Malays most unhealthy group

The Malay population is the unhealthiest in Singapore.

Latest statistics from the national disease registry reveal that a disproportionate number of diabetics and patients with kidney failure, heart attacks and strokes come from this group.

Although Malays account for 13.5 per cent of the population, they make up 24.4 per cent of people on dialysis. Once diagnosed with end-stage renal disease, patients need either a transplant or dialysis for the rest of their lives.

The proportion of Malays who have had kidney transplants rose from 8.5 per cent in 2003 to 10.1 per cent last year.

Malays - both men and woman - are also at significantly higher risk of suffering a stroke than people of other races. Malay men are 1.5 times more likely to suffer one compared to Chinese men for instance.

Age-standardised stroke rates for every 100,000 men last year was 296 for Malays, 199 for Indians and 184 for Chinese. For women, it was 195 for Malays, 131 for Indians and 105 for Chinese. Age-standardisation removes the influence of age distribution in each group and allows for a fair comparison.

Malays are also more likely to suffer heart attacks. Since 2010, they have surged past Indians as the ethnic group with the highest rate of heart attacks.

The report said: "The higher incidence of acute myocardial infarction among Malays is likely to be due to their higher proportions of hypertension and high cholesterol compared to the other ethnic groups."

It added that most Malays are unaware of their conditions compared to people of other races. 

The only major illness which the Malay population is not the most likely to get is cancer. This is most prominent among the Chinese.

Former storekeeper Mohamad Raihan Yaakub, 68, suffers from diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol. He rarely exercises but has cut down from one pack of cigarettes a day to one every three days.

The unemployed man started dialysis four years ago and lost his older brother to kidney failure.

He had a blocked artery and had a stent inserted more than a decade ago. His children have no major health problems, but his son has taken up smoking too.

"I tell him not to smoke, but he doesn't listen," he said.

In Singapore, smokers make up almost a quarter of heart attack and stroke sufferers.

Mr Sukandar Kastam, 49, was diagnosed with diabetes when he was only 25 years old. He has been on dialysis for the past six years.

He used to weigh 120kg but has since lost 50kg. He too is unemployed and says he has been turned down time and again for jobs because of his need for dialysis three times a week.

He admits that he does not exercise "because lazy lah". Although he lives fairly near the National Kidney Foundation's dialysis centre in Kim Keat Road, he would ride his motorbike there rather than walk.

Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob said community groups and mosques have been organising health-related activities for the Malay community, but a more concerted effort is needed.

"A lot of the pushing will have to be done at the community level and we should partner health-care providers like the hospitals and polyclinics for this effort," she said.

"Also, we should catch them young when habits are not yet formed on eating, exercising and prevention. Taking care of our health is our own responsibility."

This article was first published on Dec 21, 2014.
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