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Why It Matters

Stay healthy - for more years

Singapore is facing a rapidly ageing population, and people here will live more years with illness and disability than before, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said in Parliament this week.

Since 1990, the number of years that people here live with disability has gone up by about 11/2 years. On average, men live about nine years with poor health and women, almost 11 years.

To cater to this growing group, who will need a significant amount of care, the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced a series of measures to strengthen support for them. These include adding nursing home beds as well as day and eldercare facilities, and training foreign domestic workers to look after the frail or sick elderly.

Already, the number of foreign maids here has been going up every year, from 206,300 in 2011 to 231,500 last year - a 12 per cent rise in just four years.

As the population ages, more foreign maids will be needed. Needed too are foreign nurses and nursing aides to provide care in nursing homes, given that another 5,000 nursing home beds will be added by the year 2020, bringing the total to 17,000.

This dependence on foreigners to care for our elderly is unhealthy. There is no guarantee that they will remain as readily available as they are today.

Fortunately, the MOH has not accepted that this is the only way to go. Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor has outlined a raft of activities to keep older people in better health and able to care for themselves for longer.

Similarly, Mr Gan has declared war on diabetes, which is expected to affect one in three people here. Successfully reducing or controlling diabetes can significantly reduce the number of disability years people here live with.

Still, the authorities can only do so much.

It is up to each of us to ensure that we keep ourselves as fit as we can. Making the effort while we are young and healthy can prevent many years of suffering towards the end of life.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2016, with the headline 'Stay healthy - for more years'. Print Edition | Subscribe