Singapore is a unique country. It is the world’s only island city state, and has one of the highest population densities on the planet. Singapore is an advanced healthcare destination with well managed top level facilities. These articles present some common health issues and look at the advances Singapore is making in the treatment of some diseases.
As a result of this, the country is home to a unique group of common health issues - many of which are as a result of the geography of the country, as well as the fast-paced city lifestyle. Here, therefore, is Odyssey’s guide to the 5 most common health issues in Singapore.
Singapore itself is not actually a particularly polluted country, despite its intensely developed nature. The main issues arise from neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia, both of whom still perform ‘slash and burn’ agricultural techniques.
This outdated method releases plenty of toxins into the local atmosphere, causing smog, making the air less pure and forcing residents to breathe in these chemicals which can put them at a much higher risk of a condition such as asthma.
During the slash and burn season (normally around August and September) many residents don’t spend a lot of time outside, and those that do wear face masks to protect themselves against the, sometimes intense, smog.
Whilst many of the respiratory conditions experienced by those in Singapore are fairly minor, the country does have a relatively high rate of lung cancer. This can be linked to the slash and burn season, but is more often linked to smoking tobacco. Unlike in most other countries smoking rates in Singapore have actually risen over the last decade - especially amongst young adults. Those who smoke tobacco are at an 85% higher risk of lung Cancer and, when combined with the poor air quality, this can make for an extremely unhealthy duo.
Eyesight problems in Singapore are a big issue, especially amongst young children. Recent statistics have shown that at least 30% of Primary 1 children in the country have issues with their vision, and this number can rise as high as 60% by secondary education. Genetically those of Chinese origin are at a higher risk of Myopia (short-sightedness), and the extensive use of modern equipment like video games and mobile phones is increasing these risks further.
Whilst an easily solved issue with glasses, contact lenses or laser eye surgery, the government is doing more in the country to try and drastically lower the amount of young people experiencing issues with their vision. Encouraging children not to read with texts close to their face, or whilst lying down is important; as is encouraging other recreational activities that don’t involve looking at a screen.
Whilst lung Cancer looks as if it will be a big killer in the future in Singapore, the current most common type of Cancer is colorectal. Around 1500 people per annum are diagnosed with Cancer of the Colon, and around 10% of these diagnosis are due to genetic defects, with the rest being due to lifestyle choices such as smoking tobacco and eating fatty foods.
Singapore’s hectic way of life can lead to people picking up quick to eat convenience foods that are often high in fat and salt. This can be avoided, and there are plenty of more healthy ‘street food’ options available in the country. Focusing on ensuring that you lead a healthy diet, and don’t smoke nor drink alcohol to excess, can play a major role in avoiding the disease.
Colorectal Cancer survival rates are around 84% worldwide, and this figure can increase beyond 90% if it is detected at an early stage. Rates in Singapore have remained fairly consistent for a reasonable period of time now, and the country is playing a leading role in Cancer prevention - and in the quest to find a cure for the illness.
Type 2 Diabetes
Diabetes in Singapore is reaching an epidemic level according to some researchers, with estimates showing that more than 10% of the adult population have the condition. It is most common amongst Malays and Indians, with research linking the condition to a common gene shared by these two groups, rather than directly linking it with the diet in Singapore.
Diabetes is closely linked with obesity, and so maintaining a healthy weight and diet significantly lowers an individual's risk of the potentially life limiting condition.
Thalassaemia is an inherited blood disorder which is linked heavily with anaemia, and is the most common genetically transferred health issue in Singapore. It affects around 1 in every 20 people.
Having minor thalassaemia does not cause any symptoms and does not require any treatment, however if a male and female are both carriers of the same type of thalassaemia, they have a risk of having a baby with a severe form of thalassaemia. To try and increase awareness, and even lower the rate of illness in the country, scans are offered to couples who are planning to start a family to determine their chances of having a child with the condition.
