Tag Archives: Health

Mothers, Midwives and Mobile Phones

By Associate Professor Arul Chib, Director, Singapore Internet Research Centre Assisted by Megan Fernandes, Graduate Student, Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, Nanyang Technological University

“Almost 800 women die every day due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth” (WHO, 2014). 99% of these deaths occur in developing countries. These grim statistics betray the state of maternal healthcare and the circumstances under which many mothers try to bring their children into the world. A great majority of these deaths could have simply been averted had there been some form of skilled healthcare or obstetric care available to these expecting mothers.

For instance, in Aceh Besar, Indonesia, where I focused on rehabilitation efforts post the 2007 Tsunami, the stark lack of basic infrastructure and facilities available to mothers was immediately apparent. In other projects in India, China, Nepal, Papua New Guinea and Thailand, I was met with similar circumstances – derelict hospital infrastructure, threadbare facilities and an inadequate number of staff, many of whom were under-trained.

With high issue salience in the international development agenda – for example, Millennium Development Goal 5 is devoted to improving maternal health by reducing the maternal mortality ratio and increasing universal access to reproductive care – there is admittedly a lot of effort going into alleviating the problem.

But working in such low resource environments has taught me that mere injection of infrastructure or financial resources will not remedy the issue at hand. The issue of maternal mortality, or for that matter any development related issue we are grappling with today, is more nuanced and multi-faceted.

In exploring the various ways the issue can be approached, the role of Information Communication Technologies (ICT) stands out sharply. The rate of uptake of ICT devices – especially the now ubiquitous mobile phone has been nothing short of disruptive. Put in a healthcare context, ICTs have immense potential to be harnessed. The adoption and use of ICTs to achieve positive outcomes in healthcare delivery across the world has already been documented.

In making the case for maternal healthcare, let’s look at what decades of experience say: it is advised that pregnant women be provided with comprehensive care in the form of regular gynecological visits during pregnancy, access to skilled birth attendants during delivery, etc. However, the realities on the ground in many developing nations present a sharp contrast. Rural healthcare systems in such regions are unable to make available formal and adequate reproductive care. Without many of the required in-house facilities available locally, rural dwellers in developing countries need to travel to distant urban locations for access to service and care. In many cases such travel is not affordable or feasible and what remains are rural mothers-to-be cut off from access to the world at a time when it is most needed.

But the ubiquitous mobile phone is slowly trying to bridge this distance.

Evidence is emerging on how local healthcare workers are using mobile phones to access information and expert advice from their superiors in other locations. Mobile phones seem to be conquering the rural-urban distance barrier in two ways: they bring the urban healthcare center closer home in the form of professional advice directly from the expert and they improve the skills of the local, rural healthcare worker enough to the point that she can then make those important decisions by herself when the opportunity arises next time around.

Revisiting the case of Aceh, where we administered a mobile healthcare (mHealth) intervention for midwives, I found that mobile phone use and appropriation by the local midwives benefitted the local healthcare system by allowing for greater time efficiency, greater access to expert advice and finally improved relationships between the midwives, the community and with doctors.

I often quote a particular incident narrated to me by a participating midwife from the intervention in Aceh to illustrate the immense promise of the mobile phone:

“It was a high risk delivery. I called Ms. A [fellow midwife] then I called Ms. B [senior midwife] … When the baby came out, he didn’t cry, he had asphyxia. We thought he was already dead. The blood was all over my mobile phone because I kept holding it. I called an ambulance. The mother was bleeding. Ms. A took the baby with her and went with the ambulance. Imagine if I handled that patient alone, probably both the mother and the baby would have died.”

Despite the powerful narrative, it serves to mention that the mobile phone in itself is no single panacea to the problem. The problems that technology interventions are usually designed to address are but infrastructural problems. Most of the discourse surrounding this field today is in that order. However, there exists a social layer to the structural problem and this is where we should be turning our energy and efforts as well.

