How Is The Understanding Of The "Inherited Lens" Affect Health and Illness in Singapore

Singapore is a cosmopolitan country and its population comprises the Chinese, Malays, Indians, and others such as the Eurasians. In this heterogeneous, multi-racial, multi-lingual and multi-cultural society, perceptions towards illness, medical treatment and health beliefs are expected to be varied. The fact that such diversity of the population as the various ethnic groups continue to celebrate their own cultures while they intermingle with one another, between people from different backgrounds and different genders. According to Helman (1994), the rules that underpin the organization of a society in the way it symbolized and transmitted, are all part of that society’s culture.Helman (1994) also observed that culture, to a certain extent, can be seen as an “inherited lens” through which the individual perceives and understands the world in which he or she lives and learns to live within. The “inherited lens” has given us different perspectives of how individuals view their health and illness, and affects the way they respond to symptoms. It is also via this “inherited lens” that a patient determines how he seeks out health care.

A Singapore Minister, Mr Yeo, G. (2001) had distinctly highlighted that cultures evolve continuously, and are constantly in competition with each other. Although political correctness required us to view that all cultures are equal, but in reality, to achieve equality in cultures is an absurd proposition. Both cultural understanding and structure of health care, therefore, play an important part in determining health and illness. With the understanding of relevant health belief systems, we will enable the development of culturally sensitive health promotion programmes (Lee et al., 1993).

While culture can be influenced by other social variables like gender, class and age, other personal past experiences may also affect a person’s responses to health beliefs. As a health care professional, we must take care to ensure that patients from certain cultural backgrounds are not stereotyped.

Chinese settlement has taken place in Singapore from the mid 19th century, with most people coming from southeast China (Singapore Chinese Physicians’ Association, n.d.). Early migrants left China because of wars, floods, famine and poverty, and found work at the Singapore harbours.

Over the past 20 years, Chinese immigrants have arrived from Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam and elsewhere in Indochina. More recently, they have arrived from People’s Republic of China (PRC), and these immigrants speak Mandarin and other Chinese dialects. They bring with them their own culture, and now have to integrate into a new culture. Prior to 1965, most Chinese immigrants were working class (Chang, 1999) and recently, we have seen more professionals immigrating into Singapore.


Chang, K. (1999). Chinese Americans. In J.N. Giger & R.E. Davidhizer (Eds.), Transcultural nursing: Assessment & intervention (pp. 385-401). St. Louis: Mosby.

Helman, C. G. (1994). Culture, health and illness: The scope of medical anthropology (3rd ed). Oxford. Butterworth – Heinemann.

Lee, K. L., Schwarz, E. and Mak, K. Y. K. (1993) Improving oral health through understanding the meaning of health and disease in a Chinese culture. International Dental Journal, 43, 2-8.

Yeo, G. (2001, May 17). Interview with BG (NS) George Yeo, Minister for Trade and Industry by Dr Albert Bressand and Catherine Distler of Promethee in Paris. Retrieved January 05, 2007, from


Source by Maurice Wong