A fight against “the old man’s friend”
Pfizer takes the battle to the community and workplace in an effort to educate those over 50 about pneumonia.
Pharmaceutical company Pfizer launched a landmark programme in April in the community called “Age Well Together” to tackle the third leading cause of death in Singapore – pneumonia, which used to be called “the old man’s friend”.
Together with local organisations like the Healthy Ageing Association (HAA), Toa Payoh and Marine Parade community clubs, the holistic programme aimed to educate Singaporeans over 50 years of age about healthy ageing, including how to reduce the risk of vaccine-preventable diseases such as pneumonia.
“With one of the fastest ageing populations in the world, rates of community-acquired pneumonia in Singapore will steadily increase unless measures are taken to prevent the disease,” said Dr Tan Yong Teck, a general practitioner at Tan Medical Clinic. “Many Singaporeans do not know the toll pneumonia can take on their lives and how to care for their health as they age.”
The community events that kicked off in April saw overwhelming response at Toa Payoh and Marine Parade community clubs with a total of almost 200 attendees. Representatives from Pfizer, HAA and doctors from the area also shared the recipe to ageing well. Pfizer is exploring hosting more community education talks in other parts of Singapore in the coming months.
Pfizer is further looking at extending its outreach efforts to the workplace. It is developing a programme that addresses not just pneumonia but also cancer and heart disease, including cholesterol management, smoking cessation, physical activity and vaccinations. The team there is currently working with potential partners to roll out the programme.
“Ongoing discussions to raise the retirement age to above 65 places greater emphasis on investing in healthy ageing in the workplace which is key for the sustainability of good health,” said Dr Tan.
Understanding the condition
Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs, usually caused by an infection. The most common cause of pneumonia in those over 50 is pneumococcal disease (PD), an illness triggered by the pneumococcus bacteria. The sufferer often lapses into a state of reduced consciousness, bringing a fairly swift and painless end to a life that is of poor quality and would otherwise have continued to decline.
Furthermore, signs of chest infection are also difficult to pick up with seniors as they are less likely to report fever, chills and chest pain. Due to these vague symptoms, many of them put off seeking help, which further exacerbates the infection. Besides hitting seniors hardest than their younger counterparts as they have weakened immune systems, seniors also take a longer time to recover from pneumonia. A study by Changi General Hospital (CGH) in 2008 found that patients aged 65 and above stayed in hospital for an average of nine days – almost twice that of younger patients, whose stays averaged four days.
The good news is serious pneumococcal infections can be preventable with vaccinations. One of those vaccinations is offered by Pfizer called Prevenar 13, which is available at local GPs. According to the company, in one of the largest drug trials ever conducted this year involving 85,000 patients in the Netherlands, the drug was shown to prevent community-acquired pneumonia in individuals aged 65 and older.