Dr Kalpana Bhaskaran, President of Diabetes Singapore
Dr Bee Yong Mong, Vice-President of Diabetes Singapore
Ladies and Gentlemen
I am happy to join you today to commemorate World Diabetes Day.
Changing Our Health Trajectory
2. I recently came across a true story. It happened in a local SME. A supervisor has been troubled that one of her staff, let us call him Mr A, who in his 40’s, is obese, diabetic, walks with difficulty, and clearly in bad health. Doctors will call such cases walking time bombs. He has a family with young children, which makes it even more worrying.
3. So the supervisor persuaded him to go through a regime of lifestyle changes, recommended a professional to help him, and sponsored all the expenses. Less than a month later, he lost over 10kg, feels better, sleeps better and looks better. He wants to continue with the change. A fellow supervisor decided to encourage him further and sponsored him with fitting new clothes.
4. I hope this individual will make the change permanent. If it does, it means that with one month of hard work, he has changed his life course – from one where he might lose his sight, kidney function, become an amputee, to one where he can enjoy quality life with his family to a ripe old age.
5. Mr A was fortunate to have colleagues, supervisors and professionals who care for him and helped him. Many are not as fortunate, and simply cannot overcome the inertia to change their health trajectory.
6. On one hand it is never easy to make a big lifestyle change. On the other hand, all it takes is to go through some temporary sacrifices that will have a lifetime payback. Our health is priceless, so this is better than striking a big lottery. Our imperative now is to make such support as accessible as possible, so that more people who are at risk of severe diseases can be like Mr A.
War on Diabetes to Healthier SG
7. Since we declared the War on Diabetes in 2016, we have implemented many initiatives to prevent diabetes and foster healthy living. There have been some results. After adjusting for age, the number of individuals living with diabetes has remained stable at around 8 in 100 from 2017 to 2020. We have blunted the hitherto increasing trend.
8. The War on Diabetes has turned out to be the precursor to a much larger movement now. The Ministry of Health (MOH) is embarking on a major healthcare transformation strategy, called Healthier SG, where one of the key shifts is in moving upstream to place heavy emphasis on preventive care. In a nutshell, Healthier SG is about supporting and empowering individuals to better take care of our own health, stay fit, prevent obesity, stave off chronic diseases.
9. What are some of the supportive initiatives that we will be expecting, to help us take care of our own health and prevent diabetes?
10. From the Government, under Healthier SG, we are fully subsidising the key elements of preventive care, such as nationally recommended health screening and vaccinations, and enhancing the incentives for healthy living. A new Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) subsidy tier will also enable access to common chronic drugs at prices comparable to polyclinics.
11. We are actively making the preparation, recruiting private family physicians to join the system, and will start enrolling residents from the middle of next year.
12. In a related initiative, MOH is using regulatory levers to reduce sugar consumption. By the end of this year, prepacked beverages with higher sugar and saturated fat must be labelled with a Nutri-Grade mark, and advertising is prohibited for those with the highest levels.
13. Ahead of the implementation of the measures, manufacturers have significantly reformulated their beverages, with the median sugar level of prepacked beverages reduced from 7.1% in 2017 to 4.7% in 2021. We will extend these measures to freshly prepared drinks by the end of 2023.
14. We are working with agencies such as the Health Promotion Board (HPB), People’s Association and SportSG to step up fitness activities on the ground, to get people to stay active – ‘sit less and move more’. From brisk walking, qigong, Zumba to Wushu and Muay Thai, there is a sport and activity for everyone.
15. Specifically, we have enhanced the National Steps Challenge from a seasonal programme to one that is always-on, where participants can earn rewards on a daily basis all year round to spur individuals of different physical activity levels to keep active. Since 2015, the Challenge has attracted over 1.7 million participants, encouraging Singaporeans to walk more and keep active. While not all residents continued participation in subsequent seasons, our survey shows that many have inculcated physical activity into their day-to-day lives.
16. We encourage residents to aim to achieve the recommended 150 to 300 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity every week. This will improve heart health, reduce the risk of diabetes, and for those with diabetes, aid in blood glucose control by maintaining or achieving a healthy weight.
Support from Industry and Employers
17. What I have just described are the measures the Government is undertaking. Today, on World Diabetes Day, I want to call out to industries and employers to work with the Government to support individuals to lead healthier lives.
18. There are many treatments, health tools and devices out there that we can leverage. Our public health institutions have always focused on preventive and value-based care, but with Healthier SG, the impetus is even stronger. We have a national mandate, and soon will have the entire private and public primary care systems working in concert.
19. Wherever possible, MOH wants to embrace novel ideas to strengthen preventive care, start pilot projects, and scale them into national initiatives under Healthier SG.
20. HPB had therefore launched a Call for Collaboration from July to September this year, to seek partnerships with private sector partners. Our intention is to harness technology, behavioural insights and analytics to help residents adopt better health habits and sustain them. HPB is currently evaluating the proposals.
21. We hope that such partnerships can generate many good ideas. For example, wearables, healthy lifestyle apps and digital diagnostics tools are proliferating. We can make better use of health apps to improve physical activity. There are now devices that help monitor excess sugar intake in real time, to help individuals get instant feedback and hence change their dietary habits. There can be initiatives to engage employers to actively support their employees to become healthy and change their life course, as in the case of the company Mr A is working for.
22. We will keep a very open mind to ideas on preventive care. These partnerships will enable us to tap on the industry’s expertise and technology, and give us a good idea of which projects are scalable and can become enduring features of Healthier SG.
Appreciation to Diabetes Singapore
23. Finally, I would like to thank Diabetes Singapore for your resolute partnership with MOH in our war against diabetes all these years. You have very dedicated leaders and staff. As we push ahead with Healthier SG, staying healthy becomes a personal desire and responsibility, supported by the Government, society and communities.
24. Organisations like Diabetes Singapore will hopefully discover greater opportunities to make a significant difference, and your role enlarged and becoming more meaningful. I look forward to our continued partnership. Thank you.