Health screening to get more convenient for needy kids

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said the programme would help "inform and complement" national programmes such as KidSTART. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Over the next two to three years, up to 300 underprivileged children in pre-school will benefit from a new programme that takes healthcare to them.

Under the programme by the Khoo Teck Puat - National University Children's Medical Institute (KTP-NUCMI) - the paediatric arm of the National University Hospital (NUH) - health and development screening for these children will be conducted at pre-schools.

This helps to identify any potential health and development issues early, said Dr Chong Shang Chee, head and senior consultant with KTP-NUCMI's Child Development Unit.

Called Health and Development Support in Pre-school Partnerships (Heads-Upp), the programme is a partnership with social service agency Care Corner Singapore and pre-schools, and aims to benefit children from families in the bottom 20 per cent in terms of household income.

A pilot study in 2017 found that such children were at greater risk of health problems compared with their peers, with the prevalence of issues such as poor sleep practices and nutrition, said Dr Chong, who is the programme lead for Heads-Upp.

"Our intention is to support them better," she said.

She added that the programme - to be launched next year - would leverage childcare teachers and social workers to help children achieve better health outcomes.

Among the issues the 2017 study found was a high incidence of tooth decay among the children, Dr Chong said, though she noted few of those identified went for follow-up appointments with dentists.

Heads-Upp aims to correct this by using teledentistry - where photographs are taken of children's teeth and sent to dentists to assess their oral health.

The aim is to see whether this would give parents a better understanding of the child's oral health status, said Dr Chong.

Pre-schools play an important role in both identifying children from vulnerable families, as well as reaching out to their parents to explain how the programme can benefit them, said Mr Vital Tan, children's services manager at Care Corner Singapore.

The launch of Heads-Upp was announced on Friday by Minister for Health Ong Ye Kung at an event marking the 60th anniversary of KTP-NUCMI, held at NUH in Kent Ridge.

Mr Ong said the programme would help inform and complement national programmes such as KidStart, where parents from low-income families are guided to support their child's development from birth.

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