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Fund efforts to resolve problems of longer lifespans

Mr Francis Cheng's letter ("Society has prime impact on science"; July 24) advocated government funding to research new drugs and treatments to increase human longevity.

However, I believe that the Government will reap greater benefits if the money goes into resolving the numerous social, economic and environmental problems posed by an ever-increasing human lifespan.

According to the World Health Organisation's life expectancy report published in May, Singapore has the second-highest life expectancy in the world. Our healthy life expectancy score for both sexes stands at 73.9 years. We are bested only by Japan, which has a score of 74.9 years.

Thus, given our already high world ranking in longevity and the minuscule difference between us and top-ranking Japan, it is unlikely that we will get better value for money if more funding is channelled into research in this field.

Instead, government funding should be spent on researching and implementing effective policies that can counteract the negative effects of increased human longevity. For example, currently, our senior citizens face age discrimination in the job market despite recent government efforts to alleviate this.

If life expectancy is to increase, we will have to do better in developing more holistic policies to ensure that senior citizens can be gainfully employed in meaningful jobs and continue to contribute to the economy and society.

Globally, the United Nations has estimated that the human population will reach eight billion by 2025, an increase of one billion in a mere 14 years since 2011.

Most demographers attribute this growth explosion to enhanced human longevity made largely possible by advancement in science. But scientists, politicians and economists are increasingly worried about whether such growth is sustainable, given the earth's finite resources.

Yet, science will continue to advance and lengthen the human lifespan. The challenge is ensuring that our social, economic and environmental policies can collaborate to make life better for both young and old. This is the fulcrum to the longevity quagmire and where government funds should be rightly allocated.

Sim Eng Cheong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 14, 2016, with the headline 'Fund efforts to resolve problems of longer lifespans'. Print Edition | Subscribe