Exclusive: Inside Myanmar's ageing villages initiative

Interview with Dr San San Aye, Deputy Director General, Myanmar Ministry of Social Welfare.

The rate of ageing in Myanmar is an “alarming sign” that the government must prepare in advance, says Dr San San Aye, Deputy Director General of Myanmar’s Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement. In 2015, 9% of the country’s population was aged above 60; in 2050, it will be 22%. Myanmar needs “to think about the ageing issue right now - it is very important,” she says. Dr San San Aye is championing the expansion of social security services, so GovInsider caught up with her to find out more. Social security for the elderly Like many emerging countries, Myanmar has limited healthcare funding that it can use. The country launched its first National Social Protection Strategy in 2014, announcing regular welfare payments, but this has struggled to gain traction. Under the programme, over 60s are meant to receive monthly payments from the government. So far, however, this has not gotten up to speed - with payments occurring with far less regularity. “From 2015 and up till now, we can provide one-time assistance per year,” the Deputy Director General says. The payments also can only stretch to the over 90s, which “is not good enough for the older people,” she adds. Funding for the programme has already been expanded in the budget this year. The elderly will now receive K120,000 annually, instead of K18,000 they received last year. Dr San San Aye hopes to also expand the scope of payments, lowering the age to 85 and increasing the frequency of payments. “We cannot provide it monthly, [but] we provide as bimonthly or quarterly payment,” she says. Enter the NGOs For poorer countries with limited budgets, NGOs can be a vital lifeline - providing aid, engaging citizens, and sharing their expertise. The second part of Myanmar’s strategy is to expand support for rural communities for senior citizens through “older people self-help groups”. These are currently run by an NGO called HelpAge International, and are supported by the government. The NGO gives seed money to these village units to set themselves up. The group must then invest this fund in something that will ensure regular growth. For instance, some groups purchase a generator sell electricity to local households, Dr San San Aye explains. Others have invested in new agricultural equipment. This model is currently being trialled in 125 of Myanmar’s 65,000 villages, and “it reflects a very good model for us”, she says. It has helped boost morale and participation of the elderly: “village elders have more respect from the villagers”, she says, because they are a source of funding and innovation. Younger residents are expected to take care of the elderly in return for the project investments. Dr San San Aye is gathering evidence to prove how this could work across the country. The Ministry is working to calculate the returns on the seed money, and hone the areas where villagers should be investing. Monthly payments seem impossible without a massive budget overhaul. But NGO partnerships provide an important way forward for Myanmar’s elderly. These elderly village initiatives could, if refined, measured and managed correctly, find an important new way forward. Correction: This article incorrectly stated that funding for the social security programme had been cut this year. GovInsider used primary sources and local newspaper reports to corroborate this, but we have been advised that it is incorrect. Funding has been increased this year and the article has been edited with the correct figures. We apologise for the error. GovInsider is running a dedicated stream on Ageing Demographics at Innovation Labs World on 26 September 2017. Find out more at www.innovationlabsworld.com. Photo by HelpAge International at the ASEAN Regional Workshop on the Promotion of Older People’s Associations, 6-8 December 2016