PM Lee calls for global effort to tackle diabetes

Roughly 6% of the world's population has diabetes; in S'pore, more than 400k have it

Over the past five years, Singapore's war on diabetes has been fought on many fronts, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a speech where he called on countries to work together and tackle the chronic disease that affects more than 420 million people worldwide.

The nation's efforts range from stricter rules on advertising and sale of sugary beverages to promotion of health screening, he noted.

For those afflicted with the disease, Singapore strives to optimise care and prevent complications.

"Believing that prevention is better than cure, we strongly encourage Singaporeans to adopt healthy diets and lifestyles," PM Lee added in a video speech at the launch of the World Health Organisation's Global Diabetes Compact yesterday.

Rolled out at a global diabetes summit co-hosted by the organisation and the Canadian government, the compact aims to help countries implement effective programmes to tackle diabetes, which can cause severe complications and lead to death.

Roughly 6 per cent of the world's population has diabetes, with the total number expected to rise beyond 500 million by 2030.

In Singapore, more than 400,000 people have diabetes, with one in three projected to develop the condition. The cost, including medical and productivity, was more than $940 million in 2014. This is expected to increase to $1.8 billion by 2050.

Apart from causing major problems such as heart attacks and strokes, the "invisible disease" can complicate the treatment of other diseases, including Covid-19.

In his speech, PM Lee outlined various measures Singapore has taken to reduce the prevalence of diabetes.

For instance, pre-packaged sugary drinks will have to display a nutrition label with grades, from A to D, from the end of this year. Retailers will be banned from advertising D-grade drinks.

The country also promotes regular physical activities to maintain fitness and reduce obesity, which can predispose people to develop diabetes.

The SingHealth Duke-NUS Diabetes Centre brings together a variety of specialists and allied health professionals to help diabetics better manage their conditions.

They include medical social workers as well as podiatrists who can help with foot complications.

"Let us continue to work together to share experiences in preventing and managing this disease, and make our peoples happier and healthier," PM Lee said.

The launch of the Global Diabetes Compact coincides with the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin, which helps regulate blood sugar levels. For many people with diabetes, their bodies either do not produce this hormone or become resistant to it.

Apart from government representatives, the event will include patients who will share perspectives on the lack of access to affordable diabetes care around the world. Part of the launch event will also focus on insulin and the latest research surrounding the topic.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2021, with the headline 'PM Lee calls for global effort to tackle diabetes'. Subscribe