Whenever we talk of marginalised groups, many of us tend to think of migrant workers, Orang Asli, refugees, plantation workers and squatters, people with HIV/AIDS.
Often, we tend to overlook the fact that many of the senior citizens among us are no less marginalised, whether at home or in public life, while the young take centre stage.
It is a sad fact that the contribution of senior citizens to society and their wisdom are rarely recognised. Many of them receive only a few hundred ringgit a month in pension or have long since used up their meagre EPF savings and have to rely on their children for financial support. For most of them, it is a daily struggle to balance their budget.
I had a long chat with William, a sprightly senior citizen, several months ago. He told me about the deep loneliness and insecurity that accompany old age and the alienation that senior citizens often feel. It prompted me to write a piece for the Malaysian Herald, an excerpt of which is reproduced below:
When you consider that the cost of living has soared, it is hard to imagine how retirees make ends meet. This is especially true in the case of health care. On the one hand, private hospital treatment is so expensive, while on the other the queues at government hospitals are so long. If Jesus were around, he would surely have pity on the crowds, many of them senior citizens, waiting to see doctors, waiting at the pharmacy to get their medicines, waiting for buses to take them to hospital. If they need to see a specialist or need specialised tests such as an MRI, they may have to wait for weeks if not months. God help those who need urgent specialist attention and who don’t have the money. Even if the serious ill are admitted to hospital, how are the bed-ridden treated there and what is the quality of nursing care like?
But getting to the hospital itself is another challenge. They either have to rely on family members and friends for transport. Taxis are of course expensive, especially for those struggling to make ends meet. Our public transport, on the other hand, is hardly friendly to senior citizens and the disabled nor does it take you up to the hospital doorstep. For senior citizens to use public transport, it has to be safe, accessible, efficient, caring and inexpensive. Can that be said for the public transport we have in Malaysia?
Moreover, to use public transport, you have to first walk along the road and cross at junctions. Crossing a busy road can be a nightmare for the ailing senior citizen or disabled person as unfortunately, here in Malaysia, motor vehicles rule the road.
The pavements are no easier as many of them are designed without the senior citizens and disabled in mind. They have all kinds of obstacles in their path, with steep steps up and down ever so often. The pedestrian will be confronted with motorcycles (parked illegally), lampposts, telephone booths, signboard stands, tables and chairs. How are senior citizens and the disabled supposed to navigate their way through this obstacle course? This is in stark contrast to more developed countries, where senior citizens often use public transport at discounted rates and walk along or even use wheelchairs along wide empty pavements that are much friendlier to their needs.