There has been much discussion about healthcare costs in Singapore. It is important to distinguish between healthcare and medical services, as much of the debate centres on reducing the cost of medical care rather than improving our citizens’ health.
If our citizens are healthy, they need not worry about the cost of medical services. Just as the Government has propagated the concept of Total Defence, we must promote the concept of Total Health, rather than focus on illnesses and treatment.
For example, diseases arising from infections such as dengue fever, tuberculosis and influenza are effectively reduced by public health measures, and not by building more hospitals.
Diseases arising from malnutrition and poverty are best addressed by improving the economic and educational status of people.
Efforts to reduce smoking, alcohol and gambling addictions will go a long way to improve physical as well as social, familial, emotional and spiritual well-being.
Helping the elderly to “age in place” and to be active is critical to prevent the lonely old person from becoming frail and sick. Investments in building up communities of seniors to support one another will reduce the need for more nursing homes.
This requires programmes and funding to help active and fit elderly help other elderly neighbours who are frail. We must stop thinking of seniors as a problem; they are an important resource of people with expertise, experience and time.
Unnecessary expenditure on futile treatment at the end of life is best reduced by re-introducing Ars moriendi, or the art of dying well. If we want to live well, we must learn how to die well. Unfortunately, modern society has a phobia about discussions on death and dying.
To reduce the cost of medical care, we must stop worshipping medicine as an idol with clay feet. Ancient Greek philosopher Sophocles astutely observed: “One word frees us all of the weight and pain of life. That word is love.”
The challenge before Singaporeans is whether we will realise the need for a compassionate, cooperative society by putting love, not money, at the centre of our lives. The world will be different the moment we do so.