This more severe form of the illness could lead to heart and liver issues, as well as hormone problems as a result of excess amounts of iron in the body caused by transfusions. Current treatments of the illness can see those carrying even the most severe form of the condition living into their 60s and often beyond.
Tetralogy of Fallot : Novel Treatment
In Singapore doctors have successfully treated two patients suffering from Tetralogy of Fallot without open heart surgery for the first time.
Tetralogy of Fallot is a condition that affects roughly 2 in every 1000 newborns in the country. It causes issues with the pulmonary heart valve which controls the flow of blood into the lungs. Traditionally infants born with the condition have had to undergo various open heart procedures throughout their lifetime to replace a synthetic tube which is inserted into the patient to replace the damaged valve.
The new technique sees medics insert a thin, hollow tube with the valve inside it into the patient’s vein. It is then pushed along the vein towards the heart, where a balloon is used to expand it when it reaches the correct location.
Whilst this is an improvement on open heart surgery in that it’s less invasive, risky and painful for the patient, the synthetic valve does still need replaced - although medics are hopeful that it will last slightly longer than the valve inserted during open heart surgery.
Even when it does need replaced the surgery has a quick recovery time, and the patient will have to spend far less time in hospital and being unable to complete daily tasks. This can make it an extremely attractive option to those suffering from the condition.
The procedure costs around $30,000, however thanks to Singapore’s unique way of funding this should be within the reach of most people in the country. Unlike many other locations no medical service is provided in Singapore free of charge, a nationalised health insurance scheme called ‘Medisave’ is operated and, under this, employees contribute between 8 and 10% of their salary every month to their account. The savings accumulated in this account can then be used to pay for treatment for the employee and their immediate family.
Patient care is subsidised by the government, but this subsidy is means tested depending on the wealth of the individual. The figure rises from a 50% subsidy for citizens (40% for permanent residents) to 80% (or 70% for permanent residents). Non-permanent residents need private insurance and cover, as they don’t receive any subsidy. Often this is provided by a worker’s employers.
This system should ensure that healthcare in the country is never underfunded, but also that everyone has access to services within their financial reach. Whilst evidently different to almost anywhere else in the world, it is hugely effective and, according to Bloomberg, it is the world’s most efficient healthcare system.
If a move to the healthcare sector in Singapore is something that you feel would benefit your career, register on our website for job alerts - and start your journey to the country today.
Autism: Singapore At The Forefront of Research
A cure for autism could become a reality in the near future, as research lead by Singaporean scientists discovered a unique mixture of chemicals in the brains of those with the condition.
The findings, which have been published in the highly prestigious scientific journal ‘Cell’, came as a result of over six years of research into the epigenome in the brain tissues of those with autism, compared with those without the condition.
The epigenome is a combination of chemical compounds that combine to tell the genome - the complete human DNA - how to react and behave. Researchers discovered that there were more than 5000 differences in the epigenome of those with Autism when compared with those who did not have the condition.
Whilst the vast range of chemicals discovered in the previous studies were inconsistent across those with the condition - making it difficult to pinpoint what caused autism and (as a result) what could be used to redress the chemical imbalance - the researchers were shocked at how consistent the chemical differences between the epigenomes of those with Autism were with each other.
Until it’s fully understood what causes autism it cannot be cured, but the greater understanding of the similarities between cases of autism could lead to drugs becoming available to help make the impact of the condition less severe. It also means that a full cure is currently closer than it has ever been.
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects around 1% of the world’s population. It is characterised by issues communicating or interacting socially, and can usually be spotted at a very early age where infants struggle to speak, panic when they are taken out of a routine and may experience anxiety in social situations.
Singapore has been at the forefront of medical research for many years. The country’s healthcare sector is one of the most advanced in the world, and this makes it the perfect location for any motivated and aspirational medic who wants to drive their career onto the next level.
If a move to the country is something which you think could benefit your career register on our website for job alerts, as well as all the latest news from the country’s healthcare sector.