Diabetes a hot issue not just in Singapore – here’s how tech and healthcare giants plan to take it on

The New Paper

Do you know anyone who suffers from diabetes? You probably do.

By now, this should come as no surprise: the number of people with diabetes has been hitting all-time highs across the globe over the years.

According to estimates by the World Health Organization, 422 million adults worldwide had diabetes in 2014, and 96 million of these cases were in Southeast Asia.

In Singapore, a concerned Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke extensively about the issue during his National Day Rally speech on Sunday.

Today, one in nine Singaporean adults have diabetes, the PM said, adding that the sobering number rises to three in 10 for citizens above the age of 60. Moreoever, these numbers are not expected to decline anytime soon.

With such statistics, many large corporations are seeing huge growth potential in the global market for self-management devices and technology.

Rumours of Apple secretly developing its own such device have been rife. According to Business Insider and CNBC, the iPhone maker could now be designing a watch blood glucose monitoring feature to its watches.

Similarly, in a bid to occupy this market space, Google’s parent company Alphabet has also started experimenting with a contact lens that can read blood sugar levels in tears.

If successful, these non-invasive products would truly be revolutionary, as the industry has largely failed at creating a glucose-monitoring device that does not need to pierce the skin or draw any blood to perform accurately.

You know it’s going to be big if even the tech giants are jumping on the bandwagon.

Meanwhile, Abbott has reported optimistic results from the 2014 European launch of its FreeStyle Libre, a one-of-a-kind flash glucose monitoring system.

The device can conduct a scan in a few seconds, even through clothes – completely eliminating the need to use the traditional finger-prick technique.

Abbot’s FreeStyle Libre
FreeStyle Libre

In a study conducted over an 18-month period, Abbott found that users actively checked their glucose levels an average of 16.3 times a day – definitely way more than they previously could with a finger-pricking device.

The health care company says its study also found that the ability to monitor glucose levels freely also resulted in a drop of average glucose levels, a reduction in hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia, and an increase in time spent in the optimal glucose range.

The fact that the sensor is small in size (35mm x 5mm), durable and water-proof also helps. But the FreeStyle Libre still requires skin insertions, and is by no means cheap at a price of S$92 for a sensor which lasts 14 days plus another S$92 for a reader that scans for results.

Such products show a clear indication of the trend towards the need for self-management devices in an evolving healthcare environment.

With demand booming, corporations big and small in both the healthcare and tech industries are looking to fill the gap in a market which has yet to resolve the issue of invasive monitoring technology.

While a clear winner remains to be seen, it’s only a matter of time before expectation becomes reality.