Channel Eye Interview – Exploring Sri Lanka’s Health Trends


Date – 13th June 2018

What are the current trends relating to fertility rates?

  • Typically as health standards of a country improves, fertility levels tend to drop.
  • This has indeed been Sri Lanka’s experience where the fertility rate was on a downward trend starting from the 1960’s till late 1990’s
  • But quite unusually, since then the fertility rate started to trend upwards. The most recent Census data revealed that fertility rates were above regional peers such as Bangladesh
  • The possible factors that may have contributed to this are: 1) Marriages taking place within a younger age bracket 2) A larger proportion of the population getting married 3) Greater optimism post- natural disasters & conflicts
  • The reason for the importance of looking at fertility related data is that it is a significant factor that determines population size. Analysts expect that higher fertility levels might lead to an additional 1-4mn population increase by 2040
  • However, it is too early to tell whether this trend would continue.

What is the current state of Non Communicable Diseases (NCD’s) in Sri Lanka?

  • As income levels in an economy improves, a greater incidence of NCD’s is to be expected.
  • Cardiovascular problems, cancer, high blood pressure are the most common NCD’s.
  • The challenge of NCD’s is you cannot be immunized against it, and it requires a lifestyle change
  • Hence there is a greater focus on prevention instead of treatment which has given rise to the concept of ‘Wellness’
  • This is an opportunity for private firms to capitalize on, as government hospitals may be inadequately equipped to tackle this problem.

How prepared is Sri Lanka with respect to dealing with an aging population?

  • Improving life expectancy contributes to a growth in the aging population.
  • Currently there are approx. 2 mn people (approx. 10% of the population) over the age of 65.
  • This trend is expected to continue and by the year 2040, the aging population would account for about a quarter of the total population.
  • This raises many challenges such as increasing pension and public health care expenditure
  • But at the same time, this also gives rise to opportunities for the private sector investment in the fields of geriatric care and assisted living

What is the link between health trends and female labour force participation?

  • The usual trend is that as health standards improve, female labour force participation increases.
  • Sri Lanka has seen an improved participation rate, but in the past few years it has stagnated at a level below 50%.
  • The possible reasons for this are 1) Social and cultural factors 2) Lack of child day care facilities
  • Social and cultural factors usually start to shift once a country has achieved an advanced stage of development during the late stage of demographic transition
  • Day care facilities and related support services is an area that has been neglected by government policy while the private sector should look to do more to facilitate this.
  • This is an area that cannot be ignored since in the context of an aging population, in order to generate more economic activity, greater participation in the labour force must be encouraged.

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