Speech by Senior Minister of State for Health and Manpower, Dr Amy Khor, at the launch of the “Pilot of the Malay Health Calendar” event on 22nd December 2013 at PPIS FSC (West), 9.30am

Good morning everyone.

 

1.               I am very happy to be here with you and your families today on this beautiful Sunday morning.

 

2.               There is an old saying that “behind every successful man is a woman”.  Some men quote it but probably don’t mean it! But, the spirit behind this saying is still very relevant - Women provide selfless care and support to their spouse, parents and children, and it is often the women in the family who ensure that everyone in the family is well taken care. Hence, it is very important for us to stay healthy so we can continue to juggle our many roles and take good care of our loved ones.

 

Study on Women Health Issues in Singapore

3.               To understand the attitudes and perceptions of health by women from lower income backgrounds, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) conducted a study amongst 120 women in March this year. The findings revealed[1] that women are often the primary caregiver to older retired parents who suffer from chronic medical conditions. Financial concerns are often their top priority. The stresses of being a caregiver, often while having to go to work, dealing with ongoing bread and butter issues, result in good health and preventive care being viewed as ‘nice-to-have’ rather than ‘must-have’. Given our hectic lifestyles today and the presence of competing priorities for our time and energy at home and at work, women may spend less time and effort on taking care of their own health. I am sure that many of you here today are able to relate to these stresses as you are also the main caregiver to your family. To this selfless group of women and all of you who work tirelessly for the good of their families, we hope to give you some support in your journey towards good health with your families.

 

4.               To lead a healthy lifestyle and be a good example to our loves ones, we should remember and practise the 5 key pillars of health – i) eat healthy and in moderation, ii) be active, iii) have a positive mental well-being, iv) do not smoke and v) go for regular health screening and manage well your conditions, if you have any. According to the National Health Survey 2010, women generally fare better in health compared to the men. For example, a higher proportion of men are diabetic (12.3% vs 10.4%), have high blood pressure (26.43% vs 20.7%) and high blood cholesterol (18.3% vs 16.5%).  Obesity was also more prevalent in men - 12.1%, compared to 9.5% in women.

 

5.               However, there are areas that we can improve on. One of these is regular exercise.  A larger proportion of men rather than women exercise regularly (22.8% vs 15.2%).  Another area is the cancer screening rates among women. More than 8 in 10 (87.1%) women aged 25 to 69 years were aware of the importance of going for Pap Smear tests but less than 1 in 2 (47.9%) had been for a Pap Smear in the past 3 years, in accordance with the recommended frequency. Similarly, 9 in 10 Singapore women (90.9%) aged 50 to 69 years were aware of the mammogram as a screening test for breast cancer but only about 4 in 10 (39.6%) reported that they had gone for a mammogram within the last two years.

 

Updates on BEAM15

6.           To encourage women from the lower income groups to go for their screening mammogram, the Breast Cancer Foundation (BCF), in partnership with HPB, introduced BEAM15 (BCF Empowerment for Active Mammograms) in April 2013  which offers free mammogram to low income women. This initiative has thus far benefitted 8,750 women.

 

7.           It is heartening to note that with the right information and encouragement, women can be empowered to pay more attention to their health and improve the quality of their lives. Moving forward, BCF will continue to seek partnerships with interested groups to run similar projects that can benefit the health of women in Singapore. Through this and other meaningful initiatives, we hope to convey the spirit and sentiment that the health and well-being of women is critical to the health and well-being of our society at large.

 

Launch of the Pilot of the Health Calendar

8.           Just before we cross over into the New Year, I am pleased to announce to all of you here today, the launch of the 2014 Malay health calendar. (In Malay) Jawatankuasa Penasihat Kesihatan Wanita telah melahirkan idea kalendar ini dan saya harap anda akan mendapatinya berguna.  The Women’s Health Advisory Committee came up with the idea for this calendar and I hope you will find it useful. The committee decided on developing a health calendar based on study insights, which showed that women preferred health messages that are simple and presented in a pictorial format, with easy calls-to-action and cost-saving tips.

