Prof Wong Tien Yin, Congress President

Prof Dennis Lam, President, Asia-Pacific Academy of Ophthalmology (APAO)

Distinguished guests

Colleagues and friends

A very good afternoon to everyone.

2 First, let me extend a warm welcome to all of you to the opening ceremony of the 32nd Asia-Pacific Academy of Ophthalmology (APAO) Congress. Especially for those who have come from overseas, I wish you will have an enjoyable stay in Singapore and while you are here, I'm sure you will have opportunities to meet old friends and make new ones, refresh your old network and establish new ones. At the same time, it is also important for you to walk around Singapore, enjoying the sights and sounds of our unique multicultural society. I am sure you will also enjoy the wide variety of food in Singapore, but make sure to stay healthy.

Importance of eye care

3 Vision and eye related disorders such as cataract, myopia, and glaucoma are significant concerns to us. The Singapore Burden of Disease (SBoD) Study 2010 reported vision-related disorders were the second highest cause of disability burden in Singapore, and the fourth highest cause of disease burden.

4 Early recognition and treatment of eye conditions are an important part of eye care as these measures can prevent visual impairment and blindness.

Myopia and preventive eye care

5 The prevalence of myopia in Singapore is among the highest in the world. As part of our efforts to combat myopia, the National Myopia Prevention Programme was launched in 2001. The programme aims to prevent and reduce myopia progression and delay its onset through public education and vision screening.

6 Extensive studies over the last decade have shown that time spent outdoors decreases the risk of myopia, with a 2 percent less risk of myopia for every hour spent outdoors each week. Increasing outdoor time for young children will provide immeasurable benefits especially in urban Singapore, with our indoor-centric lifestyles.

7 Research into myopia prevention with atropine eye drops shows promise, with up to a 77 percent reduction in myopia progression. This discovery will improve treatment of myopia in the future, and reduce the socio-economic burden of the disease - one drop at a time.

Importance of Research and Innovation for better clinical evidence and improved patient care

8 Ophthalmology-related Research and Innovation is therefore important to advance health and wellness. It is crucial that we continue to do research to enhance our understanding of eye disease. As part of these efforts, Santen Pharmaceutical of Osaka, Japan and the Singapore Eye Research Institute (SERI) will be launching a strategic, five-year collaboration to develop new therapeutics, diagnostics and medical devices in ophthalmology, with a special focus on diseases prevalent in Asia.

9 A joint lab will be set up with the aid of funding under the Research Innovation Enterprise 2020 plan. This will allow local and Japanese research scientists to work synergistically to find solutions that benefit patients in Singapore, Asia and beyond.

Importance of embracing ambulatory care models

10 Looking ahead, the disease burden of ophthalmologic conditions is expected to increase as the populations age, particularly in Singapore. Patient attendances at our ophthalmology specialist outpatient clinics have increased steadily year-on-year. We now see nearly half a million eye patients every year. One local study projects a one-and-a-half time increase in the burden of eye care services by 2030.

11 We must prepare ourselves for the challenges of healthcare delivery that lie ahead of us and move toward more sustainable healthcare programmes. With increasing incidences of ageing-related eye conditions, ambulatory care models and screening programmes will be important in ensuring that we maintain accessible eye care for Singaporeans.

12 The innovative use of technology is one critical way forward. For instance, smartphones have been used in rural Kenya to bring affordable eye care to outlying areas, and to overcome challenges such as a lack of electricity, expertise and equipment. The Portable Eye Examination Kit (PEEK), utilises a low-cost lens adapter and smartphone to acquire retinal imaging and perform vision screening. It leverages tele-ophthalmology to allow experts to grade images remotely, bringing greater convenience to patients and professionals.

13 Local healthcare institutions have made efforts to bring patient care closer to the community, such as the opening of Primary Eye Care (PEC) clinics by the Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC) and National Healthcare Group Eye Institute (NHGEI). These clinics provide convenient step-down care for patients with stable, chronic eye conditions that require long-term follow-up, and help to reduce the load on our hospitals.

Improving public education on eye care

14 Raising community awareness is another important factor in improving overall eye care. With an aging population, eye diseases such as cataracts, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy will become more common. As the elderly are more likely to have multiple co-morbid conditions, an effective approach is to link up with community care providers.

15 As an example, diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes mellitus that can be identified through screening. The Singapore Integrated Diabetic Retinopathy Programme (SiDRP) is run by the polyclinics, SERI, and the NHGEI. It has provided eye screening to diabetic patients at polyclinics since 2010. Through the use of tele-ophthalmology, results are generated promptly, with most reports sent back within an hour.

16 This helps to raise awareness of eye conditions, and improves the accessibility of eye care in the community.

Conclusion

17 We must continue to strive for advances in the treatment of eye diseases, and to encourage innovative research to improve the way we care for our patients.

18 I would like to thank you all for being here today. Your participation will undoubtedly contribute to advances in ophthalmology and move us further along the road toward better care for all.

19 On that note, I wish you all a successful congress.

Thank you.

Source: Ministry of Health, Singapore