Saturday, March 31, 2012

At 20, she's only 20kg

This 20-year-old Russian girl has been making waves in the online world.

Kseniya Bubenko is perilously skinny.

She is 1.58m and weighs just 20kg, a curious mixture of skin and bones.

Photos of her recently emerged on online after she appeared on a Russian talk show, shocking netizens with her tiny frame. Her pictures have also gone viral on Facebook.

She has reportedly named her own diet "pobeda" ("victory" in Russian) and her images have appeared in many publications worldwide.

Reactions are flying in thick and fast from netizens all over the world, with many criticising the fashion world for abetting eating disorders by glamorising extreme thinness.

On Singapore's own citizen journalism website Stomp, the reactions range from disgust to admiration.

"She's beautiful..." Stomper localblood gushes while PasserBySaysBye thinks otherwise. "Her face is pretty.. but her body is not," he says.

For those who decry the notion that ultra-skinny is sexy, change is coming.

Last week, Israel became the first country to ban underweight models from catwalks and commercials.

The move is the first attempt by a government to use legislation to take on the skinny trend.

The law could become a model for other countries grappling with the spread of anorexia and bulimia, particularly among young women.

The anti-skinny law will not apply to foreign publications sold in Israel.

But otherwise, models must produce a medical report, dating back no more than three months, at every shoot that will be used in the Israeli market.

They must state that they are not malnourished by World Health Organisation standards.

The UN agency uses the body mass index - calculated by dividing weight by height - to determine malnutrition.

Any advert published for the Israeli market must also have a clearly written notice disclosing if the model used was digitally altered to make her, or him, look thinner.

Understanding a anorexia

Also known as Golden Girl Syndrome, anorexia nervosa is characterised by voluntary maintenance of unhealthy low weight (less than 85 per cent of expected), cessation of menstrual periods for at least three cycles (amenorrhoea), and an intense fear of weight gain or becoming fat.

Those who have anorexia are very concerned about their weight and they keep it as low as possible by strictly controlling what they eat. They may also exercise very vigorously to lose weight.

The onset of anorexia is often innocuous with mild attempts at dieting initially. These frequently get of hand rapidly.

There is no single cause for anorexia nervosa - rather, it is the result of a combination of emotional, social and biological factors. However, most studies suggest that it is 10 to 20 times more common in females than in males.

Although the condition is the leading cause of death for mental health cases, with a 10 to 15 per cent risk of premature death, the disorder often causes the sufferer to become severely disabled, but stops short of killing him or her.

The disorder is alarmingly common amongst girls in Singapore, and the number of cases seems to be on the rise.

Between 1994 and 2002, there were a total of 126 cases recorded by the Child Guidance Clinic and the Eating Disorder Clinic at the Institute of Mental Health. In recent years, the number of anorexia cases has increased, with Singapore General Hospital (SGH) seeing an average of 120 new cases a year.

The cause of anorexia is not known. But it is believed that anorexics have certain personality characteristics which increase their likelihood of developing the condition.

Most anorexics have certain personality traits like difficulty handling stress, a tendency to anxiety and depression, obsessive-compulsive feelings and perfectionism.

What are you risking, besides your life?

Circulation may be impaired due to slow or irregular heart beats and the blood pressure may be low, either of which can lead to dizziness. There may be swelling of the face, hands and feet, and fatigue associated with altered sleep patterns.

Untreated anorexia results in severe complications, which includes:
>> Thinning of the bones;
>> Electrolyte imbalance;
>> Low blood sugar levels;
>> Heart failure;
>> Kidney failure;
>> Liver damage,
>> and anaemia.

Low levels of nutrition can also lead to a host of problems, such as:
>> Low potassium levels can lead to dehydration, fatigue, kidney damage, irregular heartbeats and fits.
>> Low sodium levels can lead to confusion and, if severe, fits.
>> Low calcium levels can lead to painful and tight muscle contractions.
>> Low calcium and vitamin D levels can lead to bone damage.

There may be dental decay due to the stomach's acid acting on the teeth, caused by frequent vomiting.

Anorexic children have impaired growth and delayed puberty. Adolescent and young females may cease having periods and/or have infertility.

Anorexia in pregnancy increases the risks of miscarriage, premature birth and baby of low birth weight.

For men, there may be loss of libido and impotency in men.

Anorexia can lead to bulimia nervosa, in which there is binge eating followed by immediate attempts at vomiting and/or laxative use to get rid of the food consumed.

