Speech by Minister for Health, Mr Gan Kim Yong, at the Opening Ceremony of the 23rd Annual Congress of the Association of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgeons of Asia, 10 October 2013 at Raffles City Convention Centre

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

1     Good evening. It gives me great pleasure to join you at the opening of the 23rd Annual Congress of the Association of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgeons of Asia. First, allow me to extend a warm welcome to all our distinguished guests, especially those who have travelled to Singapore. I trust that you will enjoy our hospitality and find your stay fruitful.

Cardiovascular disease

2     Globally, cardiovascular diseases pose a significant threat to an individual’s health. The World Health Organisation estimates that coronary artery disease alone caused 7.3 million deaths worldwide in 2008. In 2010, ischaemic heart disease was the 2nd leading cause of death as well as the 3rd most common cause1 for hospitalisations in Singapore.

3     With risk factors such as increasingly sedentary lifestyles, tobacco use, and poor diet choices, we can expect cardiovascular related diseases to continue as a major health burden for many countries in the Asia Pacific region in the coming years. Tobacco use is also a well-established key risk factor for cancers, causing 22% of global cancer deaths and 71% of global lung cancer deaths.2 In Singapore, lung cancer is the second most common cancer in men, and third most common cancer in women.

4     To take on this considerable challenge, we should constantly push for better prevention and treatment, as well as investing and researching into new approaches and technologies that improve care outcomes of cardiothoracic conditions.

Importance of preventive healthcare

5     Efforts to manage the burden of cardiovascular diseases should begin before the onset of disease itself, as many of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease are modifiable. As physicians, you play a pivotal role in encouraging your patients to lead a healthy lifestyle from young. They should have regular physical activity, eat a healthy diet with sufficient portions of vegetables and fruits, and they should not smoke. For those who are smokers, it is never too late to seek help to kick the habit. They should also maintain a healthy body weight.

6     Later on in life, patients should go for regular health screening for chronic conditions like hypertension and diabetes. Those with chronic conditions should have regular follow-ups with their physicians for disease management and control. In Singapore, we have enhanced the Community Health Assist Scheme to ensure that our patients have better access to health screening and follow-up management under the Integrated Screening Programme.

Expanding capacity for specialist care

7     We are also committed to developing our cardiothoracic services to meet the needs of patients with cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases. Since 1994, our National Heart Centre has played a vital role in providing highly specialised services in cardiology and cardiothoracic surgery. To meet growing demands, the National Heart Centre is expanding its services with a new 12-storey building that will more than double the outpatient specialists’ clinic rooms. There will also be three additional operationally-ready cardiac catheterisation laboratories and three major operating theatres. Our residency training programmes will also boost the pipeline of manpower supply. Over the next few years, we can expect more cardiothoracic surgeons to join our team.

Innovations in cardiothoracic services

8     To improve patient care, the next challenge for the cardiothoracic community would be to push for innovations that are patient-centred, safe and appropriate. It is thus timely that the theme of this Congress is “Innovation and Controversies in Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery”. There have been many recent advances in cardiothoracic care involving new technologies such as robotic surgery, as well as the growth of minimally invasive procedures. We are proud that Singapore performed Asia’s first successful minimally invasive heart valve repair using the MitraClip system in April 2011. Minimally invasive surgery has been shown to lead to faster recovery for the patient and reduce the time a patient spends in intensive care and in the hospital.

9     However, technologies must be rigorously evaluated, based on evidence and peer review, to ensure that they are safe, appropriate and effective for the patients. In addition, technologies must also be cost-effective to ensure sustainable healthcare spending. Cardiothoracic procedures can be costly and complicated and hospitals and physicians should endeavour to work together to share information regarding these procedures, so as to enable patients to make informed decisions. This Congress provides an ideal platform for experts in the cardiothoracic field to share and debate on how to drive development and utilisation of technology in a manner that is sustainable and beneficial for their patients.

Closing remarks

10     The improved understanding of cardiothoracic diseases and technological advances in therapeutic options add new momentum in the care of patients with these conditions. This Congress provides opportunities for experts to learn from one another and foster regional collaborations. This will help to improve prevention and treatment of cardiothoracic diseases and advance the standards for cardiothoracic services. It is my pleasure to declare the 23rd Annual Congress of the Association of Thoracic and Cardiothoracic Surgeons of Asia open. I hope the next few days of peer learning and sharing will be rewarding and constructive for each of you.

11     Thank you.

1 Trends in acute myocardial infarction in Singapore: 2007 – 2010. National Registry of Diseases Office.
2 World Health Organisation. Cancer Fact Sheet Jan 2013.

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