For example, we witnessed a strong patriarchal streak that ran in the community – the village chiefs [all male] were loath to allow the midwives [the females] possession of the mobile phones. The midwives employed strategies to protect the social order–projecting the fact that the mobile phone was ‘not theirs’ in that they resorted to ‘forced sharing’ strategies wherein they thrust the phone to their sons or other members of the community in a bid to escape the attention and questions they could be faced with. We observed other social dimensions to the problem in the form of ‘hierarchies’ or so called ‘power distance’ issues between those higher up in the medical fraternity and those at the junior or more rural levels.

Such ‘social’ problems are bound to exist well after the ‘technological or infrastructural’ problems are solved. Unsurprisingly, ‘technological or infrastructural’ solutions’ sometimes create ‘social’ issues.

What is required are interventions that adopt a more holistic approach towards resolving developmental issues. This requires effective problem solving with an entire system working in tandem: participation from a policy maker to a grassroots worker, from a gender expert to governance experts as no single issue can be resolved uni-dimensionally. From the perspectives of donors and governments, the conversation has to shift from the quantum of funds allotted and spent to the effectiveness of the outcomes this allocation has brought about. On its part, the research fraternity which I represent can help by pursuing more action oriented research and engaging more effectively with policy makers on the results of such research.

Dr. Arul Chib, Associate Professor at Nanyang Technological University, and Director of the Singapore Internet Research Center, studies the adoption of technology for positive development outcomes and examines the impact of development campaigns delivered via a range of innovative information and communication technologies (ICTD or ICT4D), focusing on mobile phone healthcare systems particularly in resource-constrained environments of developing countries.

Dr. Chib is the recipient of the 2011 Prosper.NET-Scopus Award for the use of ICTs for sustainable development, and a fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. He is the General Conference Chair for ICTD2015, taking place in Singapore 15-18 Ma, 2015. More details on his work may be found here, here and here, Dr. Arul Chib can be reached at ARULCHIB@ntu.edu.sg or (+65) 65148390

Feast of Giving

By Jayashree Selvalatchmanan

“Ending poverty is first about bringing the issue to light. A lot of people don’t want to see or admit that there is poverty. When we come and look at this group of elderly, we see that there is a need, maybe within a different definition of poverty, but they are deprived. They are deprived of love, they are deprived of care. Living in their one-rooms, it is all these activities (like those at the Feast of Giving) that help. If they are happier, it is less of a burden on their plight if they have a lack of monetary resources. The elderly just want to be loved”– Joy Mahbubani, Managing Director of J’s Restaurant.

16 Feb 2015 (1)Photo credits: Happy People Helping People Foundation, Dob Firdaus

End-of-year celebrations signify different things to different people. For the perpetually busy, it may be a long intended union with family and friends. For those seeking success and purposeful change, it may be a time required to clear out the mind and set fresh goals, more inspiring and ambitious than the ones from the year before. Others may simply relish giving back to society; wanting to touch and change the lives of those around them- with a dash of love.

On the 28th of December 2014, in a first-time collaboration between ONE (SINGAPORE), J’s Restaurant and Happy People Helping People, a festive event titled “Feast of Giving” was organised to honour the elderly and give back a little something to those who have spent years toiling for the future of their families and the society. The 3-hour event, buttressed by passionate volunteers, played host to 180 special guests – the elderly, aged 60 and above, residents of the one-room rental blocks, 22, 23 & 24 located at 22 Chai Chee Road – in an eventful evening of fun and games.

The event was scheduled a stone’s throw away from the rental premises at a delightful multi-purpose hall, nested cosily between old residential blocks. As the clock strikes four, organisers and volunteers promptly take their places around the modest vicinity and duly mingled with guests as they start to arrive. A warm sense of responsibility slowly permeates the air. Volunteers showed the guests to their seats; the actively passionate few hasten around with an urgent sincerity to inject the immediately sociable with doses of cordiality. Instantaneous relations formed–moments before, a stranger, but in a splitting connection, one became another’s father, daughter, or uncle. It seemed that everyone, stranger or not, was bonded under one synchronised notion– to delight the elderly: to make them laugh and sing; to be givers and receivers of love; and to bestow upon them humble gifts.

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Writer and motivational speaker, Zaibun leads the event to an invigorating start. With a quick sprinkle of positivity, she guides her audience up on their feet and demonstrated a series of quirky laughing exercises.

