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Government declares war on diabetes

SINGAPORE — With one-third of Singaporeans likely to have diabetes in their lifetime — a disease that already costs working-age adults S$1 billion a year collectively — the Government has launched a “war on diabetes”.

Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong. TODAY file photo

Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong. TODAY file photo

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SINGAPORE — With one-third of Singaporeans likely to have diabetes in their lifetime — a disease that already costs working-age adults S$1 billion a year collectively — the Government has launched a “war on diabetes”.

The national strategy will span years, and areas to be tackled range from promoting good eating habits and exercise to children, to encouraging early screening and better disease management. 

A new taskforce, chaired by Health Minister Gan Kim Yong and Acting Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng will take charge of charting and executing the battle plan. 

Based on the National Health Survey in 2010, an estimated over 400,000 Singaporeans have diabetes today, and of this, one in three cases have yet to be diagnosed.

Among those who have been diagnosed, one in three have poor control over their condition, said Mr Gan, as he set out the need to focus on diabetes during the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) Committee of Supply debate on Wednesday (April 13). 

“Left undetected, untreated or poorly managed, diabetes can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, blindness and amputation. In fact, four Singaporeans a day lose a limb or appendage due to diabetic related complications,” said Mr Gan. 

These complications not only reduce the quality of life for patients but also increase the burden on families and society as whole, he said, citing a public health study that estimated the total economic burden of diabetes for working-age adults at more than a billion dollars in 2010. 

The estimate, done by researchers from the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, takes into account medical costs and indirect costs such as productivity loss due to abstenteeism, premature mortality and non-participation in the workforce. And the figure could rise to over S$2.5 billion in 2050. 

The Government will be tackling diabetes on several fronts, led by the new Diabetes Prevention and Care Taskforce, which will include representatives from government agencies, the private sector, patient advocacy and caregiver groups. 

“The key to winning the war on diabetes is for all Singaporeans to be engaged in the battle,” said Mr Gan. “By working together, we hope to create an environment that makes healthy choices easy, but Singaporeans needs to play their part by eating healthily, exercising often, and going for the recommended screenings and follow-ups.”

On the pre-emptive end, the MOH will be promoting healthy lifestyles and reducing the obesity rates to cut down new diabetes cases. This will be done by ramping up health promotion efforts through a food-and-exercise strategy. 

“We will improve the dietary quality in schools, communities and workplaces, and learn from successful international regulation strategies,” Mr Gan added.

To cultivate healthy habits from an early age, Minister of State for Health Lam Pin Min will be leading an inter-agency NurtureSG Taskforce with Minister of State for Education Janil Puthucheary. 

This taskforce will look at children from as young as two years old to students in tertiary institutions, so that “young Singaporeans will maintain healthy lifestyles beyond the school-going age and well after entering the workforce”, said Dr Lam in his speech the debate. 

Existing initiatives promoting exercise will also be expanded, such a second run of the National Steps Challenge, which was launched in November last year. Participants were given a free pedometer to track their number of steps each day and receive rewards when they reach certain milestones. 

Announcing this in his speech during the debate, Minister of State for Health Chee Hong Tat said the initiative was well-received with one in three participants clocking 10,000 steps a day on average. 

Early screening and intervention to detect diabetes among those at risk or undiagnosed will also be strengthened. Mr Chee said there will be more efforts to reach groups of Singaporeans below 40 years of age and at a higher risk of getting diabetes, such as those who are obese and whose immediate family members have diabetes. For example, outreach will be done at workplaces, to reach those with those with trouble scheduling a screening appointment. 

Mr Gan emphasised that tackling diabetes will not be a “quick battle”, but a “long war” requiring sustained effort. “If we are successful in shifting mindsets and changing habits, we will be able to curb not just diabetes but other related chronic diseases such as heart disease as well, and we will improve the lives of Singaporeans and reduce the burden on their families,” he said.

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