PM Lee calls on the world to unite in tackling diabetes

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 noted.

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 said at the launch of the World Health Organisation's Global Diabetes Compact yesterday.

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 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 during their lifetimes. The cost burden - 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, 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 activity to maintain fitness and reduce obesity, which can predispose people to develop diabetes.

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

"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.

This article first appeared in The Straits Times.