“It’s time to laugh”, she says, pointing to her watch, “Roar with laughter!” The crowd erupts into a massive cheer like there was some kind of rock star on stage; rounds of hollering laughter swiftly ensued. Zaibun’s zesty talk and performance lasts for a little more than thirty minutes before she bid her guests farewell. A final song was played. Many of the elderly were beaming from ear-to-ear; others sat down to rest, tired from all that laughing and prancing around– it was indeed a contagious sight!

The rest of the evening was further lined up with a series of intriguing performances and games. There was a visit and magic performance by Santa, song and dance by kids from Ameba Schoolhouse and a highly interactive session of Bingo. It was announced that the winners of Bingo would be presented with an opportunity to visit River Safari on the 25th of January, accompanied, of course, by volunteers. To that, there were some disgruntled groans from the crowd (because of the travelling required) but most seemed conspicuously thrilled!

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“The event was really enjoyable. I am very happy today,” said Mariyam B, aged 75, both volunteer at the Kembangan-Chai Chee seniors activity centre and resident of Block 24. Other senior guests at the occasion expressed similar emotions – many shared their contentment and delight, others displayed enormous amounts of gratitude and claimed to have had some of their heartiest laughs. Madam Zainab, also in her 70s, said she was absolutely enthralled by the performances and even instructed that future events turn away from typical themes.

“Plan differently next time!” she urged with a cheerful giggle.

Dinner that evening was graciously provided by J’s restaurant. Joy Mahbubani, managing director of the enterprise seemed more like one of our dedicated volunteers – dancing, singing and interacting with the guests. The menu for the event included, saffron rice, roasted chicken, sweet and sour fish, vegetables and bread & butter pudding.

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After all the fun and laughter, the event drew to a close. However, a prime question remains undiscussed. What is the bigger picture?

Feast of Giving is a step towards curbing poverty. The event raises awareness, while sharing love and abundance.

I truly hope that we have set things in motion so this cycle of giving and receiving will be passed on.

Have an astounding new year!

Photos courtesy of Dob Firdaus

Related Articles

  • Feast of Giving – a year-end celebration on 20 December 2014 for the elderly living in the Chai Chee area
  • Photos of the Feast of Giving

Building a New Social Compact

By Nicole Seah

Inequality hurts not just the poor, but ALL segments of society. Research in the field of social science has shown that social indicators such as life expectancy, rates of imprisonment, social mobility show poorer performance across the board when there is greater inequality.

Inequality has many practical implications, the most important one being dissatisfaction and discontentment across different classes.

Economic progress accounts for more than just pure output or growth. Other indicators of well-being include consumption, health and longevity, leisure time and income distribution.

Even though our per capita GDP was 83% of the US, the well-being of Singaporeans was disproportionately a mere 44% in comparison.

With regards to the issue of inequality, we cannot continue to look outward to other countries and assume that there is less for us to do because we are in a much better off situation on the whole.

Singapore is well-poised to take on the challenges of the global economy with the strong growth policies that have been put in place.  I believe that now is the time for us to look inward and draw our focus back to the core of good governance . . . and the core of good governance is the ability of a state to take care of its people.

So a National Conversation is good. It is important. But if we do dig deep into what makes this country tick, what makes people stay or go, then we will only be left with just that – Conversation. Singapore is in a good position to transform its social policies.

Policy biases

For too long there have been several arguments AGAINST giving more to the poor. We do not want to create a welfare state, we do not have the finances to sustain a greater amount of assistance. Our policies have benefitted the population at large, there will always be poor people in society no matter what you do, so the fact that our numbers are less than other countries means that we are in a good position.

There are so many of these arguments.

And this is where I think, the Singapore government needs to re-engineer the way it thinks about the poor.

Think of them, not just in terms of statistics, but as people. People who could be our neighbours. The uncle next door who might have to take up 3 jobs to provide for his family. The karang guni lady, who makes a pittance sourcing for my broken fan and making her rounds every morning and night.

I know these people, because I live right next to them where I stay in Tampines. And that is why it always breaks my heart, when I meet people who have had a much more privileged upbringing, who have all the creature comforts that they could possibly ask for, say that the government has done enough and that there will always be poor people in this society.

