Healthcare And Life Sciences: In Sickness And In Health
SME Magazine Singapore|January 2019
Healthcare And Life Sciences: In Sickness And In Health

In life, sickness and health are as inevitable as the spectre of death hanging over our heads.

Ong Xiang Hong

Throughout recorded history, shamans, priests, healers as well as doctors have done what they could to prolong the arrival of Death’s scythe.

Now, with the advancements in diet, healthcare, and hygiene, our collective lifespans have become longer, infant mortality rates have dropped, and disease rates fallen. However, humanity’s new found abundance has also led to an increase in ‘diseases of affluence’, e.g. cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and other lifestyle-related sicknesses.

Similarly, ASEAN’s evolving demographics and lifestyle is driving changes in the healthcare sector. Life longevity in Southeast Asia is expected to exceed other areas in Asia in the long term, challenging healthcare providers to equip themselves with skills and resources in caring for elderly people. As communicable diseases have successfully been placed under control and infant mortality ratio improves, focus in many ASEAN countries has shifted to treating chronic diseases and injuries which are top death causes. Stress is getting widely recognized as a serious and costly issue such that more people are keeping themselves as healthy as possible to combat it.

Along with concern for their long-term health, individuals in ASEAN also strive to prioritize overall wellness for productivity and quality of life – in line with trends in Western nations. Attention is gearing towards healthcare prevention rather than illness cure. Economic growth has stirred greater demand for quality and innovative healthcare services. The increasing disposable income of ASEAN market allows people to avail themselves of higher-value products and services.

Furthermore, healthcare services have expanded to elective treatments and aesthetic surgery, assisted reproductive technologies, sports skills rehabilitation, and weight loss centres, among others. Medical facilities, which once existed to bring people back to health, are now increasingly becoming enablers of lifestyle for those who can afford treatment.


World Health Organization data estimates that average total healthcare expenditure per capita in ASEAN is US$544, about 4 percent of GDP. Singapore and Brunei top the list with expenditure per capita of US$2,273 and US$1,449, respectively. ASEAN is expected to boost health spending in order to provide better healthcare services and catch up with the average spending rate in fully developed countries. In Singapore, where there is an increasingly aging population, there are plans to add 3,700 hospital beds and recruit 20,000 more healthcare workers were laid-out in the country’s Healthcare 2020 Master plan.

The private sector is also pouring money into the healthcare industry. Bangkok Dusit Medical Services has invested in highly profitable non-core medical businesses. Makati Medical Centre, one of the leading hospitals in the Philippines, is investing in new laboratories to revolutionize diagnosis and treatment of diseases. In 2015, Vietnam unveiled VinMec International Hospital, the country’s largest and first hotel-like hospital featuring a five star hotel standard, 25 VIP rooms, and two presidential suites.


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January 2019