 

9.           Titled “Good Health, Better Life” (Kesihatan Baik, Kehidupan Lebih Sihat), this calendar is designed specially to help meet the health needs and interests of busy women and their families in an economic way. This pictorial calendar has many cost-saving health tips (e.g. going for regular health screening to save on long-term medical costs), exciting healthier recipes as well as a directory of numbers to call for social and financial help. The calendar also contains a wide range of topics from nutrition during the fasting month, to regular health screening and reproductive health, packaged in an attractive, easy-to-use format. In line with women’s priorities to provide for their families, we hope that this calendar will serve as a practical gift to Malay households and the monthly tips will motivate you to take simple steps to adopt and maintain healthy living, and inspire your loved ones to do so as well. Depending on evaluation findings, feedback and response, HPB may consider doing more Health Calendars to reach more Malay households, and may extend this idea to the Chinese and Indian community in 2015.

 

Collaboration with Persatuan Pemudi Islam Singapura (PPIS)

10.         To start the distribution of this new calendar, HPB and PPIS have jointly organised today’s event. In addition, HPB has trained four Malay women health ambassadors, one of whom is Ms Hazlin Tahar, who will share with you some of the tips in the calendar that would be relevant in your everyday life.  Working with PPIS and MUIS, these Malay women health ambassadors will also be going to other venues to share with other Malay women on how they can benefit from the tips in the calendar.

 

11.         By promoting health education amongst women, HPB aims to create a supportive environment to ensure that all women are empowered to make informed decisions so that they can take care of themselves and their families.

 

12.         I am pleased to note that PPIS shares the same sentiment as HPB. With support from PPIS and the right tools and knowledge, together, we can empower more Malay women to lead a healthy lifestyle.

 

Conclusion

13.         I urge PPIS to continue their good work in catalysing and developing positive changes in the lives of our Malay women and their dependents. I would also like to thank all of you here today for joining us and I hope that this health calendar will be a wonderful New Year’s gift to you and your families, in helping you start 2014 with good health.

 

14.         Thank you and I wish you all a joyful holiday, and a healthy year ahead.


Annex A

Summary findings

Health Promotion Board (HPB) conducted a study of 120 Singapore women across age (18-69 years of age) and race in May 2013 to find out their values, attitudes towards and knowledge about health. Among these, six families from lower-income backgrounds (total of 12 women) were interviewed in depth. Majority were predominantly bread-winners to big families, received basic education, with financial concerns being their top priority in life.  They were selected at random, based on the criteria in table below (I.e. age, race, role as a woman) in additional to having a MHI of below $2000.

Peerage interview  Family member Race
Peer 1 Grandmother aged 60 and above Chinese
Peer 2 Mother aged 46 years old and above Chinese
Peer 3 Mother ages 25-45 years old Malay or Indian
Peer 4 Daughter aged 16-18 years old Malay or Indian
Peer 5 Mother aged 25-45 years old Chinese
Peer 6 Daughter ages 16-18 years old Chinese

The in-depth interviews revealed that the majority of the interviewees were the bread-winners in their families.  They had only basic education, worked in non-skilled labour jobs and financial concerns was their top priority.   Due to bread and butter issues, these women viewed good health as a luxury.  For example, some interviewees cited that healthier food such as healthier rice and cooking oil are more expensive.  They were also concerned the risk of finding out they have a condition (e.g. cancer) after health screening, as they makes them unfit to continue working and to provide for the family.

When asked about how they will like to receive health messages, it was found that women trust and prefer receiving health messages through word-of-mouth. The lower income group also prefer health messages to be simple and presented in a pictorial, non-threatening format, with easy calls-to-action, taking financial incentives/ subsidies or preservation of livelihood into great consideration. “Fear tactics” were generally not well received.

[1] Please refer to Annex A for the key findings from the survey

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