Serious complications secondary to bingeing are rare but can be catastrophic when they occur, eg rupture of the oesophagus or stomach.

Warning signs to look out for

How do you tell if your friend or family member has an eating disorder? Look for these 20 behaviours, signs and symptoms:
1. Extreme preoccupation with food
2. Distorted perception of their body
3. Emotional state tied to eating habits
4. Self loathing comments
5. Becoming very secretive about food
6. Moodiness, shakiness, irritability
7. Obsessive rituals (such as eating only certain food at certain foods)
8. Social withdrawal
9. Avoidance of social situations that include food
10. Loss of menstrual period
11. Development of fuzzy hair on the body
12. Exercises in an extreme manner
13. Excessive calorie counting
14. Dramatic weight loss unrelated to illness
15. Gets very cold easily
16. Dry and brittle hair
17. Hoarding and hiding food
18. Blisters on knuckles and fingers from sticking fingers down their throats
19. Frequent and secretive trips to the bathroom after meals
20. Consumes large amounts of food when experiencing stressful or unhappy emotions
21. Eats secretively or is ashamed of the amount consumed

Where to get help

Singapore General Hospital Eating Disorders Programme (Tel: 6321 4377)

Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) Eating Disorders Helpline: 1800-774-5935

Singapore Association of Mental Health (Support for Eating Disorders Singapore SEDS) Helpline: 1800 283 7019

Friday, March 30, 2012

Construction worker can't double as driver: Insurer

NTUC Income won't cover vehicle accident if driver is a foreign construction worker

Construction firms here which have been bending the rules by getting construction workers to double as drivers are in for a rude shock.

Leading local insurer NTUC Income has announced that it will not cover motor vehicle accidents if the driver is a foreign construction worker whose job scope does not include driving.

The move could add to business costs.

Income's move effectively reflects the official position of the authorities: that foreign construction workers who are not designated to be drivers should not drive in the course of their employment.

'In such a tight labour market, it makes more sense to allow workers to be able to multi-task if they have additional skills that could increase the productivity of the company.'

Association of Small and Medium Enterprises president Chan Chong Beng, who said Income's stance could hit small firms as many use foreign construction workers to double as drivers

Electricity tariffs to go up 4.3%

SINGAPORE: Electricity tariffs will increase by 4.3 per cent for the next three months beginning this Sunday.

SP Services said this is due to higher fuel prices, which have resulted in higher power generation costs.

Average fuel oil price over January, February and March was up 7.3 per cent, increasing from S$127.07 to S$136.37 per barrel.

The hike in fuel oil prices saw a corresponding increase in the price of natural gas which is used for power generation in Singapore.

SP Services said the higher electricity tariffs will see average monthly electricity bills for those living in four-room HDB flats to go up by S$4.18.

4-year-old's hand torn after being pushed down MRT escalator

SINGAPORE - A four-year-old boy was pushed down the escalator at Ang Mo Kio MRT station, causing his left hand to get caught in the escalator and badly injuring it.

The news first broke when Ms Visa Lee, who put up a Facebook post showing a photograph of the boy's hand torn and bloody, called for help sharing the picture to locate witnesses for the accident.

According to reports, Lucas Xie was with his brother and maid going down the escalator when he was shoved from behind.

He lost his footing and landed on his left hand, which subsequently got caught when the steps of the escalator went beneath the floor, The Straits Times reported.

He screamed for help while his hand was stuck for more than 10 minutes, his maid, 29-year-old Tukinem Kasdu said.

The incident happened on Wednesday afternoon at around 4pm. The boy's hand was freed at around 4.20pm. said an SMRT spokesperson.

According to the original Facebook message, the boy - identified as Lee's nephew - required 18 stitches on his left hand, which had a deep gash along his middle finger and another on his index finger. Both fingers were bruised and swollen.

According to ST, the escalator was stopped when a passenger pressed the emergency stop button on the escalator. Another passenger went to alert the station staff.

He was sent to KK Women's & Children's Hospital, which revealed that the accident had also caused a hairline fracture in his middle finger and damaged his blood vessels.

Lee requested her Facebook followers to share the photo so that "witnesses can step forward" to contact them.

"I do not earn anything if you are willing to share. I am hereby begging your help to arrest that horrible person who did this to my little nephew," she said.

She added that the boy is left handed, and the family is worried if he will be able to use his left hand again.

The doctor has said Lucas may lose some mobility in his left hand.