It is easier said than done, when these people will never understand what it feels like to live below media wage. They will never understand what it feels like to get paid by the hour, or to spend their last dollar note in their wallet and not know where the next one is going to come from.

And that is why it is time for us to build a new social compact.

Sceptics may argue that we will not be able to get the money, it is not fiscally feasible.  To that I say, if the government sees value in closing up this inequality gap, if they start to place emphasis on doing so, it will be important enough to have a budget. We could have used the same argument against F1, the Youth Olympics or the Integrated Resorts. But the government felt that the benefits would be important to Singaporeans, and so, money was put aside for these projects.

In that same vein, as we reconsider what it takes to close up the income gap, I’d like to remind all of us that we need to be mindful in the way we render assistance to the poor. Drawing back to the old cliché of teaching a person how to fish versus giving him a fish, we need to relook at our social infrastructure rather than merely increasing assistance or doling out more money, which is important and it is good, but it is not sustainable in the longer term. We need to start looking at things with a new approach and perhaps make unorthodox suggestions to orthodox policies.

One area we can consider is that Singapore needs to create more hands and feet for the people who are down and out, and aren’t able to get up on their own two feet. This can extend to employment agencies, childcare centres, the social work sector. Make the pay packages more attractive. Acknowledge social work as a legit profession. Streamline the job scope so that existing social workers do not wade through a mountain of bureaucracy which may further aggravate an emotionally demanding job. Jobs creation of this nature needs to stem from a willingness to change the system. We can’t just rely on creating ad campaigns without changing what is unattractive about the job. It’s not going to solve the problem of expanding the social work talent pool in the long run.

With that, I’d like to end off on one point about our social spending, and a couple of other possible solutions in brief . . .

Singapore spends 16% of its GDP on social programmes. Other developed economies average out at 25%-30%. While we do not need to go as high as 40%, compared to some other developed countries such as Sweden or France, I believe that alot more can and should be done to push for more social spending in Singapore.

With that in line, the increment in social spending can then be considered for some of the following areas:

(1) Worker retraining and income support – Allow the poorer in society to search for better opportunities

(2) Healthcare – Universal Healthcare insurance models in places like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have seen out of pocket expenses for locals fall significantly. Singapore currently has the highest risk of extremely high personal spending in healthcare compared to other developed Asian economies, which really gave rise to the heartland idea of “Better to die than to fall sick in Singapore.” Currently, the system limits claiming for chronic long term care, which is actually the area that tends to affect low to medium income families the hardest.

(3) More subsidised infrastructure – Void deck or government-owned spaces can be converted into eldercare centres or childcare centres. With subsidies in rent, cost savings can be passed on to Singaporeans who might not be able to afford private facilities.

This article is based on the opening remarks given by Nicole Seah at a panel discussion on “Reducing the Income Gap: Finding Practical Solutions” organised on 12 September 2012 by ONE (SINGAPORE) and the Wee Kim Wee Centre.

18 ways to reduce the income gap

1 Oct 2012

By Leong Sze Hian

With the gap between rich and poor widening, financial advisor and commentator Leong Sze Hian argues that new government policies are needed in several key sectors. But that Singaporeans need to change their mindset as well.

“We need to tweak our labour policies, then automatically wages will rise,” Sze Hian told a packed room at SMU in a panel discussion about income inequality organised by ONE (SINGAPORE) and the Wee Kim Wee Centre.

But the outspoken advocate of poor and disenfranchised families also notes that the government can not do everything.

“We cannot put all the blame on the government. Look at the issue of cleaners. Two years ago, their pay was S$800, now (the amount is) less. Why? Because every time the workers’ levy goes up, (companies) cut workers pay and we accept it. As Singaporeans, we need to be more compassionate.”

In this article, Sze Hian focuses on four key areas where new policies – or in some cases, a return to previous rules – could reduce the income gap, increase purchasing power and ensure that catastrophic illnesses do not also bankrupt families.

Wages and CPF

  1. Peg the interest rate paid on CPF accounts to the GIC’s historical rate of return (minus a one-percentage administrative fee).

