SINGAPORE - The fight against diabetes must extend beyond health ministries to employ a coordinated whole of government approach.
This is one of the mindset shifts needed to beat the disease, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam as he opened the Ministerial Conference on Diabetes at the Grand Copthorne Waterfront hotel on Monday (Nov 26).
He said: “What people do day-to-day, as part of their regular activities, can be decisive in shaping their health outcomes – and the levers or influences that governments have go well beyond the healthcare sector.
“We want to go beyond healthcare, to health – don’t wait until diseases set in before intervening, but find all ways and means to make healthy living convenient, enjoyable and rewarding.”
Another mindset shift is for employers to promote good health at the workplace, but the most important mindset shift has to do with individuals.
"It is the individual who has to see the benefits of adjusting his or her habits, and feel good about doing so," said Mr Tharman, but he added that human psychology is a problem.
He said: "The pleasures of a slice of chocolate cake are immediate, while the costs to health are hidden and set in much later, but with potentially severe consequences."
Mr Tharman said there has to be sustained effort at putting out information on the health risk of diabetes and to get more people to go for early screenings so they can take action early to change their lifestyles. More should also be done to help children develop good eating habits from a young age, he added.
Diabetes used to be thought to be a rich country's disease, but the reality is that diabetes is a pressing global health challenge, he noted.
"It plagues countries rich and poor, and has to be arrested to avoid significant cost in lives and national well-being everywhere," Mr Tharman told about 300 international and local delegates from 18 countries and regions, including 12 health ministers.
About 450 million people globally suffer from diabetes, with the number increasing every year. In Singapore, the number of people with the disease is projected to rise from about 450,000 now to one million by 2050, if current trends continue.
Mr Tharman noted that the cost of the disease on health, mortality and economies around the world every year is large. It has been estimated that the global annual healthcare expenditure on diabetes was over US$700 billion in 2017.
The two-day conference will feature keynote speakers from organisations including the World Health Organisation. Health Minister Gan Kim Yong will give the closing address at the conference on Tuesday.