October was Health Awareness Month. How aware are we of our health? Health professionals have long been trying to shift emphasis from curing diseases to preventing diseases to promoting wellness.”” In support of this effort, we have seen sporting facilities dot our landscape and what is more, many of these facilities are lit, thereby making them available 24/7.” There are many educational programmes, public square outreach, power walks, etc. etc., all designed to promote wellness.”” This week’s article will take a look at Social Security’s input into this promotion and examine our response to sickness as told by an analysis of sickness claims. One of the fundamental promises of Social Security is to replace wages in the event of sickness at the rate of 65% of appropriate wages.” The qualifying condition is that the applicant must have paid 26 contributions and must have been in work for eight of the last 13 weeks.” The people of the Federation are holding us to this promise more and more.” Consider this: in 2001, there were 4,668 claims paid for sickness, and by September 2008 this figure had increased to 7,520 ” a 61% increase, and there is more to come. We have often heard that men are too macho to admit sickness.” They grin – or grimace ” and bear it, preferring to suffer rather than to consult a doctor. That may be true because our data shows that women obtain more sick leave than men by a ratio of 2:1.” That is for each year under review, no less than 63% of the claims we have received have been from women, and men have not requested assistance more than 37% of the time. On average it is a 65%:35% pattern. As expected, young people (aged 16 ” 19) do not make many demands on the system, they hardly ever account for more than 2.5% of all annual claims. Surprisingly, those persons who are 60 & 61 years old make the fewest claims, hardly ever reaching 1.5% of all annual claims.” Indeed the majority of claims are received on average from the 25 ” 29 year cohort with between 16% to 20% of all claims. The second largest claim group is persons 30 ” 34 years old with 16% ” 18%.” Thus, that group of our population that is between the ages 25 to 34 years old suffer the most sicknesses. However, differences are seen when the sexes are compared. In 2006, more men 20 -24 years old submitted claims than women, and from age 50 to 61 men submitted more claims than women. The ages in 25 ” 49 saw women making more claims. There also appears to be a season to sickness.” It follows a time pattern that peaks in June and March. Any Human Resource Department can always tell when people are going to be sick and can even predict sometimes who will be sick.” I want construction workers to take particular note of this cycle ” they disqualify themselves from access to sickness benefits in the first quarter of each year (when a lot of sickness occurs) by the way they handle their December salary! What does this all mean? It suggests that men neglect their health in the middle years. It suggests that Social Security needs a better message to reach young people because the sickness promise is not as meaningful to them.” It suggests that men want to recover their health as they approach old age when maybe, just maybe, it is too late. Let us take a look at anatomical maladies ” those illness associated with our gender.” An analysis of the illnesses reported for January to March of 2008 showed that women presented 157 claims for women related illness while men only reported eight. Eight!” Is it any surprise then that life expectancy for women is 3″5 years better than that for men? For the same period, we saw claims mostly for viral illnesses – (463) influenza – (416) hypertension – (102) back pains – (95).” And, of course, we lost almost 30,000 productive days per quarter. If you feel that we are overly concerned about sickness, we are – on several grounds – but mostly on the cost factor.” It is costing Social Security approximately $5million per year. Yet much of the illnesses are avoidable if we follow the advice of the health practitioners, take advantage of the wellness opportunities available and just take better care of ourselves.” This self abuse is perhaps our greatest tragedy.” Remember too, that we commit EC$270,000 each year to the health sector even before we have collected any money! I need to remind our readers that sickness benefit is but one of five benefits related to ill health that Social Security covers. We also cover Employment injury, Constant care Allowance, reimbursement of medical and travel expenses, where appropriate.” These have already reached EC$5.4million up to September 2008. I also need to alert our readers that illnesses that are reported to us are not all the illnesses out there. We only get data on illnesses that last for 4 days or more.” Furthermore, a proper study of our sickness profiles must take into account the distribution of the age cohorts in our working population.” Notwithstanding the above, and perhaps in spite of the above, we call upon all of us to treasure wellness, treasure good health. It may well be our most important resource.