Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Health care for older Chinese people who lose their only child

by Li Yan and Wu Shufang
Over the past three decades, the one-child family planning policy in China has had a substantial role in population control and in boosting the economy. However, it has also brought about a new phenomenon of “childless” older people in China, and this group is expanding rapidly.
In 2011, the number of families who lost their only child across China rose to more than 1 million—a figure that is estimated to reach 10 million by 2035. In a country with a seriously flawed health system, elderly parents are heavily reliant on their children. The death of an only child at a time when parents are unable to have another can cause pronounced psychological trauma, including long-term grief, depression, and anxiety about a lonely old age without an adequate pension or proper health care.
Support from the government is essential in relieving the difficulties currently faced by the childless elderly in China, and the difficulties they face in the future. Such support includes three major aspects. The first is health and social care, including policies to support family care services, better quality nursing homes, and the creation of various community health-care services. The second is economic support. To many of these parents, loss of their offspring immediately means the loss of their only hope of financial security. Although the Chinese Government has begun to schedule plans for providing support to elderly people who have lost their only child, detailed regulations, practical enforcement at the grassroots level, and pension insurance are urgently required. The third aspect is that of spiritual comfort. Several local governments in China have taken steps to act on this; for example, in September, 2012, the Beijing municipal government launched a scheme to provide psychological support at community care centres for the childless elderly, and this scheme now covers around 3900 families in Beijing who have lost their only child. However, the gap in assistance is still vast. The government should increase cooperation with non-governmental organisations in setting up community service centres that can provide door-to-door services for the childless elderly, providing them with psychological care and emotional comfort. Another approach that could be considered by the government is the encouragement of volunteers and training of social workers to offer free psychological consultation and mental health interventions.
Moreover, the media should be encouraged to report on the childless elderly and raise attention to this newly vulnerable group.
Source: Lancet

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