At just around two percent of its GDP, the Singapore government’s expenditure on health was among the lowest compared to other high-income countries. Even so, Singaporeans enjoy a high standard of health and healthcare. A person in Singapore could expect to live up to 83 years, placing it among the countries with the highest life expectancy. It also has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world. While the island nation has made great strides in improving the state of health of its population, it would need to ensure that its healthcare system can face the challenges and needs of its increasingly aging population.
How did Singapore improve standards of health at minimal cost?
Healthcare in Singapore is based on a foundation of individual responsibility and affordable healthcare for all. Government subsidies, individual private savings, and a group of insurance schemes known as the “3Ms” (Medisave, MediShield, and MediFund), help finance citizens’ health care coverage. The mandatory national medical savings scheme, or Medisave, requires workers to contribute a percentage of their income to a personal account, with the same amount contributed by employers. This helps to keep government healthcare spending relatively low.
Apart from ensuring affordable and accessible healthcare, health policies in Singapore are based on preventive healthcare. Primary prevention policies such as the National Childhood Immunization Program (NCIP), which oversees vaccinations for tuberculosis for children at birth, as well as the mandatory vaccinations against measles and diphtheria, have helped reduce childhood mortality. Secondary prevention measures include the Screen for Life program, which offers subsidized cancer screenings for adults in Singapore.
To support the needs of its population, Singapore has invested in its healthcare infrastructure, focusing on providing high standards of care and treatment from its public healthcare providers. While residents can choose between public or private healthcare facilities, they can do so knowing that the standard of care given would not differ significantly. Furthermore, the physician density per 10,000 population in Singapore has increased over the years, ensuring that primary care services remain accessible to all.
Meeting the healthcare needs of an ageing population
Improved standards of living, coupled with effective healthcare, have resulted in Singaporeans living longer. By 2050, about a third of the population of Singapore would be made up of the elderly. The increasingly aging population would no doubt put a strain on the healthcare system. As of 2020, there were only 132 geriatric medicine specialists, compared to an elderly population of around 600,000. The government would thus need to invest heavily to meet this need, not only to build up the pool of medical staff necessary, but also the healthcare facilities catering specifically to the elderly.
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Research expert covering Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia