Global health professor shares insights on elderly care at Boao forum | Duke Kunshan University

Global health professor shares insights on elderly care at Boao forum

July 10, 2019

Professor Lijing L. Yan (second from right) takes part in a discussion at the Global Health Forum, part of the Boao Forum for Asia, on June 12

Duke Kunshan professor Lijing L. Yan joined government leaders and other influential experts at the first Global Health Forum of the Boao Forum for Asia to discuss efforts to tackle the health challenges facing societies worldwide.

Yan, head of research on noncommunicable disease (NCD) for the Global Health Research Center, took part in a sub-forum on universal health coverage on June 12 themed “China-Japan life science and health care industry development.”

The sub-forum, which attracted about 300 delegates, focused on the latest developments in health care solutions for an aging population, with panelists including experts in medicine, academia, technology, and disease control and prevention.

“Population aging presents unique challenges and opportunities,” said Yan, who is also director of graduate studies for Duke Kunshan’s master of science in global health program and a research professor at Duke University.

“China needs to find a way to provide adequate care to the growing number of physically disabled or cognitively impaired older people. With the size of its population, this is a massive challenge, but it also provides opportunities to test public-private initiatives that can reduce the burden on families and the state.”

By 2050, China will have 75 million people age over 80 as well as 120 million incapacitated elderly, according to the National Social Science Fund.

To deal with the challenges brought by its own aging population, Japan has explored the integration of medical care and nursing. The panel discussed what practices could be adopted by its Asian neighbor.

“Japan has developed mature and innovative home care models for us to learn from and adapt to our own culture in China,” Yan said.

One example is Japan’s volunteering culture, which sees younger seniors take care of older or disabled neighbors in their communities. Professional, scalable training for volunteers is essential to making this model effective in China, she added.

The Global Health Forum, which ran from June 10 to 12 in Qingdao, a coastal city in eastern China’s Shandong province, is a platform for high-level dialogue and cooperation in global health.

According to organizers, its goal is to accelerate the implementation and promotion of public health policies and the health care industry, contributing to the early realization of the United Nations’ sustainable development goals.

In addition to its president, Margaret Chan, former head of the World Health Organization (WHO), the event was attended by about 2,000 delegates, including leading figures such as Sally Davies, the chief medical officer for England, and Singaporean Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

The forum also received a congratulatory message from Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Yan (right) meets with Gan Kim Yong (center), Singapore’s minister for health

“Platforms like the Global Health Forum that allow for open dialogue between high-level government personnel and world-leading experts are essential to our efforts to solve the pressing issues facing China and the world today,” Yan said. “It was an honor and a pleasure to be able to share my insights on these issues directly with senior policymakers and other respected delegates from around the globe.”

Shortly after the forum, Yan traveled to Beijing to join the inaugural meeting of the China Home Care Task Force, which comprises 12 founding members from China and the United States.

The group met on June 15 and 16 at Renmin University of China, one of the country’s most prestigious institutions, to discuss how to achieve the task force’s long-term vision: To become a leading voice on care issues in China and a partner to government officials looking to find innovative care solutions.

Almost 20 percent of China’s population is over 60 years old, with many suffering medical conditions that require treatment and support. Studies have found that 40 percent of elderly people show symptoms of depression, while about 9.5 million have some form of dementia.

China’s changing demographics present a major burden for families and the economy, with dementia alone expected to cost $69 billion by 2020 and $114.2 billion by 2030, according to WHO figures.

“Very different from the large-scale Global Health Forum, this launch meeting of the task force brought together a small group of like-minded experts to raise awareness on the need to improve home care and find sustainable, cost-effective solutions to better meet the need of older people,” Yan said.

“We hope to collaborate with various partners from different sectors of society to promote active and healthy aging for all, including those who suffer from chronic conditions.”

On its inaugural meeting, the task force identified several priorities, such as clarifying the definition of home care and raising awareness on the need for home care. The group will present its initial findings at an international conference in November before reconvening at the end of the year.