The Sunday Times says

Early detection will help improve lives

Retired nurse Amy Goh helping Nee Soon resident Alice Lau take her blood pressure at the new Diabetes Resource Centre at Block 839, Yishun Street 81, on Nov 27 2016.
Retired nurse Amy Goh helping Nee Soon resident Alice Lau take her blood pressure at the new Diabetes Resource Centre at Block 839, Yishun Street 81, on Nov 27 2016. PHOTO: ST FILE

It is true that every dollar spent on the prevention and early detection of medical problems pays off in multiple ways. Sustained health enhances one's well-being and lowers the risk of major ailments. Unhealthy lifestyles, however, combined with a tendency to ignore telltale signs constitute a dangerous combination, as even expensive treatments might not be effective when certain illnesses have progressed beyond a certain stage.

Hence, there's much to be said for the logic of a highly subsidised national health screening programme to test people for up to five conditions: diabetes, cholesterol, blood pressure, cervical cancer and colorectal cancer. Early intervention lies at the heart of the Government's goal of providing good, affordable and sustainable healthcare.

The extent to which the new programme will succeed depends on Singaporeans' ability to escape a behavioural irony. This surfaces when people put off health screening for cost reasons when it is expensive. However, when it is cheap, they defer tests by self-rationalising that it can be easily done on another occasion. Either way, inaction is tied to financial cost, and is not overcome by the intrinsic value of the service offered. This could prove disastrous as what's at stake is nothing less than one's continuing health and even life itself.

Singaporeans, who are so sensitive to price fluctuations on the stock or property market, should display a similar wariness towards any dips in their own health. The availability of improving primary and secondary healthcare infrastructure and of protective mechanisms such as MediShield Life should not lull people into a false sense of health security. What will make the biggest difference to their health are active lifestyles and habits that can keep illness at bay. Together with regular health screening, such routines can help beat the odds of chronic ailments arising during the last 10 years of their lives.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 19, 2017, with the headline 'Early detection will help improve lives'. Print Edition | Subscribe