Down Memory Lane

This article was first published in March 1996 in heartline. Interview by Mr Cheng Siang Pang and Mrs Sutha.

The Singapore National Heart Association (SNHA, rebranded as Singapore Heart Foundation in 2003) was formed in 1970 by a group of doctors and lay professionals. In the 26 years since its foundation, the organisation has grown into a well-established and well-organised professional body with local, regional and international links. With increasing support from the public, generous charitable foundations and the government’s support, the SNHA will continue to play an increasingly important role in promoting heart health in Singapore. Our Evergreen past Chairman, Mr Tan Boon Chiang, recounts some of the more memorable moments in the 22 years he spent with the SNHA to heartline.

How did it all start, 25 years ago? What brought about the setting up of the SNHA?

In 1969, Dr Chen Chi Wei and Dr F.X. Lopez in private practice with a bent towards cardiology initiated a move to form a Heart Association in view of the high incidence of mortality brought about by the coronary heart disease.

Chi Wei approached me to help with the drafting of the Constitution. All matters, legal and governmental, were sorted out. The Association was approved and registered and all ready to start in 1970.

Who were the initial key players?

I advised Chi Wei to bring in the doctors as part of the Association. He brought in Dr Charles Toh, Dr Loh Tee Fun, Late Dr Ghosh and Dr Teo Hoon Cheow. Younger doctors like Dr Low Lip Ping, Dr Chia Boon Lock, Dr Lim Chin Hock and few others also joined the SNHA.

Why were you motivated to start the SNHA and what were their objectives?

After the formation of SNHA in 1970, I was successful in fundraising. This motivation led us to provide community education on heart disease and heart health programme.

SNHA’s objectives are:

  1. Public education – support of research.
  2. Assistance to those suffering from heart diseases including rehabilitation.
  3. Co-operation with the government in national projects and campaigns.

How did you achieve these objectives? What activities were organised, and could you share with us some of the most memorable events of your long service as Chairman of the SNHA.

The initial approach was to place emphasis on public education. The Heart Week is an annual national event. Each year the doctors in rotation organised the Heart Week. Other national campaigns that the Association participated in were the Healthy Lifestyle and Anti-Smoking campaigns.

Since its inception in 1970, the SNHA has held 25 Heart Weeks. Each of these Heart Weeks stressed a preventive, rehabilitative aspect or factors of heart disease. A reasonable lifestyle was always advocated bearing in mind that habits die hard with our community. Thus, over the years emphasis was given to the maintenance of a healthy heart, sports exercise, diet, the harmful effects of smoking, heart disease in the elderly, cholesterol, cardiovascular rehabilitation and resuscitation, to mention a few.

The objectives were successfully achieved through the 3-pronged effect in the direction of Prevention, Cure and Rehabilitation.

With the changing environment, Singapore becoming a developed country, have the needs changed? How do you see the future of the SNHA?

Singaporeans’ bent towards excesses in food consumption and the active participation in ethnic festivities, not to mention such participation in seasonal celebrations, must somehow be curbed to something more reasonable. Habits and customs of course die hard and the tendency to offer excuses during festivities add to the difficult task of persuading the community, steeped in social, religious and ethnic family practices, to make significant changes towards a healthier lifestyle.

I feel that the needs of Singaporeans have not changed over the years; perhaps there is a need for greater emphasis. As our society gets more affluent, health is given lower priority. While catering to the needs of heart patients, the goal of the Association is a permanent change in lifestyle that promotes good health.

Do you have any advice to the present Board of Directors and the members of the SNHA?

I hope that the Association will be able to get the full support of every doctor, nurse, health educator and other professionals who are interested in heart health in Singapore. Their different views can be merged to arrive at common goals and guidelines. These will be greatly beneficial to the general public. The Association, I feel, could act as a go-between to bring specialists and lay people together.

I suggest that we continue heart health symposiums for every health professional involved in heart health promotion as well as forums for the public, which are aimed at updating their knowledge.

We can work as a team towards a common goal.

SNHA would like to go on record to thank Mr Tan Boon Chiang for his dedicated services as its past Chairman.