Singaporean’s retirement funds are essentially invested by the government in securities chosen by the Government Investment Corporation. While there has been some controversy about how this works, it appears that the Government sells bonds to the CPF Board and then provides the funds raised to GIC.

Currently, ordinary CPF accounts pay 2.5%. There’s a slightly more complicated formula for calculating the return on Special, Medical and Retirement Accounts (SMRA), but they tend to pay 5% on the first S$60,000 and 4% on subsequent funds.

But the GIC has a historical rate of return over the past twenty years of about 6 percent in US dollar terms. So instead of paying Singaporeans a 2.5% rate of return on their CPF accounts, it would be more equitable to pay about 5 percent (providing GIC with a profit for administering the funds).

By the way, Malaysia’s Employees Provident Fund (EPF) paid a dividend of 5.8 and 5.65 percent in 2010 and 2009, respectively, and has historically paid a return of between 4.25 to 8.5 per cent.

  1. Change the rules for self-employed Workfare accounts.

Self-employed individuals currently do not receive any cash payments from Workfare. Instead, Workfare transfers to the self-employed are paid into their CPF Medisave accounts. This discourages older lower-income self-employed Singaporeans from contributing to CPF to qualify for Workfare.

  1. Require employers to pay CPF for foreign employees too.

Current policy exempts employers from having to pay a 16 percent contribution to CPF for foreign employees. This policy puts Singaporeans at a disadvantage as employers save 16 per cent of salary costs when they employ foreigners.

Healthcare

  1. Pay Medishield premiums

Instead of making periodic CPF Medisave top-ups to older Singaporeans, use the funds to pay for their Medishield premiums instead. Otherwise, such top-ups can easily be consumed by rising medical costs.

  1. Provide coverage for all infants

Currently, CPF Medishield does not cover new-born children with congenital illnesses.

  1. Increase public spending

Singapore’s spending on healthcare is one of the lowest in the world. The government currently spends about 1.6 percent of GDP on healthcare. We need to invest more in the health of our citizens.

  1. Stop Privatising Healthcare

Private sector spending on healthcare, as a percentage of total healthcare spending, has risen from 25 percent not long ago to 60 percent now. We need to reverse this trend. Private healthcare costs patients more.

  1. Subsidise out-patient treatments for those in need

Out-patient treatments at polyclinics can be expensive and a large burden on low-income families and individuals. The government Medifund programme should pay for these treatments. Instead, the government has transferred S$86 million of Medifund surpluses to the Protected Reserves over the past decade or so.

  1. Better coverage for workplace injuries – Part 1

An injury at work can be all that it takes to push a family into poverty. The Workmen’s Injury Act was amended a few years ago to reduce employers’ and insurers’ liability for medical expenses arising from workplace accidents to S$25,000. But according to the Ministry of Health, medical fees from five percent of industrial accidents exceed this cap, placing an unfair – and potentially debilitating – financial burden on employees.

  1. Better coverage for workplace injuries – Part 2

Require public hospitals to extend the same subsidies to all patients, whether they are in hospital due to an industrial accident or other matter. Currently, ‘subsidised wards’ are actually not subsidised at all if you are hospitalised due to a workplace injury. This means that patients are paying five times as much to stay in a Class C ward.

  1. Fight higher costs by changing the way hospitals are reimbursed.

Hospital fees have doubled over the past four years. A major reason for this is that the government reimburses public hospitals based on the MOH’s average treatment type subsidy computation. Yet hospitals are still free to charge higher prices and pass the difference on to patients. Instead, the government should reimburse hospitals for the actual subsidy shown in medical bills.

  1. Better means-testing

Review means testing for patients who request for down-grading to lower-class hospital wards. The last time a reply on this was given in Parliament, it was revealed that only one percent of those who applied for downgrading from a higher class ward were successful.

Transparency

Information is a key for effective governance and developing solutions. There are a number of facts though that are not currently public knowledge. For example . . .

  1. If someone can not afford medical treatment, what is the likelihood that s/he will receive government support?

MOH discloses the number of successful applications, but not the total number or number rejected. What is the percentage of Medifund applicants that are accepted because they can not pay their medical bills?