"Imagine the amount of pain inflicted on him, his parents and us," she said.

The family's maid said that a witness to the incident had told her that a man in light blue jeans, red top and a cap had pushed pass Lucas.

The post has since gone viral, and has been posted up on several forums.

Some netizens have suggested that the family of the boy request SMRT to release the surveillance cameras facing the escalators.

Others have questioned the authenticity of the post, and some have even posted comments criticizing the guardian of the child of negligence.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Multi-nation study into sudden death to gather data across Asia

Doctor scientists here are leading a large-scale international study to determine the incidence of sudden death in Asians with heart failure.

The five-year study will be focusing specifically on 5,000 patients, aged 18 and above, across Asia Pacific.

The first study of its kind, it will gather and analyse data from 10 countries across Asia to better understand sudden cardiac death.

In Singapore, heart failure admission among the elderly rose by more than 40 per cent over the last 10 years, making it the most common cause of hospitalisation.

Slower growth in new credit card accounts

0.26% increase seen last year but existing card holders spending more

The growth in new credit card accounts slowed last year, but existing consumers have been spending more.

Last year, 606,844 existing and first-time credit card holders obtained one or more new credit cards, up from 605,248 in 2010, according to the Credit Bureau of Singapore on Thursday.

This is a 0.26 per cent increase, but a sharp slowdown from the 7.32 per cent increase in 2010.

The fall stemmed from a 0.41 per cent drop in the number of existing credit card holders who obtained new credit cards.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Supervised therapy helps stroke patients recover faster

Exercising at home not good enough: Study

Two in three stroke patients drop out of therapy after they leave the hospital, but a study has shown that supervised sessions can pave the way to faster recovery.

The study revealed that patients who performed exercises only at home lagged behind those who also did so under the watch of a therapist in the year following discharge from hospital.

Associate Professor Gerald Koh said the study underlines the vital role therapists play in stroke rehabilitation.

'Often, patients think that doing exercises at home is enough, but the key thing is to go back to the therapist for reviews,' said Prof Koh, who is from the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at National University of Singapore.

CPF 'meets retirement needs of majority': CEO

If it tried to cater to high income earners, that would cause problems for others

The CPF scheme would run into problems if it sought to provide for the full retirement needs of everyone, rich or poor, the man in charge of running it has said.

As it now stands, the Central Provident Fund scheme 'fully meets the retirement needs of the people who are below middle income', the fund's chief executive, Mr Yee Ping Yi, said in an interview with The Straits Times.

That means the bottom 40 per cent of wage earners.

It also 'substantially meets' the needs of middle-income earners, which means its retirement coverage extends to about 60 per cent of wage earners.

'If you want to design something to literally meet all the needs of all workers of all income groups, you'll need a much higher Minimum Sum, higher income ceiling, then probably fewer people at age 55 can withdraw anything.'

CPF Board chief executive Yee Ping Yi
On CPF returns, inflation, CPF Life

  • Can CPF returns beat inflation to help members save for retirement?
    CPF interest rates have done relatively well. From 2001 to 2010, the nominal return on CPF cash balances for Special, Medisave and Retirement Account balances was 4.1 per cent, while the average inflation rate was only 1.6 per cent.

    A large proportion of CPF savings of Singaporeans is also invested in housing, which is a hedge against inflation. A typical 55-year old earner would have experienced a total rate of return of 4 to 6 per cent in real terms every year on average, taking into account CPF savings spent on his house. He can also monetise his house to enhance his retirement income, such as renting out a room.

  • CPF Life seems to offer lower payouts than the Minimum Sum Scheme (MSS), especially for females who are expected to live longer. How useful is CPF Life, then?
    When the MSS was introduced 25 years ago, not many people were expected to live past 85.
    Today, Singapore has overtaken many developed countries in terms of longevity, including the UK, where males and females who turn 55 in 2013 are expected to live to 86 and 89 respectively, which means that about half of them live even longer. So Singaporeans turning 55 in 2013 can generally expect to outlive their Minimum Sum payouts.

    It is important to compare how much the member receives over his or her lifetime when comparing payouts of the MSS, which last about 20 years, with CPF Life, where payouts are for life. As with any annuity product, members who live longer will benefit more from CPF Life, and those with shorter lives will only get a little less than under the MSS.

    A female member with a balance of $90,000 who outlives two-thirds of the other females of her cohort will receive at least 30 per cent more in total under the Standard Plan, compared to what she would receive under the MSS.

