Our best gift is to stay healthy

LET'S start the year with a resolution to stay healthy and be kinder to our environment.

This is the biggest favour that we can do not only for ourselves but for the nation.

Here I can't help but quote US President John F. Kennedy, which rang true when he said it in the early 1960s: "Ask not what your country can do for you but ask what you can do for your country".

I'm referring to the ever rising cost of sustaining our public healthcare system, recognised as one of the world's finest and certainly the cheapest at government clinics and hospitals.

We all have a public duty to help keep costs down because if the congestion at clinics and hospitals is an indicator, many Malaysians are unhealthy.

And if no effort is made to fix these trends, the day might come when the cost and the virtually free public healthcare service might become unsustainable.

Let's pray that it won't come to this stage but more than just pray, we have to walk the talk.

Although this is an election year when politics will be very much in the air, let's focus more on health issues.

As chairman of national news agency Bernama, I have told its reporters to write more healthcare stories and rope in doctors and specialists to write on matters that at the end of the day will increase awareness among the people to break free from their "unhealthy lot" syndrome.

Look at the long queues well before opening hours at government clinics and hospitals. Seeing is believing.

Some earlier policies have contributed to ill health. One of them is the subsidy for sugar, considered an essential item by many sweet-toothed Malaysians, to keep prices more affordable.

Everyone knows that sugar consumption is a major cause of diabetes that has put Malaysia among countries with the highest rate of the disease.

Diabetes is related to other major health complications which combined are the leading cause of death.

But common sense at last prevailed when the sugar subsidy was abolished a few years ago.

Let's spare a thought for our overworked doctors and healthcare staff who daily face a horrendous workload that could very well take a toll on their health. Not to mention on their family life.

Without hesitation, I would say hospital staff are the most hardworking and dedicated civil servants and truly the nation's unsung heroes.

As one who has had the experience of being a patient and visiting friends and relatives in hospitals, their staff have my highest respect for doing their work without bragging about their sacrifice.

Have we ever heard them clamouring for more pay or has any doctor, surgeon or specialist boasted about the many lives they have saved all in the course of a day's work?

Instead, every time we read of a demand for a pay or allowance increase, it comes from the clerical category or civil servants whose workload is nothing to shout about compared with those in the healthcare services.

Talking about civil servants, it's mind-boggling to know from figures recently revealed that the cost of medicines paid for by the government for the 1.6 million civil servants came to about RM2 billion a year.

And if you add the cost of hospitalisation and other related items, it's exponential indeed.

What about the public at large?

So civil servants, who are more informed and assured of job security compared with private sector employees, should not take for granted that because they have free medical care they can take their health for granted.

The biggest favour they can do for the country and society is to stay healthy.

For the private sector workers, it has to be said that employers spend huge sums on health insurance and in times of economic downturn, companies are feeling the pinch in sustaining this privilege.

They, too, must make staying healthy their lifelong resolution by adopting a healthy lifestyle such as eating right instead of eating what they feel like eating.

No one can deny the truth of the saying "you are what you eat". And eating or "over-eating" is the No. 1 Malaysian habit or obsession.

Granted not much is being done officially by way of public education for Malaysians to be more health-conscious.

We are spending far too much on treatment rather than prevention.

If for instance, we spend RM10 million on prevention, perhaps we could save RM100 million or even more if more people are healthy and don't require treatment and medicines.

Otherwise as things stand, our healthcare system and people at large continue to sing to the tune of pharmaceutical companies.

I like to share a New Year message from Datuk Seri Dr Zaini Ujang, the secretary-general of the Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water, who says: "Let us all make a healthy and sustainable lifestyle our culture.

"Go cycling, walk 10,000 steps. Use public transport. Save water. Use sustainable energy, green technology. Help reduce carbon emission. Keep a healthy body and mind for a prosperous nation."
A big thank you to Zaini.

Comments: letters@thesundaily.com