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By Melanie Vari-Turia

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (August 7, 2000 - The National/PINA Nius Online)---Suffering and isolation affecting many elderly people in PNG will receive urgent attention under Government plans to adopt a range of associated policy measures.

Home Affairs Minister Andrew Kumbakor, yesterday in Port Moresby, opened the first national workshop for elderly persons, titled "Towards a Caring Society for Older Persons in the New Millennium."

Speaking at the Institute of Public Administration in Port Moresby, he said the four main objectives of the workshop are to form a National Working Committee on the Elderly; to identify current mechanisms for coordination of programs for the elderly in the provinces; to disseminate information on the elderly through presentations of papers on various issues including health care and retirement benefits, rights and obligations, nutrition, housing and recreation statistics; and HIV/AIDS.

"The elderly continue to suffer from social isolation and are becoming the most vulnerable group of people in our society today," said Mr. Kumbakor.

He said this milestone event would open up the way for planning of future programs and activities, which would help to address and improve the lives of the elderly.

He said that some of the initiatives embarked on by his ministry were the March 1999 launching of the International Year of the Elderly followed by the first World Health Organization and Home Affairs Department's joint project, the National Walk for the Elderly, which is now an annual event.

"It is my view that the elderly persons in PNG are already facing problems in their daily lives --problems such as loneliness and desertion by children and family members, no proper specialist medical care and access to other basic necessities," he said.

He said they were facing these problems because ageing is not considered an issue in PNG and therefore given low priority or completely ignored.

"The common notion in the country has always been that the elderly are adequately supported and cared for through our social support systems, particularly the extended family support system also known as the wantok system," said the Minister.

However, he said this system was now unable to help like it did in the past because it is being continuously challenged by the forces of modernization through an increased cost of living, a rapid increase in rural-urban migration and other social factors.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

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