SINGAPORE - The war against diabetes is moving up a gear, with more leeway for diabetics and those at risk of the disease to use Medisave and more funds pumped into developing low-sugar foods and drinks.
Also on the cards is a national strategy to tackle the high ratio of leg and toe amputations among diabetics in Singapore - which is thrice the average of countries in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development).
"About three in four Singapore residents aged 65 and above are affected by diabetes, high cholesterol or hypertension or a combination of the three," said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong in the debate on his ministry's budget on Wednesday (March 7).
"If nothing is done, diabetes is projected to affect more than one million Singaporeans by 2050," he warned.
During the debate, Senior Minister of State for Health Chee Hong Tat announced schemes to help diabetic patients and those at risk of the disease.
Diabetic patients who require insulin injections will now be able to use Medisave to pay for lancets and test strips, while those with pre-diabetes can tap Medisave for medical consultations starting from June.
About 430,000 Singaporeans aged 18 to 69 are estimated to have pre-diabetes.
"Based on current trends, one in three people with pre-diabetes could develop Type 2 diabetes within eight years," said Mr Chee. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin or when the insulin does not work properly.
To encourage people to eat more healthily when eating out, the development of locally produced low-sugar foods and drinks will also get a boost.
A $15 million grant will be added to the Health Promotion Board's Healthier Ingredients Development Scheme, on top of an existing $20 million grant introduced in July last year.
As for efforts to tackle the high number of diabetes-related amputations, a workgroup will be set up by MOH to deal with the problem.
Among other things, the group will make recommendations on the roles and training needs of healthcare professionals involved in diabetic foot care and national care guidelines, said Senior Minister of State for Health Lam Pin Min.
Singapore has one of the highest diabetes-related lower extremity amputations rates in the world, with 180 such amputations performed for every 100,000 adult diabetics in 2015.
Dr Lam said MOH is also developing a Patient Empowerment for Self-care Framework, which comes with education materials, to help diabetics stick to lifestyle changes. The first portion of materials will be available by June, he added.
The measures against diabetes were welcomed by Dr Daniel Wai, an endocrinologist in Mount Elizabeth Hospital, who called them "a huge step forward".
"It is more cost-effective to prevent it (pre-diabetes) from developing into diabetes," he said, adding that subsidised medication for diabetics can still be expensive for those who do not earn much.
In addition, many diabetic patients at risk of lower limb and toe amputations do not seek help until it is too late, so it would be helpful for the workgroup to come up with a better workflow to identify and treat them earlier, added Dr Wai.
Meanwhile, Madam Nazirul Husna, 36, who runs a training and events business with her husband, is glad that she can soon use Medisave to pay for items to monitor blood sugar level.
Madam Husna, who has Type 1 diabetes - in which the body is unable to produce insulin - had cut down on test strips to reduce her monthly expenditure on these items from $700 to $400.
Looking forward to using Medisave to pay for the strips, she said: "It's very difficult to manage my condition without these test strips because it (my blood sugar level) can have a lot of fluctuations."
Correction note: This story has been edited for clarity.