HelpAge’s efforts enhance lives of older Vietnamese

11:57 | 11/08/2020
With great efforts to promote healthy longevity among the elderly, HelpAge International in Vietnam has won the The Healthy Ageing Prize for Asian Innovation. Tran Bich Thuy, representative of HelpAge, discussed with VIR’s Tung Anh the journey to gain this prestigious award and future plans to empower older people amid unprecedented demographic changes.
1504p17 helpages efforts enhance lives of older vietnamese
HelpAge International Vietnam’s ISHC model embraces and support older people’s livelihoods in the region

HelpAge International in Vietnam has won the grand prize of The Healthy Ageing Prize for Asian Innovation (HAPI). What does the award mean to HelpAge?

The HAPI grand prize is the result of over 10 years of accumulative efforts from HelpAge, local partners, especially Vietnam Association of the Elderly (VAE), thousands of Intergenerational Self-Help Clubs (ISHC) in the country and our strategic partners and donors in this model - HelpAge Korea and KOICA. The prize helps us be more confident in what we are doing and makes us willing to share it with others.

Over the past 10 years, our model has seen many interventions that promote healthy longevity among older people such as promoting increased self-care; physical exercise, social and cultural exchanges, and volunteering among its members; promoting life-long learning through monthly informal trainings; providing volunteer-based community care services; and addressing social determinants of health through income generation activities.

Together with our regional office, we have already shared Vietnam’s ISHC model to many practitioners in the region and beyond, such as providing training to more than 150 international development practitioners, organising a large number of study tours for international guests, translating and sharing our ISHC training materials to many countries. Our regional office also provided support for local partners in Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Indonesia to adapt and pilot ISHC model.

Over the past five months, the ISHCs have shown to be very effective in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. ISHCs are the first responders by providing information, obtaining donations, and distributing relief supplies such as food, and more. Moreover, our ISHCs also provide comprehensive community-based care services and psychological support to those most in need, while supporting local community leaders and authorities with volunteers and donations.

What are the advantages and hurdles in developing the ISHC model in Vietnam, and are there any international lessons that HelpAge International in Vietnam learnt from?

Vietnam’s ISHC development model has many advantages thanks to a strong sense of neighbourhood; large national organisations like VAE that focus on ageing and cover the entire country; increasing interest on ageing especially from the government; a stable economic and political situation; and various national policies on ageing such as the Law for the Elderly and the National Plan of Action on Ageing. However, Vietnam’s ISHC development model has also met some hurdles because of reduced international funding for the country as it is no longer a low-income one.

Moreover, government policies that allow or promote funding to fully establish the ISHC network are still limited, while the support of various sectors to ISHCs is poor. The model initially developed based on many positive and negative learnings from international examples, such as the change from a donor- or organisation-driven to a people-driven focus.

We now know that it is important to help the ISHC model to become both technically and financially sustainable, while not relying on donors and focusing solely on a community-driven development approach.

By 2050, East and Southeast Asia are expected to have double the number of people aged 65 or over compared to today. What are HelpAge International’s next plans to contribute to Vietnam’s efforts?

Currently, older people in Vietnam often face a variety of problems such as low income, limited social participation, poor health, and ageism – the negative perception of older people. In fact, most older people are still active and able to take care of themselves and could even become care providers for those in need as well as play an important role in their family and communities.

The key is how to respond to rapid ageing and how to transform the challenges of rapid ageing into opportunities. Therefore, we aim to support the country to improve the systems and environments to be age inclusive and responsive, building a social security system, a holistic health and care system, and a generally age-friendly environment. HelpAge International sees that, with proper investment, older people can actually become a huge resource to support the sustainable development of the country.

HelpAge will continue to cooperate with local partners to seek both national and international funding to support Vietnam and scale up our ISHC model. We and VAE will also advocate the Vietnamese government to open other local funding channels that can be used to establish more ISHCs nationally, while increasing key players’ capacity to establish and strengthen the network further.

Also importantly, we continue to raise awareness on issues of older people and ageing, and provide technical support to government agencies in developing more good policies.

By Tung Anh

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