SINGAPORE - More of Singapore's new dialysis patients are turning out to be Malays, a worrying trend that has driven the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) to take action.
It has teamed up with the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) to reach out to Malays at mosques to educate them about kidney disease.
One of their first moves is to introduce posters on the need to eat healthily.
Health talks and health screenings are also to be conducted at the mosques, which are important meeting points for the community.
In addition, the NKF hopes its newest Malay board member who joined this year, cardiologist Abdul Razakjr Omar, will help spread the message more effectively.
Kidney failure is a growing problem in Singapore, with new dialysis cases almost doubling in 13 years: 536 in 1999 to 913 in 2012.
Of these, one in six was a Malay in 1999. But by 2012, the proportion had risen to one in four.
The NKF serves about 60 per cent of all dialysis patients in Singapore. Most of the rest go to private dialysis centres.
Last year, 28 per cent of NKF patients were Malays who, however, form only 13 per cent of Singapore's population.
The Chinese, making up three-quarters of the population, formed only two-thirds of the patients.
Although more Indians are on dialysis, the proportion who are patients is still below 10 per cent.
Dr Razakjr, 43, pointed to a lack of knowledge as the prime suspect behind the worrying trend in his community.
He told The Straits Times that many Malays may not know that diabetes can lead to kidney failure. "As such, they are unwilling to affect lifestyle changes to control diabetes better."
Many also do not know that once the kidneys fail, dialysis is inevitable, he said.
Dr Razakjr believes the message can be effectively driven home at mosques because of its important role as a meeting point for the community.
Experts blame diet as a main cause of more people suffering kidney failure.
"Fast, convenient food that is high in fat, salt and sugar increases the risk of kidney failure," said Ms Chow Pek Yee, NKF's senior renal dietitian.
Malays are more likely to consume deep fried food and sweet drinks, according to the National Nutrition Survey in 2010.
Dishes cooked in coconut milk, such as rendang and nasi lemak, can increase blood pressure and eventually cause kidney failure.
Aggravating the situation is the lack of physical exercise, Ms Chow added.
NKF dialysis patient Zainal Hamzah, 55, who has diabetes, admits food is the main culprit. "We don't always take care."
He added: "Like myself last time, if I like nasi briyani, I will take it three times in one week."
His kidneys failed four years ago and now he goes for four- hour dialysis sessions thrice a week.
He was a storehand in a logistics company but can no longer work as he tires easily.
Mr Zainal believes education is key in addressing the problem.
"I tell my children not to take too many sweet things," he said. "Before, there were always two or three cans of Coke in my fridge. Not any more."
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.