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Opening Address By Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister For Social And Family Development And Second Minister For Health, At The Launch Of Singhealth Duke-NUS Maternal And Child Health Research Institute, 08 October 2021, 12pm – 1pm

Professor Ivy Ng, Group CEO, SingHealth

Professor Thomas Coffman, Dean, Duke-NUS Medical School

Professor Alex Sia, CEO, KKH

Professor Ng Kee Chong, Chairman Medical Board, KKH

Distinguished guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

         Good Afternoon. It is my pleasure to join you today for the launch of SingHealth Duke-NUS Maternal and Child Health Research Institute, or “MCHRI” in short.

2.      I would first like to congratulate SingHealth and Duke-NUS on the 10th anniversary of the Academic Clinical Programmes for Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Paediatrics, which have been instrumental in advancing clinical care, research and education on child and maternal health. It has also grown to offer the largest specialist training programmes for Obstetrics, Gynaecology and Paediatrics in Singapore, training our next generation of clinicians. Thank you for your contributions.

Advancing research and knowledge on maternal and child health

3.      The early years of life are a critical window – both for the child as well as the mother. During the first 1,000 days of life, tremendous change occurs in a developing child, which begins as early as in the womb. I vividly recalled Dr Tim Moore’s sharing at the Temasek Shophouse Conversations earlier this year, which some of you might have attended. He had very eloquently summarised the literature on the various factors affecting development in the first 1,000 days, and what the research means for us, as clinicians and policymakers. I had two immediate thoughts then – first, that we needed to synthesise our own body of knowledge suited to the local context; and second, to translate this knowledge into impactful interventions upstream at critical junctures.

4.      I am glad that we have seen a proliferation of such local research and evidence-based findings over the past few years. One good example is the “Growing Up in Singapore Towards Healthy Outcomes” (or GUSTO) study, which has yielded local-based evidence on child and maternal health, enabling us to better fine-tune our practices and policies. We have also seen a broader spectrum of research emerging from non-medical disciplines, such as the Singapore Longitudinal Early Development Study. These have added vibrancy to the local research agenda on child and maternal health, and more importantly, will put us in good stead to deliver better support for our children and their mothers. Against this backdrop, several interventions and pilots have been rolled out to translate these findings into practice. For example, to address certain health risks in mothers that impacts their child’s developmental outcomes. I will share two examples.

Translation of Local-Evidence into Practice

5.      The first is the Integrated Maternal and Child Wellness Hub (IMCWH) at Punggol Polyclinic, which was established by KKH, SingHealth Polyclinics and Temasek Foundation since 2019. Using a mother-child dyad care model, the hub provides integrated primary care services for both mother and child. For example, during the child’s developmental screening, the mother too will be supported and screened for post-natal depression, if she exhibits certain signs during the visit. Because local research tells us that this is a risk factor for both mother and child.

6.      To date, about 9,000 families have already received support at the Hub, with 4,000 mothers being screened for postnatal depression. Of these, more than 500 children assessed as having higher risk of developmental delays, have been supported. This illustrates how evidence-based findings have informed our service design to better support Singaporeans.

7.      Another example is the Integrated Platform for Research in Advancing Metabolic Health Outcomes in Women and Children. It was set up by KKH, SingHealth Polyclinics and the NHGP to look at evidence-based screening and risk management of gestational diabetes mellitus, or GDM, which we have found to be associated with higher risk of pregnancy complications. Through early GDM screening and intervention for pregnant women, we can bring down the occurrences of poor birth outcomes significantly, as what we have learnt through the Temasek Foundation Cares GDM Care programme. The team has also made significant contributions to our body of knowledge on this – both locally and internationally; translating findings into digestible guidelines that mothers and children can follow.

MCHRI’s Role to Advance Knowledge to Support Child & Maternal Health

8.      I am glad that KKH has taken a further step today, with the launch of the MCHRI. Contributing even more to the local research and scientific landscape, as you drive clinical and translational research, innovation, and digital strategies to advance clinical care. These efforts span critical domains in child and maternal health, such as in reproductive, metabolic, mental health, as well as neurocognitive development and treatments for cancers and more.

9.      The launch of the MCHRI is also aligned to our national Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2025 Plan (or RIE2025), of which a key pillar of our vision focuses on enhancing the health and human potential of our population. This also includes leveraging clinical and translational research to increase the developmental potential of our children.

10.     Besides advancing the academic and scientific healthcare agenda, let me offer two other potential roles that MCHRI can play.

a.      First, MCHRI can help to strengthen and build an integrated ecosystem to provide wrap-around support for the mother-child dyad. MCHRI is well-placed to forge a collaborative community – comprising researchers, academics, practitioners and service providers – to translate research into real-world clinical practice for the mother and child.

b.      Second, MCHRI can play a significant role to nurture a pipeline of researchers and establish key collaborations with enterprises – both locally and internationally – to drive healthcare innovation. 

11.     In this regard, I am glad to know that MCHRI will be partnering the Menarini Group, an Italian pharmaceutical company specialising in therapeutics, to advance R&D for healthcare biotechnology and diagnostics in Asia. Under this partnership, the Menarini Group will establish its first Asia regional hub, providing prenatal and personalised medicine diagnostics, in Singapore. Using novel, cell-based technology, the medical teams will be able to identify, isolate and analyse single cells with high resolution and purity, from tiny amounts of blood. This will allow doctors to detect chromosomal abnormalities in foetal cells, circulating in the mother’s blood, in a safer and less invasive manner.

12.     Beyond this, I look forward to the MCHRI inking more partnerships to advance and elevate our local knowledge and practice. For example, with Precision Health Research Singapore, to explore collaborative opportunities in genomics research for child and maternal health. These exchanges of medical expertise and knowledge, forged through international partnerships, will go a long way to put Singapore at the forefront of child and maternal health research – both regionally and internationally.


13.     In closing, I thank each of you here today for your contribution towards this shared mission of building healthy families for a future-ready Singapore. Together, we can give every child, and future generations to come, the best possible start in life.

Thank you.

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