More Malays on dialysis
MORE of Singapore's new dialysis patients are turning out to be Malays, a disproportionate growth 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 an important meeting point 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 12 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, formed only 13 per cent of Singapore's population.
The Chinese, who make up three quarters of the population, formed only two thirds of the patients.
Although more Indians are on dialysis, the number is still below 10 per cent of all patients. Indians comprise 9.1 per cent of the population.
Dr Razakjr, 43, pointed to lack of knowledge as a prime suspect for the worrying trend in his community.
He said that many Malays may not know that diabetes can lead to kidney failure. "Hence, they are unwilling to effect 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 their important role as a meeting point for the community.
Experts blame diet as one of the main causes for 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 2010 National Nutrition Survey.
Dishes cooked in coconut milk such as rendang and nasi lemak, for instance, 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 said.
He added that previously if he liked nasi briyani he would eat it three times a 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 that education is key to heading off the problem.
"I tell my children not to eat too many sweet things," he said. "Before, there were always two or three cans of Coke in my fridge. Not any more."