Problem: Demand for long-term care services for older people is increasing rapidly in low- and middle-income countries. Countries need to establish national long-term care systems that are sustainable and equitable.
Approach: The Governments of Costa Rica and Thailand have implemented broadly comparable interventions to deploy volunteers in long-term home care. Both countries trained older volunteers from local communities to make home visits to impoverished and vulnerable older people and to facilitate access to health services and other social services.
Local setting: Costa Rica and Thailand are upper-middle-income countries with strong traditions of community-based health services that they are now extending into long-term care for older people.
Relevant changes: Between 2003 and 2013 Thailand's programme trained over 51 000 volunteers, reaching almost 800 000 older people. Between 2010 and 2016 Costa Rica established 50 community care networks, serving around 10 000 people and involving over 5000 volunteers. Despite some evidence of benefits to the physical and mental health of older people and greater uptake of other services, a large burden of unmet care needs and signs of a growth of unregulated private services still exist.
Lessons learnt: There is scope for low- and middle-income countries to develop large-scale networks of community-based long-term care volunteers. The capacity of volunteers to enhance the quality of life of clients is affected by the local availability of care services. Volunteer care networks should be complemented by other initiatives, including training about health in later life for volunteers, and investment in community long-term care services.