Why It Matters

Early action to keep all healthy

The Ministry of Health will be giving greater emphasis to primary and preventive care in the hope that it will reduce the need for patients to be hospitalised.

This is important given the rapidly ageing population, since older people generally have a greater need for healthcare services.

However, the benefits of such a move go far beyond reducing the need for hospital care.

Singaporeans are living increasingly longer lives. Unfortunately, the number of years spent in ill health is also going up.

Today, the disability years here average a decade, leaving the person with just over 70 years of good, healthy life.

The good news is that much of this decade of ill health can be prevented, since much of it is caused by poorly controlled chronic ailments.

There are two main reasons for this. First, many people are not even aware that they are suffering from these ailments. The 2010 national health survey found that half the people here with diabetes were undiagnosed. Similarly, one in four with hypertension and 44 per cent of those with high cholesterol levels were not aware of it.

Increasing health screening would alert those with problems to take early action. It is always easier to control, or even possibly reverse, these unhealthy conditions in the early stages.

This requires long-term care at the primary level, with family physicians or polyclinic doctors. Having these doctors trained to care for such conditions would go a long way towards keeping people healthy.

The doctors could get their patients screened at appropriate ages. They would then follow up by treating the patients for any ailments.

Good control means that fewer patients risk complications such as blindness or kidney failure.

This should lead to more years of health for the elderly and fewer disability years to suffer through.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 08, 2017, with the headline 'Early action to keep all healthy'. Print Edition | Subscribe