PM Lee Hsien Loong calls on global community to work together in war against diabetes

SINGAPORE – 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.

Its efforts range from stricter rules on the advertising and sale of sugary beverages to the nationwide promotion of health screening, he said. And for those already living with the disease, the country strives to optimise care and prevent complications.

“Believing that prevention is better than cure, we strongly encourage Singaporeans to adopt healthy diets and lifestyles,” Mr Lee added at the launch of the World Health Organisation’s Global Diabetes Compact on Wednesday (April 14).

The compact aims to help countries implement effective programmes to prevent and manage diabetes, which can cause severe complications and lead to death if not treated properly. Roughly 6 per cent of the world’s population has diabetes, with the total number of diabetics expected to rise beyond 500 million by 2030.

In Singapore, more than 400,000 people have diabetes, with one in three expected to develop the condition during their lifetimes. The cost burden of diabetes – including medical expenses and loss of productivity – stood at more than $940 million in 2014. This is expected to increase to $1.8 billion by 2050.

Apart from causing major health 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 the various measures Singapore has taken to reduce the prevalence of diabetes here.

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

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

In addition, 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 diabetics’ 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 also take in patients’ 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.

This article was first published in The Straits Times on 15 Apr 2021.

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