Kidney failure rates are shooting up among Malays here, with their risk – already higher than the other races – going up by 50 per cent over the past decade.

Ten years ago, Malays had twice the risk of getting kidney failure, requiring either a transplant or dialysis, compared to Chinese, and 1.5 times compared to Indians.

Today, their risk has grown to almost triple that of Chinese and more than twice that of Indians.

The latest figures are from 2014 since it takes two years to confirm a diagnosis. They show that the age standardised rate, which takes into consideration the age at which kidney failure hits, was 643 per million people for Malays, compared to 224 for Chinese and 274 for Indians.

Dr Marjorie Foo, head of renal medicine at the Singapore General Hospital, said the high rates of kidney failure among Malays could be because more of them suffer from diabetes and high blood pressure – both risk factors – compared to the other races.

Professor A. Vathsala, a senior nephrologist at the National University Hospital, added: “We believe that late diagnosis of diabetes, perhaps a higher proportion of smokers among Malays and obesity contribute to the increased risk of kidney disease among Malays in Singapore.”

In absolute numbers for 2014, kidneys failed in 1,109 Chinese, 408 Malays and 118 Indians.

A study of 58,000 diabetic patients at the National Healthcare Group Polyclinics from 2006 to 2009 found that among the three major ethnic groups here, Malays hadthe highest incidence of diabetic kidney failure while Indians, in spite of poorer control of diabetes than the other races, fared best.

The researchers, who published their findings in the journal Nephrology, suggested this could be caused by delayed diagnosis in Malays resulting in more advanced complications, coupled with Malays having low levels of exercise and the highest incidence of smoking.

According to the National Kidney Foundation, Malays make up 30 per cent of patients undergoing dialysis at its centres.

One of them, Madam Zaiton Ahmad, 58, lost the use of her kidneys five years ago. She discovered she had diabetes and high blood pressure only when she had a stroke in 2003. Both her parents had diabetes, and one of her older brothers is also on dialysis.

Since her diagnosis, she has been on medication and has tried to eat welland exercise. But her blood sugar levels stayed high and her kidneys failed in 2012.

Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob said Malay MPs have set up programmes to address this situation.

Her constituency of Marsiling, for example, organises regular health screenings, exercise programmes and a Befrienders’ Programme to support the more needy cases.

They have also linked up with a healthcare professionals association for the Malay/Muslim community to focus on Malay-speaking residents.

“We need to focus more on the young, moulding healthy eating and lifestyle habits from young, rather than waiting until illness strikes before doing something,” she said.

Every 2 days, 9 lose use of kidneys

This could be because more are suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure, says doctor Singapore leads the world in the percentage of kidney failures caused by diabetes, according to the United States Renal Data System’s report last year.

Local data shows that up to 2000, diabetes accounted for less than half the kidney failures here. Today, two in three cases are caused by diabetes.

In 2014, 1,671 people suffered from end-stage renal disease. This means that every two days, nine people here lose the use of their kidneys.

For six of these nine people, their renal disease is caused by uncontrolled diabetes.

Among those with end-stage kidney disease, 57 received transplants and 1,150 started dialysis treatment.

There is no information on the rest, the majority of whom had probably died before they could start dialysis to clean their blood of the poisons their kidneys could no longer manage.

About one in 10 kidney failure patients die within the first year of dialysis.

The median survival is 6.8 years for those on haemodialysis and 3.8 years for those on peritoneal dialysis.

According to the US Renal Data System, Singapore is third in the world after Taiwan and Japan for the number of patients on dialysis per million people. One reason for that is the low rate of kidney transplants here.

Singapore has only one transplant patient for every 100 people on dialysis. Norway, which has the best transplant ratio, has one transplant for every five peopleon dialysis.

For every one million people, Singapore has 1,519 on dialysis while Norway has only 261.