Ladies and gentlemen
I am pleased to join you today in celebrating 60 years of child health at the Khoo Teck Puat – National University Children’s Medical Institute (KTP-NUCMI).
Evolution of Child Health in Singapore
2. Paediatrics emerged as a special branch of medicine in Singapore in 1921. Over the past century, Singapore has come a long way in the development of paediatric and child health services. There were a few interesting milestones.
3. In 1932, a ward in the General Hospital was set aside for children. It is a small four-storey Mistri Wing with eight wards comprising 274 cots. Before that, children who were admitted to the General Hospital were cared for in an adult ward by a female medical officer.
4. In 1962, Singapore appointed the late Professor Wong Hock Boon as the founding professor of Paediatrics and made him responsible for the teaching of medical students in Paediatrics. This established the foundation of specialist paediatric training in Singapore.
5. Today, our paediatrician pool has grown to about 400 strong, serving a population of more than 800,000 children and adolescents. Many of them were trained by the Department of Paediatrics in the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine. In addition, all our medical students also receive training in paediatrics as part of their core medical training, so that they can support the care of our children and adolescents.
6. From its humble beginnings as a small general hospital in 1858, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) has grown to have 830 beds and a children’s emergency department today. In 1966, KKH won the Guinness Book of Records for delivering the highest number of babies (39,835 births) within a single medical facility and held this record for a decade. This is symbolic of the years of investment in healthcare facilities to care for children. Today, our public healthcare facilities for children include another 98 paediatric beds in the National University Hospital (NUH) and a new 10-storey outpatient paediatric building at KTP-NUCMI. Besides acute hospitals and specialist outpatient services, we have also several child development clinics within the community.
7. As a result of these developments, our child health outcomes have improved by leaps and bounds. As a developing nation back in the 1960s, there were 34.9 infant deaths per thousand live births. Today, our infant mortality rate has dropped to 1.8 in 2021 , one of the lowest in the world. A low infant mortality rate is testament to the public health initiatives and improvements made over the years, particularly in the areas of good medical care, quality education and emphasis on the nutrition of mother and child, and sanitation.
8. Back in the 1960’s, our pre-occupation then was to tackle infant mortality and maternal and childhood malnutrition. We are researching into child and maternal health to gain insights on how to maximise a child’s potential through better eating and sleeping, exposure to languages, etc.
9. All these were made possible because of the strong commitment to improve child health by the government, our healthcare providers, partners and parents.
NUH’s contribution to child health in Singapore
10. This year marks another significant milestone in NUH and KTP-NUCMI’s journey in advancing child health in Singapore. These were made possible through the support by the Estate of Khoo Teck Puat.
11. Today, KTP-NUCMI provides a wide range of specialist services, including Paediatrics, Neonatology and Paediatric Surgery services. KTP-NUCMI is also the only centre in Singapore that provides paediatric kidney dialysis, paediatric kidney and liver transplants.
12. During the COVID-19 pandemic, KTP-NUCMI supported the national COVID-19 vaccination efforts for children. We recently announced the Expert Committee on COVID-19 Vaccination’s (EC19V) recommendation that children aged 6 months and above can be vaccinated against COVID-19. I look forward to KTP-NUCMI’s continued support in the effort to protect our young against the infection through vaccination.
13. The institute also embarks on research and innovation in pursuit of new knowledge and development of novel therapies and care models to achieve good health outcomes for our young. One example is the cutting-edge translational research to find cures for childhood leukaemia. In addition, KTP-NUCMI has developed a holistic care framework that will be implemented to support both women and children to attain good health and well-being.
Drive Better Child Health Outcomes
14. Looking ahead, KTP-NUCMI will be able to contribute to two important aspects of child health. First, drive better health outcomes through capability building. In this regard, KTP-NUCMI has introduced new graduate programmes to upskill primary care physicians to better care for children and adolescents.
15. Second, we are enhancing support for children from vulnerable family backgrounds. We want to support and equip these families with resources, knowledge and skills relevant to keep their children healthy. KTP-NUCMI will be piloting the HEADS-UPP programme. This stands for Health and Development Support in Preschool Partnerships.
16. This is a community-based preventive programme that provides health and development screening and support for low-income children and their families. The programme will bring together health, education and social service providers to jointly support these preschool children and their families. I look forward to learning about the outcomes of this pilot and how we can better support families to raise healthier children. It will help inform and complement national programmes, such as KidSTART.
17. Over the years, Ministries have changed the way it has developed policies. In the last seven years that I have been in Government as Minister, research has been increasingly featured in policies even before conceiving them.
18. An important research piece for the future is GUSTO (Growing Up in Singapore Towards Healthy Outcomes) that will inform the future direction on healthcare, social support and education. I applaud the efforts that have gone into this tremendous project. This longitudinal study tracks the same group of children and their parents over 13 years and has given us so much insights into how and what kind of interventions can best help a child grow up and develop his or her potential.
19. It goes back to the principle of Healthier SG, where your life habits would profoundly affect how a child grows up. We will develop policies in this area and share more when ready.
20. One of the key measures of success of a government, society or country is its infant mortality rate. While it does not capture everything, our infant mortality rate shows how society comes together to take care of the next generation and ensure they grow up healthily. As our infant mortality rate has improved, it shows how the community, and especially our medical community, have contributed to the progress of our nation and healthier lives.
21. I congratulate KTP-NUCMI on achieving a significant milestone of 60 years of child health. We have come a long way, and with the capabilities we have now, we can go further, to deliver the best possible care to keep our children healthy. I look forward to further good work from the Institute in fostering a many healthier next generations.