Diabetes cost Singapore more than $1 billion in 2010. This is expected to soar beyond $2.5 billion by 2050, said a team of academics who published the first-ever article to predict the cost of this disease to Singapore.
The article in Europe's BMC Public Health journal, published online in February, said 42 per cent of the cost comes from medical treatment while the rest is due to indirect productivity-related losses.
According to the Ministry of Health, 11.3 per cent of adults aged 18 to 69 years in 2010 were diabetic, with about half not even aware they had the disease.
Uncontrolled diabetes is a major cause of kidney failure, blindness and amputations in Singapore. It is also a major contributor to heart attacks and stroke.
The authors from the National University of Singapore and University of Southern California estimated that the cost per working-age person as a result of their having diabetes was $7,678 in 2010.
They predict it would go up to $10,596 per diabetic person by 2050, with indirect costs rising to account for 65 per cent of this figure.
The authors said trends indicate that diabetes is increasingly hitting people at younger ages in Asia, with Singapore being no exception.
The study said fatality among people aged 20 to 39 years is "the most influential on the total cost per patient in 2050". Another major factor influencing cost estimates: wages will be higher by then.
Another worry is that Asians are currently more at risk of getting diabetes than people of other races, the authors added.
Dr Lee Chung Horn, a diabetes specialist in private practice, said this is partly genetic and partly lifestyle. As Asians have become richer, people "bought into the unhealthy Western lifestyle", leading to higher rates of obesity and diabetes, he said.
The article said that these factors "may have strong implications for overall economic growth and employment".
Already in 2010, the cost of diabetes was equal to 0.35 per cent of Singapore's GDP - or almost 10 per cent of healthcare spending.
It said: "Even in our conservative scenario, diabetes has imposed a significant economic burden on the national healthcare system and will continue to do so in the next four decades."
The team plans to continue its research to make its cost estimation more accurate and to help policymakers determine the effectiveness of public health interventions to slow the rise of diabetes.
The article pointed out that preventing diabetes was important not just to the healthcare sector, but also to employers as diabetes could affect workers' productivity, and to policymakers who will bear the "unseen" costs in the future.