    A female member who just outlives one-third of her cohort would receive about 7 per cent less under the Standard Plan, compared with the MSS.

    Facebook to make stock market debut in May

    SAN FRANCISCO: Facebook will make its stock market debut in May with a record-setting initial public offering of shares, according to a report Wednesday in the Wall Street Journal.

    The world's leading online social network has stopped selling shares on the secondary market in order to get a precise count of investors, the Journal said, citing unnamed sources.

    Facebook on Tuesday modified its filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission to warn potential investors that a patent lawsuit against the company by Internet pioneer Yahoo! could deliver a significant blow to its business.

    "If an unfavorable outcome were to occur in this litigation, the impact could be material to our business, financial condition, or results of operations," Facebook said in amended paperwork submitted to the SEC.

    Yahoo! filed suit against Facebook in a US district court in California on March 12, accusing the company of infringing on 10 of its patents in several areas including advertising, privacy and messaging.

    In the suit, Yahoo! said that Facebook's growth "has been based in large part on Facebook's use of Yahoo!'s patented technology."

    Facebook in February filed to go public and could raise as much as $10 billion in the largest flotation ever by an Internet company on Wall Street.

    The paperwork filed for the initial public offering provided the first glimpse of the financial details of the web giant launched eight years ago by Mark Zuckerberg from his Harvard University dorm room.

    Facebook, which is shifting operations to a former Sun Microsystems campus in the California city of Menlo Park, reported net income of $668 million last year.

    Revenue nearly doubled to $3.7 billion in 2011, with most of it coming from targeted advertising gleaned from personal information shared by the hundreds of millions of users of the platform.

    Facebook -- the leading social network in all but six countries, notably China and Russia -- said it has more than 845 million users including 483 million who log in daily.

    Facebook's value has been estimated at between $75 billion and $100 billion.

    New governance award for charities

    SINGAPORE - Donors to charitable causes will get an additional sense of security with the launch of the Charity Governance Award.

    The award - the first of its kind here - aims to recognise charities that have obtained the highest standards of governance and implemented best practices to ensure organisational effectiveness.

    Award winners will be presented with a trophy, a certificate and a cash award to help further their charitable cause.

    Nominations will open next month, and charities will be shortlisted only if they comply fully with the governance evaluation checklist under the Code of Governance, a set of guidelines issued by the Charity Council in 2007.

    Charity Council chairman Fang Ai Lian said charities will then go through a validation process to inspect supporting evidence.

    More details, such as whether the award will have different categories, will be released later. The council hopes to announce the winners in the fourth quarter of this year.

    Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Chan Chun Sing launched the award at the 7th Charity Council Governance Seminar yesterday.

    He said: "To inspire confidence and encourage the giving of time, talent and money, we must have high standards of governance and organisation."

    Mrs Fang said there is increasing emphasis on greater transparency, and charities are expected to maintain a high level of accountability.

    The award will help to "promote self-regulation, greater public confidence and greater awareness in terms of progress and improvements of charities", she added.

    Woman burned by liquid on seat of MRT train

    A 27-year-old Malaysian woman sustained a burn wound on her buttocks after she sat on a wet seat on board an MRT train last Saturday.

    The unknown liquid on the seat left her with a 7cm wound, reported Chinese evening newspaper Lianhe Wanbao yesterday.

    The report said that the woman, known only as Ms Law, boarded the northbound train at Raffles Place Station.

    Ms Law, who works as a hairdresser in Tiong Bahru, had been on her way home to Yishun at the time.

    She said she spotted an empty seat and proceeded to sit on it, but switched seats immediately after she felt a wet spot on her pants.

    Less than a minute later, Ms Law felt a burning sensation on her buttocks, which quickly intensified and became a searing pain.

    She alighted at Dhoby Ghaut Station to check and found a burn wound, about the size of her palm, on her right buttock.

    She was so shocked by what she saw that she started crying.

    She approached an SMRT staff member for help and was rushed to the Singapore General Hospital for treatment.

    Ms Law was given 10 days of medical leave and is scheduled to go for a check-up on Monday, said Lianhe Wanbao.

    “We are sorry about Ms Law’s experience. We have been calling her since the incident to make sure she is fine, and to find out how this might have happened,” said an SMRT spokesman.

    The case has been reported to the police and investigations are ongoing.