  1. Make public the criteria for approving Medifund applications.
  1. Disclose the “Standard Drug List”.

Patients should be able to know in advance which drugs are subsidised and which are not.

  1. How many people discharged from hospital are unable to pay their medical bills?

We know that 21 percent of Singaporeans who seek assistance from Credit Counselling Singapore are requesting help because of medical fees. But we do not know how many patients are left with financial problems due to medical expenses.

Housing

  1. Remove the income ceiling of S$2,000 for two-room flats.

This limit is based on a simplistic assumption that every household earning more than $2,000 can afford a three-room flat, regardless of family size or financial circumstances.

  1. Do not increase rents for households earning more than S$800.

Families earning between S$800 and S$1,500 may already be finding it heard to make ends meet. The state does not need to add to their burden by increasing their rent. It’s time to reverse this relatively recent policy change.

Singapore’s Budget: Towards an Inclusive Society?

By ShuQi Liu

Following a watershed election last year that signalled public resentment towards a paternalistic state, the AWARE roundtable discussion conducted on 24 March 2012 sustained the political momentum with an honest discussion about this year’s Singapore Budget.

“We have not witnessed inclusive growth in the Singapore budget for a very long time,” says Yeoh Lam Keong, an economic and social policy commentator affiliated with the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

Despite additional funding for a number of social programmes, panelists at the forum generally agreed that the government’s budget does not do enough to assist the most vulnerable elements of our society — children, elderly, the disabled and low-income families — particularly when it comes to education and health care.

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Health Care

The 2012 Budget signals an increase in healthcare spending from S$ 4 billion to S$ 8 billion over the next 5 years, an increase from 0.7 to 2.2 percent of GDP. But Yeoh notes that Singapore still lags behind other Asian Tigers – Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea — which commit approximately four percent of public spending to healthcare.

In fact, overall spending on social programmes is lower now than it was in the 1980s. While GDP has increased four times since the 1990s, public spending on social programmes has dropped from 20 to 16 percent of GDP.

These issues are particularly particularly pertinent as Singapore’s society ages. Medical expenses, especially for common long-term chronic ailments like hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol, can overwhelm individuals and families.

Increased spending on hospital beds alone will not produce better health outcomes adds Vivienne Wee, a founding member of AWARE. Singapore’s health care system needs to be reorganised, she argues, to better meet the needs of patients and the general population, rather than the demands of healthcare organisations.

Education

Rising inequality meanwhile is giving children from wealthy families a leg up at school, as early as Primary 1. P1 students are expected to be able to read and write upon enrollment, but students from low-income families generally score worse than their classmates. The problem: these children lack access to pre-school education.

NTU sociology professor Teoh You Yenn argues that the government should level the playing field by providing more funding for low-income families to send their children to preschool.

A government’s budget reflects a society’s understanding and value systems, argues Teoh, adding that people’s actions have the power to shape imaginations of the present and future. “What is pragmatically possible is not fixed independently of our imaginations, but is itself shaped by our visions,” Teoh says, quoting from “The Real Utopias Project“.

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Disabilities

“Maximising Potential, Embracing Differences” – that’s the theme of Singapore’s four-year “Enabling Masterplan” for integrating people with disabilities into mainstream society. But until activist Judy Wee stepped forward, the recommendation committee didn’t have any disabled representatives.

Wee argues that if Singapore is to be a truly inclusive society, we need to do a better job of providing people with disabilities with full access to public facilities, starting with our nation’s schools. Currently, only a select few educational institutions are equipped to teach disabled students.

“This would be an important step towards helping Singaporeans with disabilities realise their potential, while respecting the differences of all persons with disabilities,” Wee says, who also notes that data on the number of people with disabilities needs to be better documented and made publicly available.

Contributing to the discussion, hearing-impaired attendees from the Singapore Association for the Deaf, with the help of sign language interpreters from ExtraOrdinary Horizons, called on the government to provide more ‘resource teachers’ for deaf students in mainstream schools.

