Parliament: Health Minister Gan Kim Yong declares 'war on diabetes'; new task force set up

A diabetic patient undergoing dialysis treatment at Kim Keat Dialysis Centre. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - The Ministry of Health (MOH) has declared war on diabetes, with each of the political leaders at the ministry leading a different charge against this disease - one of the biggest drains on the healthcare system.

In setting the battle scene, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said the disease is already costing the country more than $1 billion a year.

Of the more than 400,000 diabetics today, one in three do not even know they have the disease. Of those who do know, one in three have poor control, Mr Gan said in Parliament on Wednesday (April 13) during the debate on his ministry's budget.

"Left undetected, untreated or poorly managed, diabetes can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, blindness and amputations," he said, adding that four Singaporeans lose a limb or appendage every day because of complications from diabetes.

And if nothing is done, things will just get worse, as the prediction is that one out of every three people here will get diabetes.

"Therefore, I am declaring war on diabetes. We want to help Singaporeans live life free from diabetes, and for those with the disease, to help them control their condition to prevent deterioration," the minister said.

He will co-chair a new Diabetes Prevention and Care Taskforce with Acting Education Minister Ng Chee Meng.

The task force will include representatives from government agencies, the private sector, patient advocacy and caregiver groups.

Mr Gan said: "The war on diabetes will not be a quick battle, but a long war requiring sustained effort."

He outlined three key prongs in the multi-year plan to fight diabetes.

First, promote a healthy lifestyle and reduce obesity rates in order to cut down on new diabetes cases.

To encourage more people to exercise, current programmes such as the National Steps Challenge will be expanded, and new programmes will be introduced in schools, workplaces, and the community. The MOH will also do more to curb smoking rates because the risk of developing diabetes is 30-40 per cent higher for active smokers than non-smokers.

Second, strengthen early screening and intervention to identify the disease early among those at risk or undiagnosed.

Third, support better disease control to slow disease progression, and reduce complications.

Success in this war will be far reaching, he said, as it will "curb not just diabetes but other related chronic disease such as heart disease, and we will improve the lives of Singaporeans and reduce the burden on their families".

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