Speech by Mr Masagos Zulkifli BMM, Minister of State, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Home Affairs at the World Diabetes Day on Sunday, 14 November 2010, at the Grassroots Club Multi-Purpose Hall at 10.20 am
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is my pleasure to be here today. Around the world, the standard of healthcare has improved, leading to more people living longer lives. Unfortunately, with the ingestion of fast-food and the prevalence of sedentary jobs, people are living longer with unhealthy lifestyle choices. People are exercising less and eating less healthy food in larger quantities. The result is that the total number of people in the world with diabetes is increasing at an alarming rate – annually, estimates of 7 million people develop diabetes. It is a growing global problem, and it is important to raise the awareness of this disease. In acknowledgement of the global pandemic of diabetes, the United Nations General Assembly has designated 14 November as World Diabetes Day.
To bring the point closer to home, in Singapore, one in 12 adults between the ages of 18 – 69 has diabetes.1 The disease is the 7th leading cause of death in Singapore2. The prevalence has steadily increased by more than fourfold, from 2% in 1975 to 8.2% in 2004.
Given how widespread this health problem is, it is important that we learn to manage the disease well. Awareness and education is the first step in the management of the disease. Diabetes is a chronic disease, and if left unchecked, brings with it potential complications such as blindness, nerve damage, kidney failure, heart disease and limb amputation. There are two ways to manage the disease, going for early diagnosis and adopting a healthy lifestyle.
An early diagnosis is critical in managing the disease. Diabetes is ‘unfelt’, and one would need to go for general screening to be diagnosed. For every person known to have diabetes, another remains undiagnosed. In the local community, diabetes is most common among Indians (15%), followed by Malays (11%), then Chinese (7%). Those who are overweight, or who have a family history of the disease, should go for regular checks. Pregnant women also face the possibility of developing gestational diabetes. It is wise to consult doctors regularly for health screening, rather than go by how one feels.
The Integrated Screening Program was rolled out recently to encourage citizens to go for early diagnosis. It targets citizens aged 40 years and above and makes tests for diabetes, hypertension, breast and cervical cancer affordable. I understand there is a free health screening later. I encourage you to take the opportunity to make use of the service.
A healthy lifestyle
Adopting a healthy lifestyle is another way to manage diabetes. How does one maintain a healthy lifestyle? By eating sensibly and exercising regularly. Regular exercise brings many benefits. For instance, regular exercise will help to manage the level of glucose in the blood, as well as lower the risk of heart diseases. It also helps to manage weight, and thus avoid obesity – a condition that increases the probability of becoming diabetic. Exercise can also increase the body’s sensitivity to insulin. Coupled with eating healthily, it decreases body fat, which helps restore normal glucose metabolism. The effort put in to exercise regularly will go a long way to reducing the risk of long-term complications.
We are all familiar with the saying “Prevention is better than cure.” It is an apt reminder that for many of us that for type 2 diabetes, the disease can be prevented. Hence, I hope that parents will actively monitor their children’s eating habits and manage their children’s weight. Our schools have a variety of programmes to help our young people develop healthy habits such as maintaining an active lifestyle by participating in PE and sports and eating balanced and nutritious meals.
For some of us, diabetes is already a part of our life. For those who are concerned that the long term management of diabetes may prove to be a strain on the finances, there are measures in place to ease the pain. The Chronic Disease Management Programme for chronic diseases, which includes diabetes and hypertension, allows patients to use their Medisave for outpatient treatment. Besides that, there is also the Primary Care Partnership Scheme, which provides needy citizens with subsidised treatment from private primary care doctors partnering with the Ministry of Health.
Managing a long term disease such as diabetes takes discipline, effort, and determination. Awareness is the first step to preventing or delaying the onset of diabetes, and also the first step towards managing it better. Now that we are aware of the disease and its complications, we must make choices and decisions to manage it better. While it may be easy to continue in a sedentary lifestyle and indulging in unhealthy snacks, these are decisions that could cost us far more in the long run in terms of our health and independence. It will be prudent for us to take the harder path to reduce weight, go for regular exercise, eat right and go for regular check-ups.
In closing, I wish to commend the Diabetic Society of Singapore for serving the needs of the community through their educational programmes as well as health screening services. I encourage its members to continue in their efforts to raise public awareness of this chronic disease.