Clean tap water, good air quality, road connectivity, easily accessible healthcare and education — these have all contributed to Brunei’s progress to meet a set of United Nations’ health goals, ranking the sultanate among the top in the world.

A recent study shows that Brunei ranks 25 out of 188 countries for progress to meet health-related sustainable development goals (SDG) set by the United Nations.

“It is decades of work (to bring us to where we are). All made possible by the hard work of our predecessors, by many different agencies… it’s not something that came by itself,” the deputy permanent secretary at the Ministry of Health, Datin Paduka Dr Hjh Maslina Hj Mohsin, said in an interview yesterday.

Despite the fairly good standing, the senior health official stressed that Brunei must not become complacent when it comes to bettering health and living standards.

The study, published by medical journal The Lancet, looks at 37 of 50 UN health-related indicators recorded from 1990 up until 2016. It assesses which countries are on track to meet the 2030 SDG.

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We have to look at a culture of health instead of a culture of healthcare.

These health targets include infant mortality rates, prevalence of smoking, vaccination, health coverage and rates of diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria.

Singapore was ranked first in the study with a score of 87. Brunei was the only other Southeast Asian nation in the top 30, scoring 74.

According to Datin Paduka Hjh Maslina, this is indicative of what Brunei has achieved so far. She added: “There is still a lot to be done to meet the goals”.

“Brunei is doing well in areas such as vaccination and malaria control… The other thing particularly good for Brunei is the water sanitation,” Dr Justin Wong, medical superintendent public health at the ministry said of the study’s findings.

“As you can see, it involves other agencies. It isn’t just the Ministry of Health.”

Dr Justin pointed out that areas which need improvement include screening for tuberculosis, as Brunei is considered a “medium-burden country”. Reducing the prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCD) such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, also remains a challenge.

However, addressing NCD will not happen overnight. “Everyone needs to be involved, everyone plays a role and that is why we say that health is everyone’s business,” Datin Paduka Dr Hjh Maslina said.

Although the study scored Brunei above average for progress to bring down the prevalence of smoking, there is still room for improvement.

“One in five people are smokers. We need to reduce demand and reduce supply. Everyone has a role to play,” the senior health official said.

Policies to encourage a healthier lifestyle are also making headway, such as introducing more physical activity through walkathons and ‘Bandarku Ceria’, the implementation of the Tobacco Order, and the introduction of the sugar levy.

“Eighty per cent of the public have noticed an increase in the price (of sugar-laden products) since the introduction of the sugar tax,” said Datin Dr Hjh Maslina.

People are also becoming more aware of their health, with the ministry’s latest 2015 NCD survey showing a 10 per cent increase in physical activity.

Working towards the United Nation’s sustainable development goals requires a holistic approach where all parties have to be involved — from policy makers to educators and down to every individual.

“We have to look at a culture of health instead of a culture of healthcare,” the deputy permanent secretary said.