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Speech by Madam Rahayu Mahzam, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Health & Ministry of Law, at World Diabetes Day 2023, 5 November 2023, 2.30pm, at Wisma Geylang Serai

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good afternoon.

It is my pleasure to be here with you today for this significant occasion to commemorate World Diabetes Day. It is an opportune moment to share more with you on an important matter – Singapore’s fight against diabetes.

2. Diabetes is a serious health concern globally and in Singapore. One in three Singaporeans are at risk of developing diabetes in their lifetime. Living with diabetes can be challenging, as most patients will require daily medication or injections. If diabetes is not well managed, it can lead to serious complications such as heart attack, stroke, blindness, kidney failure, and lower limb amputations. 

Progress of War on Diabetes

3. In light of the significant impact of diabetes on public and individual health, the Ministry of Health (MOH) declared War on Diabetes in 2016, underscoring the importance of addressing this issue. Since 2016, there has been a concerted effort to prevent diabetes and foster healthy living through various initiatives. 

4. I am heartened to share that after taking into account the effects of ageing, the age-standardised prevalence of diabetes has declined from 7.8% in 2017 to 6.8% in 2022. However, tackling diseases like diabetes requires a sustained effort over many years to see a significant impact on health outcomes. While progress has been made, the fight against diabetes is not over. Moving forward, we will need to continue to work collaboratively to build on the good work that have been done so far to promote healthy living and strengthen diabetes management. 

Diabetes Prevention

5. Allow me to share some of our key efforts to tackle diabetes, starting with our efforts to promote preventive health:

Healthier Diets and Physical Activity

6. One of the key risk factors for diabetes is obesity, which is a modifiable risk factor that we can take active steps towards preventing and managing. A worrying sign is that the prevalence of obesity amongst Singapore residents has steadily increased over the past decade, from 8.6% in 2013, to 11.6% in 2022. 

7. Many of us are aware of what we need to do to prevent obesity, such as exercising more and having a healthy diet. However, it can be difficult to adopt and sustain these habits over time. This is why MOH and our partners have sought to create a supportive ecosystem to empower Singaporeans to take action for their health. This includes our efforts to encourage eligible residents to commit to a General Practitioner (GP) clinic and adopt a Health Plan under Healthier SG, which was launched in July this year. By enrolling in Healthier SG, residents will receive guidance from a trusted family doctor on the concrete steps that they can take to improve their health. As of October 2023, over 400,000 residents have enrolled in Healthier SG. I am very encouraged by this development and hope that more will participate in this initiative.

8. To promote healthier diets, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) partners manufacturers and food and beverage (F&B) operators to increase the availability and accessibility of healthier food options through its Healthier Choice Symbol and Healthier Dining Programmes. Singaporeans can look out for stores with the Healthier choice identifiers when eating out or grocery shopping to identify healthier options, such as those higher in wholegrains, or lower in sugar, sodium, saturated fat or caloric content.

9. Since December last year, we implemented Nutri-Grade labelling requirements and advertising prohibitions for pre-packaged beverages. These measures aim to help consumers identify beverages that are higher in sugar and saturated fat contents, and reduce the influence of advertising on consumer preferences. Since the announcement of the Nutri-Grade measures in 2020, many industry partners have reformulated their products. The median sugar level of pre-packaged beverages has reduced from 7.1% in 2017 to 4.6% in 2021. Based on findings from HPB’s National Nutrition Survey 2022, daily sugar intake amongst Singaporeans has also improved, decreasing from 60g in 2018 to 56g in 2022. 

10. From 30 December this year, Nutri-Grade measures will be extended to freshly prepared beverages to further reduce the population’s sugar and saturated fat intake. HPB will be working closely with F&B operators to make lower-sugar beverages, or “siew dai”, the default option.

11. We are also continuing with our efforts to enable Singaporeans to lead a more active lifestyle. Between 2019 and 2022, there was a significant decrease in proportion of residents with sufficient total physical activity. This decrease is likely due to a reduction in commuting from hybrid work arrangements, which has not returned to pre-COVID-19 levels. 