“We – like any other healthy human beings – have dreams and aspirations to fulfill,” says one SADeaf member.  “It is very hard to tell our children that you cannot be a doctor, lawyer or engineer, because you are deaf.  Unlike Singapore, the United States has deaf societies filled with hearing impaired professionals. This is a strong limiting factor.  And it’s very stifling for the members of the Singapore Association for the Deaf.”

Welfare and Social Services

Better implementation and less duplication is needed in the provision of social services, according to another member of the public participating in the discussion. The “Many Helping Hands” programme can result in cases where several social workers approach the same person with the intention to help. But they end up overwhelming the person instead.

Reflections

In my humble opinion, an inclusive society begins when the government has open dialogues with its citizens. When drafting the budget, our government should actively engage Singaporeans from all levels of society. It’s too late to make changes once the budget is announce in Parliament. A more consultative process, rather than the top-down approach, will be more effective in meeting the needs of all Singaporeans.

Related Links

Beans, Eggs & Tinned Fish: Room to Grow Fights Malnutrition, One Bite at a Time

Nearly 180 migrant children – forced to leave their homes in Burma following political violence and climate disasters – are eating more nutritious meals thanks to support from ONE (SINGAPORE) and its partners.  However funding for these programmes expires in April and May, unless new partners step forward.

The children stay or live near one of three schools and boarding houses, which provide shelter and education to children who have been orphaned, abandoned or separated from their families by conflict. Malnutrition is a serious issue in these communities. A recent survey by Room to Grow indicates that more than 40 percent of migrant students in this area are showing signs of stunted growth due to poor diets.

ONE (SINGAPORE) funding is used to purchase and deliver yellow lentils and eggs, which provide protein in a rice and vegetable diet that is otherwise protein deficient. During the last quarter of 2011, an additional contribution by ONE (SINGAPORE) provided money for rice, vegetables, protein, condiments, tinned fish and multivitamins to be served to children at the Shwe The Zin boarding school.

Not everything goes as smoothly as we’d like. Due to problems with a supplier, the delivery of vitamins did not start in November as planned, but in January instead. ONE (SINGAPORE)’s support will still provide a five-month supply of the multi-vitamins.

Room to Grow meanwhile organised nutrition workshops for cooks and teachers from 21 schools, including the three supported by ONE (SINGAPORE). The course equipped them with proper knowledge on preparing healthy meals.

“The children like to eat yellow bean soup more than the other curries. We also cook egg curry twice a week and tinned fish three or four times a week,” says a teacher/cook at STZ. “If we don’t go to the market, we cook tinned fish and veggies that are from our school garden.”

“The children get energy by eating those curries,” adds the school’s garderner who is also the assistant cook. “And it is very nutritious for the children. We also adjust children’s meals with nutrition sources that we learned from the nutrition training. One good news is that we use less MSG in the curries.”

The young migrants staying in these boarding houses clearly appreciate the meals.

“I am a boy who overeats,” says a Grade 3 student at SAW who loves the meals at the centre. “Sometimes, I get in eating competitions with my friends. For breakfast, I usually have rice and egg but we eat beans and rice also every week. For dinner, I like to eat bean and meat curries. I want the donor to watch us when we are eating so they can see how much I eat.”

During the funding period, nearly 245 kilograms of yellow lentils, 1445 eggs and 57 kilograms of rice were delivered and consumed by the children.

Additional Resources

Voices from “Room to Grow”

ONE (SINGAPORE) and its partners support a nutrition programme run by the Room to Grow Foundation in schools and boarding houses near the Thai-Burmese border. Nearly 180 migrant children – forced to leave their homes in Burma following political violence and climate disasters and currently living in areas where malnutrition is common – have been eating better meals, with more protein and vitamins, thanks to this initiative. However funding expires in April and May, unless new partners step forward. Here are some of the ‘Room to Grow’ voices . . .

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ONE (S) urgent call to Commonwealth leaders to address health related MDGs

Tell the Commonwealth it’s time to take urgent actions to meet the MDGs!
5 Nov 2011

ONE (SINGAPORE) has joined some 400 civil society organisations and anti-poverty campaigners from across the globe in calling on leaders of the Commonwealth to take urgent actions to ensure that the health targets of the Millennium Development Goals are met for all two billion Commonwealth citizens by 2015.