    Monday, March 26, 2012

    Chocolate lovers tend to weigh less: Study

    People who ate chocolate a few times a week or more weighed less than those who rarely indulged, according to a US study involving a thousand people.

    Researchers said the findings, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, don't prove that adding a candy bar to your daily diet will help you shed pounds. Nor did the total amount of chocolate consumed have an impact.

    But the researchers, led by Beatrice Golomb, from the University of California San Diego, said it was possible that antioxidants in chocolate could be behind health benefits including lower blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as decreased body weight.

    "People have just assumed that because it comes with calories and it's typically eaten as a sweet, therefore it would inherently have been one way, bad," said Golomb.

    She and her colleagues used data from a study on cholesterol-lowering drugs that surveyed 1,000 healthy adults on typical eating habits, including how often they ate chocolate.

    The participants, who ranged from 20 to 85 years old, ate chocolate an average of twice per week and had an average body mass index, or BMI, of 28, which is considered overweight but not obese.

    The researchers found that people who ate chocolate with greater frequency tended to eat more calories overall, including more saturated fat, than those who went light on the candy. But even so, chocolate lovers tended to have a lower body weight.

    That was still the case after researchers accounted for age and gender, as well as how much they exercised.

    The effect worked out to a 2.3 to 3.2 kg (5 to 7 lb)difference between people who ate five servings of chocolate a week compared to those who didn't eat any, Golomb said.

    However, it was only how often they ate chocolate, rather than the total amount, that was linked to their weight.

    Past studies have tied chocolate to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and better insulin sensitivity, possibly because of antioxidants or other chemicals in cocoa.

    There are a number of possible explanations for the results, said Eric Ding, a nutritionist at the Harvard Medical School who was not involved in the study.

    One is that poorer people stick to the basics when they're buying food and don't eat as much chocolate. Poverty has been tied to higher body weight.

    Another possibility is that "people who lost weight reward themselves with chocolate, more than chocolate causing the weight loss," he told Reuters Health.

    Because the new study is relatively small and couldn't prove cause-and-effect, it's hard to take any lessons from the findings, Ding said. But the key for chocolate lovers seems to be considering calories and knowing that not all chocolate is created equal.

    For example, past evidence suggests that antioxidants in chocolate called flavonoids are behind any benefits tied to chocolate - and dark chocolate has the most flavonoids.

    "If you consume chocolate, consume it in place of something else, rather than adding to your net daily calories. Try to consume dark chocolate," he said.

    The researchers agreed that moderation is important. "This certainly does not provide support for eating large amounts of chocolate," Golomb said. "For those of us who do eat a little bit of chocolate regularly, perhaps any guilt associated with that might be qualified."

    Higher GST relief for S'poreans returning from overseas

    SINGAPORE: From April 1, Singaporeans returning from overseas and tourists can enjoy more Goods and Services Tax (GST) relief. Those who spend more than 48 hours abroad will be able to enjoy GST relief of up to S$600 - double the current amount of S$300.

    The Singapore Customs said the amount has been revised upwards to keep pace with rising expenditures, and brings the relief amounts closer to international norms.

    Those who are away from Singapore for less than 48 hours can get GST relief for goods valued up to S$150.

    Customs will also do away with the age criterion for GST relief claims. Currently, the GST relief depends on the traveller's age, in addition to the time he spends outside Singapore.

    Those below 18 years old currently claim a lower amount for GST relief.

    The new GST relief will apply to all travellers, including children, with the exception of pass/permit holders and crew members.

    All goods brought into Singapore for local use or consumption are subject to GST of seven per cent.

    To minimise inconvenience to travellers bringing a small amount of goods into Singapore for personal use, they are granted GST relief based on the value of goods they bring in. Such goods include new articles, souvenirs, gifts or food items.

    The GST relief does not apply to liquor, tobacco products, petroleum and goods imported for commercial purposes.

    Get smart on property financing

    JUST mention "property financing" and some people start to get a headache, especially those who do not like to look at or crunch numbers.

    Fret not, we share with you some tips in this article that will help you get savvy on property financing, including the latest rules and finer details.

    Property cooling measures - how do they affect your housing loan?

    If you have an existing housing loan, for the next property you purchase, you can get a maximum of only 60 per cent financing, which means you will need to come up with at least 40 per cent of the purchase price yourself including at least 10 per cent cash.

