SINGAPORE - Seniors account for most of the deaths from pneumonia, but only about 14 per cent of them are vaccinated against the illness.
Improving the vaccination rates for pneumonia is a key part of the focus of a new health programme between Marsiling and the RSVP Singapore The Organisation of Senior Volunteers that was launched on Friday (Dec 3).
Pneumonia vaccines, which usually cost $80 without government subsidy, will be free for all Pioneer and Merdeka generation seniors in Marsiling, where people aged 62 and above account for about 31.2 per cent of the area's residents.
The Smart Wellness Programme @ Marsiling helps raise awareness of pneumonia and also aims to promote preventive healthcare by getting seniors to take ownership of their health.
At the launch of the programme at Marsiling Zone 9 Residents' Network centre, Senior Minister of State for Defence and Manpower Zaqy Mohamad, who is an MP for Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, said: "We want to bring healthcare right to the doorsteps of our seniors, some of whom are not very mobile. This will help our seniors support one another.
"While our focus continues to be on Covid-19, we cannot forget other aspects of our health. It is therefore important to involve families to encourage their elderly to be protected against pneumonia."
While cases of pneumonia have gone down amid the pandemic - which experts said likely came about due to public health measures such as the wearing of masks, better personal hygiene and safe distancing - it remains one of the top causes of deaths in Singapore.
The new programme will see 30 RSVP volunteers training 100 senior volunteers in Marsiling, with a target of reaching out to about 1,000 seniors and vulnerable residents by the end of 2022.
Housewife Malligesvari Krisharaj, 68, a RSVP volunteer since 2018, looks forward to engaging more seniors.
She said: "I felt very content to be of service to the seniors to give them guidance and encourage them. It encourages me also because I feel healthier myself."
At the launch on Friday, seven seniors took the pneumonia vaccine and 40 seniors took the flu vaccine.
Geriatrician and medical director at The Good Life Medical Centre, Dr Carol Tan, who is also a board member of RSVP, developed the wellness programme to encourage seniors to be aware of pneumonia and take the necessary steps to prevent it.
She said: "The Covid-19 pandemic has brought home, especially to seniors and their loved ones, the importance of personal health, screening and vaccination. Preventive healthcare is no longer a 'nice-to-have'. It can be a matter of life and death."
She added that building trust with the seniors is important.
"A lot of seniors told me, 'How would I know? Even if I know, I am scared' or they say that they don't want to or it's better not to know because they are scared that they can't afford it. So that's why I have learnt that we need to sit down with them and chat, and just be friends to build trust."
Retiree Poh Yeng Koon, 71, who took the pneumonia vaccine, said in Mandarin: "I think this is a good programme for the residents. Prevention is important, because we have families with young children, so it is safer for us to take the vaccine."
Ms Chris Ding, 55, who accompanied her mother, Madam Loo Kim Liew, 80, for the pneumonia vaccine, said: "I think it is helpful because there are a lot of seniors here and not many of them are aware of pneumonia, and it is also very near to where we stay, so it is more convenient."
The seniors received their vaccinations at the Marsiling Zone 9 Residents' Network centre, where they could also attend a health talk or play cognitive games designed for them on SilverFit machines during the 30 minutes they stayed behind for observation after their jabs.