While increased funding and attention to health issues have led to progress — including a significant reduction in child mortality, fewer deaths from malaria and greater access to life-saving drugs for people with HIV — much more work needs to be done in order to meet the MDGs.

Specifically, the Open Letter to the Commonwealth leaders calls on each country to take the following actions:

  1. Meet the minimum W.H.O. (World Health Organisation) standards, including providing at least 2.3 professional health workers for every 1000 people.
  2. Provide universal access to family planning services and ensure that all women are able to give birth with a skilled attendant.
  3. Scale up responses to tuberculosis and HIV
  4. Fully fund the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, which is working to eradicate the second disease in human history
  5. Ensure that all citizens have access to safe drinking water and effective hygiene by 2015.
  6. Improve food security and nutrition by increasing support to small scale agricultural producers, particularly women.

The open letter was organised by Make Poverty History Australia and signed by Oxfam, ONE (SINGAPORE) and Save the Children, among other organisations. MPH Australia planned to present it to the Australian government prior to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth at the end of October. Unfortunately, the Australian Prime Minister’s Office and Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined requests for a face-to-face meeting. The Open Letter and an online petition will now be submitted to Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

You can add your voice to the online petition through Friday 11 November.

The Commonwealth includes 54 nations, largely former British colonies in Africa and Asia. Singapore joined the Commonwealth in 1965 and the Singapore Declaration of Commonwealth Principles provided the association with a set of ideals and shared values in 1971.

RESOURCES

Making a Difference in Children’s Lives: An Update from Room to Grow

More than 150 ‘unparented’ children — who have escaped violence in their home communities in Burma and are currently living near the Thai-Burmese border – are eating more nutritious meals, thanks to the support of ONE (SINGAPORE)’s partners.

Earlier this year, ONE (SINGAPORE) pledged S$2343 to a nutritional programme run by Room To Grow. This donation is providing 153 children with a better diet that includes yellow beans and eggs.

These fresh nutritional supplements cost just S$15 per child or about 29 cents per child per week. ONE (SINGAPORE)’s sponsorship of this programme was made possible by support from Pernod Ricard and Zirca.

Our donation is funding food at two programmes in Mae Sot, Thailand: the Agape school and boarding house and the SAW Safehouse for orphaned and abandoned children. Distribution of the nutritional supplements follows the local school year, which runs from April through March.

As promised, we would like to share the latest updates from Room to Grow. Below are some quotes from the project’s Food Programme Report for the first half of the year. We’ve also uploaded some great photos!

An excerpt from Food Programme Report, Q1 & Q2 2011
“During the funding period, a total of 221 kilograms of yellow lentils and 820 eggs were delivered and consumed by children. From the total funds provided, just over 70 per cent funded yellow lentil purchases for 153 children, 22 per cent funded eggs for 100 children and the remaining funds were used for transportation and monitoring to begin the project. The project is currently on budget and projections indicate that we will be able to offer the same level of funding for yellow lentils and eggs until the end of March 2012.”

HTY, Care Giver for SAW Safe House, explaining the nutritional value of yellow beans
“Eating yellow beans often is so good for the children, and children like to eat yellow beans curry. If we can get yellow beans for the entire year, it will have a great effect on the children because beans give them good nutrition. Children should eat bean curry at least 2-3 times a week. Eating beans, makes children’s bones strong, and they can grow fast. Beans are easy to cook, and we have many different ways to cook beans.”

KYT, Grade 2 student, Agape, on his favourite meal
“We can grow fast if we eat beans two or three times a week. I like to eat bean and vegetable curry. And I want to eat chicken curry once a week. I went to the kitchen first if the cook cooked egg and beans soup, but for the other curries, I was late to go to the kitchen.”

Additional Resources

  • ONE (SINGAPORE) Food Programme Report, Q1 & Q2 2011 (Prepared by Room to Grow)
  • What is Room To Grow?
  • Photos (Facebook | Flickr)
  • Radio broadcast about Room to Grow (“Poverty No More”, 938LIVE, 17 September 2011)