other health care providers, so that they could too have a comfortable life.
The government should ensure free medical checkup for the elderly people living in villages, he added.
Also a health rights activist, Zafrullah proposed that there should be a rationing system for all elderly people so that they could have 2000 calorie a day.
‘If the government doesn’t speedily address these issues Bangladesh would look like a dumping ground of old men,’ he cautioned.
He said that a nation should not deny the elderly people’s contribution in the development of the next generation.
‘Today’s old men have liberated the country, how can we deny their contribution?’ Zafrullah asked.
‘We should not forget that old people have dedicated their youth to the future of society,’ he commented.
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