Tuesday, June 06, 2006


Will You Still Love Me when I´m 80?

Four decades ago, old people were rarely seen in a Cuban crowd. Not any more, because according to demographic statistics, barely nine years from now they will outnumber the economically active population.
And no wonder, as life expectancy in the island rose from the 60-year level to 80 in a few more years. In spite of the hardships Cubans have been through, they are among the healthiest population in Latin America only compared to some industrialized nations.
Now the elderly can be seen from early in the mornings, doing Tai-Chi or ordinary warmups, shopping, keeping houses, queuing for newspapers (a scarce commodity because of the high demand), picking up their grandchildren at elementary schools or day-care centers and time to spare to give an advice to a friend or neighbor.
The problem and not a small one at that, is posed to the Cuban state that currently spends over 2 billion dollars in old age, handicap and retirement pensions. This money comes mainly from contributions made by the working people, so when they are outnumbered, where will the money to pay for social security come from?
The elderly, however, can be a vast source of wisdom, knowledge and experience, much in need by a country developing at a fast pace.
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) statistics indicate that by 2025 Cuba will have the oldest population in the hemisphere, with 25.9 percent of the population over 60, followed by Barbados (25.4 percent), Trinidad and Tobago (20.5 percent), Uruguay (20 percent) and Chile (18.4 percent).
In Cuba, the growing population of citizens over 60 already reach 1.7 million, including 300 thousand persons over 80. More than 1.5 million citizens are covered by the social security system, 700,000 of whom receive monthly retirement and old-age pensions of $164.00 pesos and over.
To care for the increasing number of elderly, the Cuban government has put up different schemes to expand their socially useful and intellectual activities.
There are more than 14 thousand "grandparent groups" (círculos de abuelos in Spanish) offer recreation and day care services at neighbourhood level. There are 170 retirement homes, as well as a system of home-based care, which serves 100 thousand elderly who live alone.
Some church parishes help in this field by serving them meals at their own houses and providing transportation to medical appointments and excursions.
An educational alternative to expand the intellectual activity of the aged is the Faculty for the Elderly (Cátedra del Adulto Mayor) working in dozens of educational centers around the country, which has graduated some 30 thousand persons.
Another initiative for the older segment of the population was founded two years ago by the Caribbean Medical Association, a Cuban non-governmental organization, called the "120 Year Club". The Association is part of the Association of Caribbean States and has a special consultative status in the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
The president of the Club, Dr. Eugenio Selman, has informed the group has already 6,700 members from 34 countries, some of whom are over 100 years of age.
The reason why this happens in Cuba, told Selman to the press, is the government "guarantees education and healthcare free of charge; full access to sports and culture; it promotes healthy eating and keeps elderly people motivated through their association with senior citizen centers," Selman noted.
In 2004, life expectancy stood at 77 years and demographers estimate a rate of 80 is around the corner. They worry however over a low reproduction rate - the average number of female babies born per woman during her reproductive life - and the
steadily declining birth rate, which dropped from 1.54 children per woman in 2004 to 1.49 in 2005.
When the time comes, Cuban elderly will still make themselves useful and be the pride of society, unlike other nations where the aged are discarded like old household appliances.

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