    If you have an existing property which uses Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings, when you purchase a second property and wish to use your CPF, you need to set aside the CPF Minimum Sum Cash Component, which currently stands at $65,500. This CPF Minimum Sum Cash Component is made up of balances in your CPF Ordinary Account and CPF Special Account.

    Here's an example.

    If you have $50,000 in your CPF Ordinary Account and $30,000 in your CPF Special Account totalling $80,000, how much CPF savings can you use to purchase your second property? You need to deduct the CPF Minimum Sum Cash Component (currently at $65,500 and revised upwards annually on July 1 of each year). In this example, the maximum CPF savings you can use for the purchase of your second property is $14,500, not the full $50,000 balance in your CPF Ordinary Account.

    However, if you have an existing property which is fully paid up, you can still get the maximum 80 per cent financing on your next property purchase. This is regardless of how many properties you currently own, as the maximum 60 per cent financing applies only to people with at least one existing property loan.

    Thus, some clients with a very low housing loan outstanding on their existing home will choose to pay off the existing loan in order to qualify for the 80 per cent financing for their next property purchase.

    If you are looking at property as an investment and are in no hurry to invest, do not rush to pay off your existing property loan because there is a possibility that this maximum 60 per cent financing rule might be abolished when the property market turns sluggish. If history serves as any guide, in May 1996, a slew of property cooling measures were announced, but these were removed when the property market corrected significantly a few years later.

    Taking housing loans on home purchase vs property investment: any difference?

    If you ask most people, they will probably tell you that they want to borrow as little money as possible for property purchase, and if they can afford it, they will pay off their housing loan as soon as possible. Is there a difference in taking housing loan on home purchase vs property investment?

    For a home purchase, I would suggest taking the maximum financing approved by the bank, which is currently 80 per cent for the first property purchase, even if you can afford to borrow less. Why?

    Because to me, I see a housing loan instalment as a form of "rental replacement", because if you decide not to buy a property for own use, you would have to pay rent. So taking a lower loan, in a way, is similar to paying rent in advance, which does not make sense.

    Furthermore, a housing loan is the cheapest loan you can ever get; currently the interest rates are about 1.2 per cent - less than half of the 2.5 per cent that CPF pays you.

    So for a home purchase, it is okay to take the maximum 80 per cent financing and as for the loan period, this should tie in with your intended retirement age. If you intend to retire at age 60, then the loan should be fully paid off by age 60 and not 70, for example.

    You should also only buy a home that you can comfortably afford by making sure that your housing loan instalment does not exceed 35 per cent of your gross income. For a home purchase, you can consider using two thirds of your CPF Ordinary Account contribution and top up in cash payment any excess amount.

    Why not use up all of your CPF Ordinary Account contribution? The reason is we must remember that the primary objective of our CPF is to build a retirement nest egg and thus, we should try not to use up all of our CPF Ordinary Account savings for property financing.

    For property investment, even prior to the current loan-to-value limits taking effect and when you could take 80 per cent financing, for prudence's sake, you might want to limit maximum financing to 70 per cent of the property price.

    By doing so, even if property prices fall, you minimise the risk that the bank would ask you to top up money. For instance, if you take 80 per cent financing and if property prices fall by 30 per cent, the bank might ask you to top up 10 per cent. However, if you take 70 per cent loan, this is unlikely to happen.

    Should you apply for a loan for a property that will receive Temporary Occupation Permit (TOP) three years from now? 

    If you buy a property under construction, you can choose to apply for a housing loan later rather than at the point of purchase.

    However, you should consider applying for a loan now because firstly, property prices can move up or down and banks would only grant financing based on latest valuation figures.

    In the event that property prices fall when the property is completed and the valuation falls, you might fail to get the quantum of financing you need.

    Furthermore, there might also be changes to your income and financial situation, which might affect loan approval.

    Thus, it is advisable for you to apply for a housing loan at the point of property purchase rather than to wait.

    Would interest rates remain low for housing loans?

    Singapore Interbank Offered Rate (Sibor) is the average market interest rate banks pay when they borrow from or lend to one another in the interbank market.

    The three-month Sibor is used by banks as a gauge of interest rate trends. Thus, If you want to know the trend of interest rates on housing loans, you should keep a close watch on the movement of the three-month Sibor.
    Currently, the three-month Sibor is at about 0.39 per cent and may remain low for the next six to 12 months if US interest rates stay low.

    However, interest rates do not stay at low levels forever.

