Photo above: DPM Tharman observing resident Samaso Allenby, 71, a cleaner, having his blood pressure checked by NUS medical students.
SINGAPORE - Retiree Soo Yew Poh is relieved to know that he does not suffer from any of the three main chronic diseases - diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol.
The 78-year-old, who does not have the means to pay for regular check-ups, got the good news yesterday after attending a free health screening by National University of Singapore medical students.
He was among 450 elderly and low-income Taman Jurong residents whom they had approached recently and invited to the screening at a void deck.
"This programme is good... There are so many old people now who are sick and may not be able to afford check-ups," said Mr Soo, who is single.
The Neighbourhood Health Screening programme was initiated in 2008 by students from the the university's Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine.
They approached the ward's MP, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, and he backed the idea.
The aim is to reach out to residents like Mr Soo who, due to barriers such as language or finance, may not be able to visit a hospital for a check-up.
If a medical problem is detected, the person is channelled to the public health-care system.
Personalised follow-up is emphasised, with student volunteers or grassroots leaders calling the person once every few months to ensure he or she has gone for treatment or is coping well.
Yesterday, Mr Tharman, who is also Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, visited the area to speak to residents and volunteers. Highlighting the programme's hallmark of going beyond one-off contact, he said: "It's actually about personalised follow-up and building a relationship with residents.
"And for residents, it's always nicer to see a familiar face... rather than a new person each time. The main thing is not to go for mass numbers but to go for quality interaction."
This year, a Patient Care Conference to provide residents with more comprehensive help is being pioneered. Besides a check-up, residents are also told of relevant social and financial services, in case they need help.
Ms Calida Chua, 20, who is among the 400 volunteers, said: "This helps us understand the lives of the elderly better when we return to the hospital. We see patients as humans, and not people with diseases."
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.