Correspondent's take

Individual's duty to do what is necessary to stay healthy

The Ministry of Health has adopted a highly ambitious vision: for all Singaporeans to live well, live long, and with peace of mind.

It is a worthwhile goal for the Government to work towards.

While not impossible, it will be difficult to achieve. So it was good to hear Health Minister Gan Kim Yong outline in his addendum to the President's address the Government's aims and policies for the next five years, some of the steps he has taken, and plans in the coming years, to achieve the goal.

Much has been done to ease the tight bed situation in the public healthcare system over the past few years.

Among them, the new building shared by Changi General Hospital and St Andrew's Community Hospital, the Ng Teng Fong General Hospital and the Jurong and Yishun community hospitals - all opened in the past 15 months - will add 1,800 beds when everything is up and running.

This is almost 15 per cent more than the current number of beds.

With the launch of MediShield Life last November, every Singaporean and permanent resident is assured of medical insurance from birth till death.

Higher subsidies in hospitals and polyclinics, as well as the extension of the Community Health Assist Scheme to pioneers have made healthcare both more affordable and accessible for seniors and lower -income families.

Moving to the next lap, Mr Gan plans to focus on keeping people healthy by encouraging healthier food choices and regular exercise, while fighting obesity and smoking.

Convincing people to take care of their health will, paradoxically, be a tougher task than providing infrastructure and financing.

But it is critical.

Singaporeans are among the longest-living people in the world.

Unless they start taking care of their health from a young age, and continue to do so as they age, they would end up living many of the added years in pain and suffering, enduring a poor quality of life.

Said Mr Gan: "As our population ages, we will also need to develop innovative methods to help Singaporeans remain healthy and dynamic even as the average lifespan increases."

While the Government can give support, it is the individual's responsibility to do what is needed to stay healthy.

People staying healthy longer will go a long way in containing healthcare demand and costs.

But an ageing population still needs more healthcare services, which means more has to be done to improve productivity in this labour- intensive sector.

It is never too early to start investing in ways to do things better, so that they are in place as the population ages.

Otherwise, a large segment of the workforce, or many more foreign workers, will be needed to take care of the frail and sick.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 21, 2016, with the headline 'Individual's duty to do what is necessary to stay healthy'. Print Edition | Subscribe