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March 28th, 2008:

Stopping Causes Of Illness Better Policy Than Imposing ‘Health Tax’

Updated on Mar 28, 2008 – SCMP

John Yuan (“We must understand what makes people sick”, March 23), gives voice to the misgivings of many overproposed health-care reforms. The government is putting the cart before the horse with this consultation. As Mr Yuan rightly points out, the first step is to find out why so many patients flock to our hospitals and what the root causes are for their ailments.

Take the alarming percentage of diabetics, for example. This malady, while having a strong genetic link, is exacerbated by bad diet, lack of exercise and obesity. Public education programmes could highlight the danger signs and how to combat the onset of the condition. High-risk individuals could be identified and counselled and encouraged to have yearly check-ups. A diabetic diagnosed early is less of a burden to the public health system.

Pollution is certainly the cause of many ailments, yet the government has refused to take positive steps to combat air pollution, road congestion and construction-related pollution despite calls from the community for decisive action. Bad town planning decisions that deprive our streets and buildings of adequate ventilation should be examined and, where possible, rectified. More sports and recreation facilities would encourage a more active lifestyle.

Legislation requiring employers to pay for additional hours above those stipulated in the employee’s contract would have an immediate and positive effect on the stress levels and related illnesses of a tired and overworked workforce.

If the cost of our health-care system is such a liability why were profit and personal taxes reduced in the recent budget? Many local firms have recently announced record profits, so there is no valid reason to reduce their contribution towards health-care when, in many instances, commercial activities are causing health problems.

The response to the health care consultation should be a strong message to the administration that prevention, not cure, should be the name of the game and the public will respond positively to what amounts to a health tax only when the government is perceived to have delivered a quality of life that ensures preventable illnesses are all but eliminated.

Martin Brinkley, Ma Wan