SPEECH BY MINISTER FOR HEALTH, MR GAN KIM YONG, AT THE LAUNCH CEREMONY OF 10TH INTERNATIONAL DIABETES FEDERATION-WESTERN PACIFIC REGION (IDF-WPR) CONGRESS, 22 NOV 2014

Dr Kevin Tan, Co-Chair for IDF-WPR Congress,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Introduction

1          I am glad to join you at the 10th International Diabetes Federation-Western Pacific Region (IDF-WPR) Congress 2014 held jointly with the 6th Asian Association for the Study of Diabetes (AASD) Meeting in Singapore. I am delighted and honoured that Singapore is hosting this event, and it gives me great pleasure to welcome all of you.

2          I was told that we have over 2,000, close to 3,000 participants from the Western Pacific and East Asia region gathered here today. I encourage you to make full use of this opportunity to network and to exchange ideas. I am sure the connections and friendships you develop here will serve you well in your scientific collaborations with one another in the future.

Research Landscape in Singapore

3          Over the last decade, Singapore has steadily built up our biomedical research capabilities and strengthened research in various areas, such as metabolic diseases, infectious diseases and cancer. We have also brought research from bench to bedside by fostering closer interactions between the scientists and clinicians. Today, we have a vibrant and robust research ecosystem comprising our academic medical centres, national specialty centres, hospitals, A*STAR research institutes and universities. With our ageing population, we have increasingly focused on research and management of common chronic diseases, which pose the greatest disease burden, such as Diabetes. For example, Associate Professor Tai E Shyong, who recently won the Clinician Scientist Award from the National Medical Research Council (NMRC), is currently heading a research project to study and compare the molecular pathways leading to insulin resistance in different ethnic groups. These findings could result in new drugs which will treat Type 2 Diabetes more effectively by targeting the specific pathways to reduce insulin resistance, lower blood glucose and improve blood lipids.

Disease Burden of Diabetes

4          Diabetes is a major global health problem. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are 347 million people worldwide who have diabetes and diabetes is projected to become the seventh leading cause of death globally by the year 2030[1]. Diabetes is also a major cause of disease burden in Singapore. According to the National Health Survey 2010[2], one in nine, or about 11% of Singaporeans aged between 18 and 69 have diabetes. One in seven, or 14.4% have impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) which, as you will be aware, can progress to diabetes if lifestyle changes are not made. Undiagnosed diabetes is also a significant issue, just like the rest of the world. About 1 in 2 Singaporeans with diabetes are unaware of their condition.

5          If left undiagnosed or untreated, diabetes can lead to complications including heart disease, stroke, vision loss as well as foot ulcers, infection and eventual need for limb amputation. In Singapore, diabetes is one of the leading causes of kidney failure too.

6          Nonetheless, the good news is that diabetes can be prevented through the adoption of healthy lifestyle habits. For those with diabetes, the condition can also be effectively managed with medication, and regular follow up. Singapore has done relatively well in this regard by achieving good glycaemic control in over 70% of diabetic patients under the national chronic disease management programme.

Importance of Disease Prevention

7          As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. This is particularly pertinent in diabetes. Obesity is the primary risk factor for type 2 diabetes. The rates of obesity in Singapore residents increased from 6.9% in 2004 to 10.8% in 2010. We can significantly reduce our risk of developing diabetes through a healthier lifestyle by having a balanced diet, exercising regularly and not smoking. To encourage healthy living amongst Singaporeans, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) has launched several initiatives under the Healthy Living Master Plan. For example, with the Healthier Dining Programme, more than 700 food outlets have pledged to offer 500-calorie meal options. Through the nationwide Million KG Challenge, there have been over 80,000 sign-ups and some 42,000 pledges to lose weight. In addition, as part of the “Life’s Sweeter with Less Sugar” Scratch and Win Contest, nearly 800 drink stalls are involved in an island-wide campaign to motivate Singaporeans to change their dietary habits and switch to beverages with less or no sugar.

8          Additionally, HPB recommends that adults and seniors engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity each week, such as brisk walking, jogging, cycling and swimming.  To make healthy living easy and accessible for all Singaporeans and to bring it right to their doorsteps, HPB has also been working with shopping malls since 2010 to organise exercise sessions for the masses such as mall walks and aerobic activities such as Zumba, KpopX Fitness and Kickboxing. Through these initiatives, we hope to motivate individuals and make healthy living a default choice for all.

9          In addition to lifestyle changes, regular screening for diabetes is also crucial for the early detection and prompt treatment of the condition. I urge all Singaporeans aged 40 years and older to be screened for diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol every three years. To make screening more affordable and accessible, the recommended screening tests for these chronic diseases are fully subsidised by the government for patients on the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS). Under the scheme, portable subsidies are offered to patients from the lower to middle-income households at participating private sector General Practice (GP) clinics. In addition, CHAS patients enjoy subsidies for GP consultation charges in relation to screening, and for follow-up treatment if they are diagnosed to have diabetes or other chronic diseases.

10        I would like to specially commend the Diabetic Society of Singapore for its good work since its inception in 1971. Besides helping diabetic patients manage their condition through programmes, activities and workshops, the Society provides an avenue for these patients and their loved ones to share their experiences on dealing with the disease and provide support to those who are newly diagnosed. The Society has also gone the extra mile to raise awareness of diabetes among the general public through health screenings, public forums, and outreach talks at schools and community clubs. I would like to acknowledge the Society, as well as all healthcare professionals and caregivers, for their efforts in enhancing diabetes awareness and improving diabetic care in Singapore.

Conclusion

11        The ongoing fight against diabetes requires an alliance of healthcare professionals, scientists, policy-makers, patients and caregivers. As practitioners and researchers, you lead the fight with your specialised skills to develop and apply innovative clinical solutions for patients. With this Congress bringing together 28 diabetes-related societies and associations in the Asia-Pacific, you will have the opportunity to exchange ideas and gather your collective wisdom to help advance the goal of “Healthy Living and Diabetes”, the World Diabetes Day theme for 2014 - 2016.

12        Thank you all for being present today and for your commitment in tackling diabetes. With great pleasure, I now declare the 10th International Diabetes Federation Congress and the 6th Asian Association for the Study of Diabetes Scientific Meeting open!


 

[1] WHO media centre diabetes factsheet: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs312/en/

[2] MOH National Health Survey 2010: http://www.moh.gov.sg/content/dam/moh_web/Publications/Reports/2011/NHS2010%20-%20low%20res.pdf

 

 

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