Gov­ern­ments, in­sti­tu­tions, in­di­vid­u­als must do more to im­prove public health

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - BY THO XIN YI

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.

So­cial Re­spon­si­bil­ity

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.

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