Budget debate: MOH launches targeted measures for subgroups to improve population health

For the elderly, a holistic programme comprising physical, mental and social wellness will be gradually rolled out nationwide from May. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - To improve overall health, the Ministry of Health (MOH) will be introducing targeted measures to support and uplift various subgroups including mothers, families, minorities and the elderly.

The Straits Times looks at some of these initiatives.

1. Improving maternal health

More support will be given for the mental well-being of women during and after their pregnancy, as doing so would be crucial for the child's health.

Senior Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary told Parliament on Wednesday (March 9) during his ministry's debate that a local study, Growing Up in Singapore Towards Healthy Outcomes, found that maternal mental well-being during pregnancy could affect the brain development of the fetus, giving rise to mood or anxiety disorders later on in life.

The study found that about 7.2 per cent of pregnant women had high scores of depressive symptoms during pregnancy. The proportion increases to 10 per cent during the first three months postpartum.

KK Women's and Children's Hospital and National University Hospital will enhance their mental well-being support for pregnant women and mothers by scaling up accessibility to antenatal (during pregnancy) and post-natal mental health screening.

MOH will also enhance early intervention and support for more women who are screened to be at risk of depressive symptoms.

The Women's Health Committee, chaired by Ms Rahayu Mahzam, Parliamentary Secretary for Health, is planning a women's health event this year to raise greater awareness of women's health to maximise outreach to different segments of the female population. More details of the event will be shared later.

2. More support to families

Integrated healthcare services for both mothers and children will be available at 14 polyclinics over the next three years.

These healthcare services include postnatal depression screening and breastfeeding support when they take their child for vaccination and childhood development screening at the polyclinics.

Two pilot programmes were launched in Punggol Polyclinic and Yishun Polyclinic in 2019, benefiting more than 10,000 children and mothers.

Besides integrating services for the mother and child, more holistic support for children and their families can be provided through a family support programme.

Known as the Family Nexus, selected health and social services can be provided under one roof at four sites in Choa Chu Kang, Punggol, Sembawang and Tampines this year.

These sites could be at a polyclinic, general practitioner clinic or a social service agency office. Some programmes include breastfeeding and lactation support services, body mass index and growth assessment checks for young children and caregivers' training.

3. Promote healthier lifestyles among Malay and Indian communities

In order to promote healthier lifestyles among these ethnic minorities, MOH will be collaborating with Malay and Indian community leaders and partners.

A work group was formed last year by MOH to improve the health of ethnic minority groups here. It aimed to design culturally relevant programmes and help to rally the community against poor health habits.

Giving an update on the programme, Ms Rahayu said the Health Promotion Board (HPB) has brought together experienced community leaders with the expertise to form a Malay Community Outreach (MCO) working group.

There are five new subcommittees focusing on mental well being, reducing smoking, improving eating habits, increasing physical activity and health screening among the Malay community, she added.

MCO will work with various parties to expand the reach of the HPB programmes effectively.

Health promotion activities for the Indian community will also be rolled out, she added.

For example, HPB has been working with key stakeholders like the Singapore Indian Development Association to tap on programmes and culturally significant events such as Deepavali to reinforce healthy cooking.

HPB also actively engages Indian food and beverage outlets to participate in the healthier dining programme, which rewards customers for selecting healthy options.

She highlighted in Parliament last year that in 2020, 14.4 per cent of Malays and 14.2 per cent of Indians have diabetes, compared with 8.2 per cent of Chinese.

In addition, 37.5 per cent of Malays and 36.1 per cent of Chinese have higher blood pressure, compared with 29.5 per cent of Indians.

4. Support seniors for successful ageing

To empower seniors to improve and maintain their health, a holistic programme that comprises physical, mental and social wellness will be developed and implemented by HPB and People's Association.

The programme, known as Live Well, Age Well, will be gradually rolled out nationwide from May, in a "hub and spoke" model.

It will be offered at designated community centres, Residents' Corners, eldercare centres and faith-based organisations, based on the profile of residents and clients.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.