Sri Lanka does not have a single geriatrics specialist in the public health service, though the country has an aging population.
With one in five people falling into the over-60 age category in the country by 2030, the “zero status” with regard to doctors who should be looking after them, is causing grey hairs for health professionals, the Sunday Times understands.
This worrisome fact has been disclosed in the recent publication, ‘Medicine in the Elderly’ jointly edited by Prof. Colvin Goonaratne and Dr. Achala Balasuriya, while the world celebrated International Elders’ Day yesterday.
“In microcosm, the fact that we have not a single specialist geriatrician in our national health service tells the story of elderly health care in our country,” laments the doctor-duo. Geriatrics is the branch of medicine concerned with the diseases and care of old people.
With epidemiological transition inexorably following the demographic, the two specialists state in the preface of the book that Britain widely regarded as having one of the best health care systems in the world had at least 1,100 practising specialist geriatricians last year (2010) for a population of about 62.5 million.
Demographic transition is the phenomenon where a population’s age structure changes over time due to mortality, fertility and immigration/emigration, it is learnt, while epidemiology is the study of the spread and control of diseases.
Prof. Goonaratne and Dr. Balasuriya urge that Sri Lanka with a population of 21 million, one-third of Britain, there should be at least 300 specialist geriatricians. “Since the proportion of old people in Sri Lanka is likely to be less than in Britain, even one-half of 300, (150) specialist geriatricians might be regarded as initially acceptable, but the number is zero,” they say.
Other data in the book also show the pathetic plight of the elderly in the country – 48.3% of elderly people survive on the merciful generosity of their children; about 5.5% on donations from other relatives and friends; and 13.5% on the woeful pittance known as the pension. That places 67.3% of the elders in a financially insecure and socially dependent status.