12. Therefore, under Healthier SG, our healthcare clusters are working with community partners, HPB, the People’s Association, and Sport Singapore, to scale-up and proliferate physical activities organised in the community, as well as self-directed programmes such as HPB’s National Steps Challenge. HPB has also enhanced the Healthy 365 app to make it easier for residents to achieve their health goals. Residents can find, sign up and participate in a wider range of healthy lifestyle programmes, from brisk walks, Zumba, qigong, ball games and workouts with coaches. Through the Healthy 365 app, residents can access a suite of tools including meal logging, receive personalised recommendations on programmes and resources, and monitor health-related lifestyle data. I encourage residents to download the Healthy 365 app and be empowered to take charge of your health. 

Diabetes Screening and Management

13. Detecting diabetes early is critical, as early interventions can reverse disease progression and prevent complications. Did you know that around one in five residents with diabetes do not know they have the condition? Some people with diabetes can feel well and not experience any symptoms at all. Therefore, it is important to screen for diabetes regularly. 

14. For Singaporeans between 18 and 39 years old, I would like to encourage you to check if you are at risk of developing diabetes using the free online Diabetes Risk Assessment tool accessible via the HealthHub website. If you are identified by the tool to be at higher risk of developing diabetes, you will be eligible for a subsidised health screening visit and follow-up consultation. For Singaporeans aged 40 and above, diabetes screening is recommended once every three years. Under Healthier SG, diabetes screening is free for enrolled Singaporeans. 
15. For residents with diabetes, your Healthier SG family doctor will also advise you to undergo regular screening to prevent eye, foot and kidney complications, and support you in monitoring your conditions. In addition, we will also provide more financial support for chronic disease management under Healthier SG. From early 2024, we will introduce enhanced drug subsidies under the new Healthier SG Chronic Tier. Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS), Pioneer Generation and Merdeka Generation cardholders with high medication needs enrolled to their Healthier SG GP clinics can access commonly used medications for managing chronic conditions, including diabetes, at prices comparable to polyclinics.

16. MOH has also worked with various stakeholders since 2019 to develop the National Diabetes Reference Materials (NDRM), which is an online resource to empower patients with diabetes to better manage their condition. Not only does the NDRM provide easy-to-understand information to patients and their caregivers, it also functions as a tool for care teams to educate and motivate patients to make informed decisions and lasting lifestyle changes. In April 2023, Tier 2 NDRM was published, comprising more comprehensive information on healthy eating, physical activity, emotional well-being and type 1 diabetes. These resources are available in the four official languages and can be accessed via HealthHub.

17. We hope with these initiatives, patients and their caregivers can be well-supported to manage diabetes.

Diabetes Singapore’s efforts in tackling diabetes

18. Last but not least, I want to thank Diabetes Singapore for your partnership with MOH in the fight against diabetes over the years. Diabetes Singapore has helped to raise awareness through community outreach efforts and workshops. Diabetes Singapore also provides screening services within our community, such as kidney, eye and foot screening as well as nurse counselling, to promote overall health and early detection. 

19. Last year alone, Diabetes Singapore, along with their community partners, conducted comprehensive health screenings for 2,500 individuals within our community. On top of that, Diabetes Singapore also organises support groups for people with diabetes and their family members to encourage and learn from one another. With your strong outreach network, Diabetes Singapore is well-placed to encourage and engage with residents with diabetes in adopting a healthier lifestyle and support them to effectively manage their condition. 

20. There are a lot of resources out there. Often times, we need our community partners to help us in sharing these messages, and organising events like this to put the information out in the community. You play a critical role in our collective fight against diabetes. Through our joint efforts, I hope we can continue to empower Singaporeans to take charge of their own health and prevent the onset of chronic diseases. I wish Diabetes Singapore a successful event. Thank you.

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