Health is wealth not just figurative, Dr Wu Lien-Teh Award winner finds

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, March 12 — Healthcare for individuals could generate real social and economic value for the community around them and is not only about their personal wellbeing, Dr Esther Wong Min Fui said.

In an interview with Malay Mail, the winner of the 2023 Dr Wu Lien-Teh Award for the Best Student in Doctor of Public Health in Universiti Malaya said she observed a correlation between a person’s level of health and state of finances.

“Other than looking at health, you need to look at the social part of it, that’s why (my research) is psychosocial,” she told Malay Mail.

During her project in which she researched a digital psychosocial intervention for low-income urban dwellers, she said there was evidence that providing someone with financial aid could boost their mental health and vice versa.

She was collecting data for her project from families in the bottom 40th percentile of income earners (B40) at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic when the government provided households in this category with financial assistance.

“I found that during the pandemic, when the government gave (her participants) financial aid, it really helped to motivate them,” she said.

She had been studying methods to intervene in psychosocial issues for the mental health of those in the B40, particularly when it comes to anxiety and depression.

“In fact, part of my analysis showed that financial aid gave me near significant findings for their symptoms.

“So, it came to me that these [assistance schemes] really make a difference for poor people,” she added.

Besides that, she said her experience as a healthcare worker showed that when it came to treating patients, she could provide benefits not only to the patient but also their family members.

In the example of a drug addict, treating him would also benefit his wife, children and everyone around him, she explained.

“This provides impacts to the entire community,” she commented.

It was part of why she is interested in the research she does, she said.

However, as a keen champion of the importance of mental health, she worries that the stigma surrounding mental illness could return now that life has almost returned to pre-pandemic normalcy.

“During the pandemic, I found that there was less stigma compared to the normal levels,” she said.

She said that mental health awareness grew as people talked about the issue while they remained isolated throughout the rolling lockdowns.

“That’s why as a mental health advocate, we should continue to push for awareness,” she said.

On March 3, Dr Wong was conferred the award by the Dr Wu Lien-Teh Society for her thesis project on the digital psychosocial intervention for low-income urban dwellers, edging out six other finalists.

The award was started in 2021 and named after Dr Wu, a prominent public health physician and an internationally acclaimed plague fighter as well as the first nominee from Malaya to be considered for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1935.