Cuba's healthcare system is facing the urgent challenge of increasing its network of nursing homes and geriatricians to serve its aging population, given that the country will be among those with the oldest populations by 2050, Communist Party daily Granma said Thursday.

Currently, 18.3 percent of the Cuban public is over age 60, and this represents more than two million of the island's 11.2 million citizens.

But the present day infrastructure of nursing homes and asylums for the elderly who need care includes less than 17,000 beds, the newspaper said.

The head of the Senior Citizens, Social Assistance and Mental Health Department within the Public Health Ministry, Alberto Fernandez, told Granma that requests for entry into those institutions "are fewer than the real needs," but they are still "greater than the existing capacity" nationwide.

Cuba has a network of 230 "grandparents' homes" - where the elderly are taken care of during the daylight hours - with a capacity of 7,398, although the demand is estimated to be more than 20,000.

Meanwhile, there are 127 nursing homes with 9,287 beds, where people are housed who cannot be taken care of by their families or communities.

Authorities estimate that about 20 percent of Cubans older than 60 are in "fragile" health or are "in a state of need" in a country where the life expectancy is 78.9 years.

Fernandez said that by 2040 an estimated 2.7 percent of the Cuban population will suffer from Alzheimer's, a situation that will increase the need for permanent care.

He also discussed the need to train more geriatricians, since the island's healthcare system has only 279 doctors specializing in geriatrics and gerontology and just 137 physician-trainees doing their residencies in those specialties. EFE