Governments, institutions, individuals must do more to improve public health
Grief is difficult to deal with but everyone knows what it’s like: it begins as a harrowing feeling of numbness that pervades your body, and only much later will you start to grasp the magnitude of the loss. Everything changes. Losing someone close to you is a painful experience and it is, ultimately, utterly indescribable. Your life will never be the same again.
But the fact remains that you still have a life to live and others to care for, so while you hold on to the memory and the sense of loss, you keep reminding yourself that things must go on because there are others whose lives are inextricably linked to ours, and who must continue on life’s journey.
In this day and age where everyone wants to be successful and society accords recognition according to the level of that success, it’s easy to forget that health and a balanced life are paramount.
Simply put, death involves our bodies failing for whatever reason, and it comes to everyone. The point is, it shouldn’t come before it’s due.
The government, and indeed society as a whole, must allocate more resources toward creating awareness of the importance of healthy living.
We already spend billions annually on medical facilities, drugs and medical equipment, and the budget ( except for at least some hospitals) keeps increasing every year.
We could save a lot of that money and, more importantly, save more lives if more people were taught to value healthy living and if such a culture were to be deeply ingrained.
Television stations naturally have a lot of time for advertisements as they get paid for them, but they should devote a decent amount of airtime to health programs as part of their community and social responsibility.
Likewise, the Multimedia Commission, which is ever so vigilant for those who do “damage” on social media and radio, ought to revise its priorities and watch out for unscrupulous advertisements that pose health hazards, especially to children.
The commission should also set aside a sizable chunk of the levy it takes from telecommunications companies in order to promote good health, and if present regulations do not permit such use of the funds, then change the regulations.
The country needs a wake- up call on how many problems we will face if the current levels of Malaysian ill health are permitted to persist.
We eat and drink too much, we have so few public parks, and our beaches are not taken care of by the municipalities. We also do not give incentives to those who are not obese, which I think we should.
Even from an economic perspective, we will surely not be able to emulate the success of the Japanese and the South Koreans if we are less healthy than they are — and this is definitely the case.
To be sure, we have the benefit of a fair number of health activists and organizations: the National Cancer Society of Malaysia ( NCSM), for example, has done a lot of good work to help cancer patients.
However, it could do more to educate and remind the people about the importance of regular checks, especially CT scans for those aged above 50, and the fact remains that public education about the early detection of cancer isn’t widespread.
The NCSM has limitations, of course, but with so many well- connected personalities on its board it should be able to do more.
For example, its website and newsletters should be presented in Bahasa Malaysia as well, so that many who are not fluent in English could also benefit from the information.
Generally speaking, health education must go beyond city centers and shopping malls: large organizations such as the NCSM and the National Kidney Foundation should extend their services to the far corners of the country.
Ultimately, however, people must want to be healthy, because there is only so much that the government and voluntary and charitable organizations can do to help them.
Learning from Japan
Japan has the longest life expectancy in the world: Japanese women live up to 85 years on average and the world’s oldest person, Misao Okawa, died last month at the age of 117.
Many people have attributed Japanese longevity to genetics; others (such as myself) to their healthy diet of fish, vegetables and rice.
But there is also something the Japanese do that we don’t: they walk a lot.
They run to chase trains, and then from the subway they walk to their offices. They walk to visit their grandmothers and their inlaws.
There are plenty of studies that show the correlation between how long you sit down per day and how likely you are to die early, so much so that simply standing up more every day might possibly contribute to a longer life.
Let’s start eating more fresh produce from local providers and less preserved or processed food. Let’s walk more and get more exercise. Let’s simply just start taking better care of ourselves before it is too late.