Speech by Senior Minister of State for Health, Dr Amy Khor, at the ‘Healthier Women, Healthier Workforce’ Event

Good evening everyone.

1.            I am very happy to join all of you this evening.

 

2.         There is a Chinese saying that “women holds up half the sky”. I am proud to say that indeed, women in Singapore are playing an increasingly important role in economic development.  More and more women are joining the workforce. Eight in 10 women aged 20 to 39 and one in two women aged 40 to 69 are currently active in the workforce[1]. But while many of us are joining the workforce, we continue to be wives and mummies. To manage our multiple roles and responsibilities, as a parent, spouse, caregiver, and employee, it is important for us to stay healthy. We must take care of ourselves so that we can take good care of our families.

Study on Women Health Issues in Singapore

3.         A study conducted by Health Promotion Board (HPB) in March this year shows that women here usually put family before themselves. Those who were surveyed said that they had no time to exercise, because they feel guilty for leaving child-rearing duties to another family member while they take time to exercise. The survey also showed that most women had a reactive attitude towards health, responding only when they think their health status was declining or during important life stages such as family planning. This is a wonderfully sacrificial attitude, but one which unfortunately may do more harm than good in the long term.

Tripartite Efforts at Health Promotion

4.         Therefore, HPB had decided, more than 10 years ago, to bring health promotion into the workplace. HPB first introduced the Workplace Health Promotion Grant in 2001 to help employers put in place workplace health promotion programmes for their employees. In July 2013, HPB extended the WHP Grant to include an additional $5,000 component to co-fund companies to specifically support initiatives on women’s health in the workplaces. Through this grant, companies can use it for two major areas, namely screening and education on general women’s health.

5.         Health is an area we should do better! According to the National Health Survey 2010, although 9 in 10 Singapore women residents aged 50 to 69 years were aware of mammography as a screening test for breast cancer, only 39.6% reported that they had undergone mammography within the last two years, in accordance with the recommended screening frequency. Close to 9 in 10 women aged 25 to 69 years were aware of Pap smear test but only close to half (47.9%)[2] reported that they had undergone pap smear test within the past three years, in accordance with the recommended frequency.[3]

6.         We hope that more employers will take advantage of the grant to make cancer screening more accessible and affordable to employees. This is important as cervical cancer and breast cancer rank amongst the top 10 most common cancers amongst Singaporean women[4]. Some of the companies that have already made use of the grant include Chandrani Enterprise, Virtual HR, and Makino Asia.

7.         The unions are also doing their part to promote women’s health.  The NTUC, which comprises 61 affiliated unions and association, has over 770,000 members, of which 314,000 are women union members. The unions can play a significant role by first promoting health awareness to these union members.

8.         Indeed, NTUC has always been concerned about the health of union members.  The various communities like U Live actively organise health-related events e.g. bowling, fitness classes etc. Union members can also participate in healthy activities organised by U Sports.

9.         In particular, NTUC’s Women Development Secretariat will be working closely with HPB to promote the benefits of the extended Workplace Health Promotion Grant to support women’s health programme. This will be done through you, our women leaders as ambassadors in your respective unions. Currently, there are about 1,700 women union leaders in NTUC.  We hope that with this collaboration, more women will see the benefits of the grant. NTUC’s Human Resource Department also plans to participate in the Mammobus programme and use the extended Workplace Health Promotion Grant to subsidise the cost of mammogram for female staff aged 50 years and above.

10.       On its part, the government is also making efforts to promote public awareness and to make early screening more affordable. For instance, MOH has recently announced that from 1 January next year, Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) card holders will be able to enjoy subsidies for recommended screening tests, which includes screening for cervical cancer[5].  They will also be able to enjoy subsidies for consultation with a CHAS GP for the screening, and to review test results.

Conclusion

11.       With the government, unions and employers working together, I am confident that we can reach out to a much wider workforce and achieve a substantive improvement in women’s health over the next decade.

12.       This event today is a great platform for union leaders and employers alike, to learn about the range of health promotion activities that you can bring to your companies.

13.       On this note, let me thank you all for joining us at this event.  Let us work together for healthier workers and healthier workplaces.  I wish you an enjoyable evening. Thank you. 

 

 

 

[1] Singapore Workforce 2012, Ministry of Manpower

 

 

[2] 47.9% of women aged 25 to 69 years had undergone pap smear test within the past three years, in accordance with the recommended frequency.

 

 

[3] National Health Survey 2010, Epidemiology and Disease Control Division, Ministry of Health

 

 

[4] www.nrdo.gov.sg

 

 

[5] http://www.moh.gov.sg/content/moh_web/home/pressRoom/Current_Issues/2013/national-day-rally-2013.html

 

 

 

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