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Senior Leader Urges Paying Attention to Aging Problems

Chinese Vice Premier Hui Liangyu on Thursday urged local governments to be mindful of the severe challenges posed by the country's burgeoning aging population.

China is the only country with more than 100 million people aged over 60 in the world and the country's economy is not well prepared for a rapidly expanding aging population, Hui said at a national work conference.

By the end of 2005, China had nearly 144 million people over the age of 60, accounting for 11 percent of its population. The number of elderly people is increasing by three percent a year.

The ratio between China's working population and its retirees has dropped from 10:1 in 1990 to 3:1 in 2003. The figure is expected to reach 2.5:1 in 2020.

Hui, also head of the national work committee on aging, said that China's current pension system, medical care system and social service sectors cannot meet the demands of all senior citizens.

"Society hasn't paid enough attention to the seriousness of the problem," he said.

He instructed local governments to work out plans to enhance the social security network, expedite infrastructure construction, improve social services for elderly people, enrich their cultural life and guarantee their rights and interests.

He was particularly concerned about aging problems in rural areas, saying that a pension mechanism should be explored and the basic subsistence allowance system and new cooperative medical care system in rural areas should be promoted.

A pilot program providing cooperative medical care in rural areas has been operating in some regions of China since 2003. By last June, the program had been extended to 1,399 counties, covering 495 million rural people or 73 percent of the elderly in the countryside.

The central government has required local governments to give preferential treatment to people over the age of 70, who are part of the new medical care program.

Statistics show that 175 million people were enrolled in pension plans across China last year. More than 43.6 million retirees are receiving pensions.

By the end of 2005, China had 1.5 million beds in various care centers for the elderly. The government said it will add 2.2 million beds for the aged in rural areas and 800,000 for those in cities within the next four years.

(Xinhua News Agency February 2, 2007)

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