THE perception of Southeast Asia as a demographically young region may need rethinking as the Philippines reclassifies as an “aging society” by 2030, posing a challenge to the healthcare system, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said.

The ADB Economic Research and Regional Cooperation Department said 10% of the Philippine population is projected to be 60 years or older by 2030, forcing the government to shift its priorities to focus more on the health of the elderly, noting that one of the key observations on the behavior of elderly patients is that there are gender differences in how they seek medical help.

“Uncovering gender differences in health outcomes and access to care is crucial to fine-tune policy reforms to address the needs of older adults in Southeast Asia, especially in light of the increased risks of getting sick during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic,” it said.

A working paper, “Gender Differences in Access to Health Care Among the Elderly,” published Tuesday, found that women in the Philippines are more willing to seek treatment than men, especially as they grow older. It also concluded that the actual take-up of public healthcare services remains low.

“Women in Cambodia and the Philippines are more likely than men to seek healthcare treatment when they are sick or injured, and the difference is statistically significant. This result could reflect that women are more proactive than men in seeking treatment from formal sources, or women have less access to informal sources of care,” it said.

In Vietnam, it found that women are less likely to ask for treatment due to stigma and discrimination against those suffering from communicable diseases.

It said seeking treatment is nevertheless female-driven in all three countries.

In the Philippines, the study noted the low probability of receiving formal care treatment despite the availability of programs like Universal Health Care starting in 2019.

“Uncovering the reasons for fairly low take-up of formal healthcare services and gender differences in access to care is crucial to designing policies to better meet the needs of older persons in Asia, especially in light of the increased risks of getting sick during the COVID-19 pandemic,” it said. — Beatrice M. Laforga