    Thus, if you are worried about the possibility of interest rates moving up in 2013 and beyond, you might want to choose a housing loan package with fixed interest rates for the next three years, or a Sibor-pegged package that has a "cap" on interest rates for the next few years.

    If you plan to sell your property within the next two to three years, then you might want to consider home loan packages with a shorter penalty period or with zero penalty period instead.

    There are frequent changes to packages offered by banks and at any one time, there might be over 113 different packages offered by 16 major financial institutions in Singapore.

    Thus, you may wish to consider engaging the services of an independent mortgage broker who can provide you with unbiased analysis and comparison of all home loan packages from all banks.

    Typically, the service is provided to you free as banks would pay them a fee separately.

    Contact us here to have your housing loan needs addressed now.

    Friday, March 23, 2012

    Dolphin therapy for terminally ill at Sentosa's Underwater World

    Hospice patients have fun day out at Sentosa's Underwater World

    Most of the patients have been diagnosed by doctors as having only a year to live, so staff and volunteers at HCA Hospice Care often take them out on excursions.

    On Wednesday, more than 30 patients spent the morning and a good half of the afternoon at Underwater World Singapore in Sentosa.

    Among them was ovarian cancer patient Chong Ah Chiew, 74, who, with pants rolled above her knees, got to wade into the Dolphin Lagoon to meet pink dolphin Han.

    'I was told she has a temper, but she was gentle and friendly with me. She did not even baulk when I went near,' said Madam Chong, grinning happily from the experience.

    Singapore's inflation rate eases to 4.6% in February

    SINGAPORE: Singapore's inflation rate eased to 4.6 per cent on-year in February 2012, from 4.8 per cent the previous month.

    The rise in the consumer price index is well below the 4.9 per cent predicted by economists.

    Data from the Department of Statistics (DOS) showed food inflation moderated to 2.6 per cent in February, from 3.8 per cent January.

    The Monetary Authority of Singapore attributed the lower food inflation rate to a seasonal decline in non-cooked food prices following the Lunar New Year in January.

    Compared to January, overall consumer prices fell 0.3 per cent in February, including a 1.4 per cent slide in transport costs.

    The MAS' measure of core inflation, which excludes accommodation and private road transport, eased to 3.0 per cent in February compared to a year earlier, down from 3.5 per cent in January.

    However, analysts said the slower rise in prices might be short-lived. Economists at Credit Suisse said the government might even need to raise its annual inflation forecast later this year.

    In a statement, the MAS said "inflationary pressures since late last year have been more persistent than expected."

    "Both CPI-all items inflation and MAS core inflation will remain elevated over the next few months, at around 5 per cent and 3 per cent year-on-year, respectively, before moderating gradually," it said.

    The DOS figures showed housing costs continued to gallop higher in February, rising 9.5 per cent from a year earlier.

    While the consumer price index eased overall, economists warn of higher inflation ahead - as the impact of tighter rules for employing foreign workers takes effect.

    Leong Wai Ho, Senior Regional Economist with Barclays Capital, said: "This reducing of the dependence on blue collar employment will actually push up wages and this will be felt more acutely in the services industries. A wide spectrum of services industries - retail, transport, logistics and wholesaling - all these will be impacted.

    "This structural cost adjustment will be the key theme for the inflation outlook this year and probably next year as well, as the economy absorbs the impact of higher labour costs. We will expect services costs to be significantly impacted by this pass through of higher wage cost."

    Adding to the pressure is the persistent rise in oil prices.

    Alvin Liew, Senior Economist with UOB, said: "Singapore, being so dependent on oil and natural resources, including energy imports, there will be some impact... The manufacturing sector will be hit with higher energy bills, you will see transport costs being more expensive - petrol being the key component in private road costs."

    E Shailaja Nair, Senior Managing Editor of the Asia Central Editing Desk at Platts, added: "And also the trading, remember Singapore is also a trading hub. So that way, yes it will have an impact on that too."

    Economists said the central bank may revise upwards its inflation forecast for the year, which currently stands at 2.5 to 3.5 per cent.

    Even so, the MAS, which uses the exchange rate as a tool to control inflation, is not expected to alter its policy of a modest and gradual appreciation of the Singapore dollar, when it next meets in April.

    Mr Liew said: "On a month-on-month basis, inflation will likely to be on the uptrend, and on a year-on-year basis, we may still see it hovering around the 4.5 to 4.8 per cent in the next months.

    "Then in the second half of the year, hopefully if things get settled down more peacefully, prices will start to ease and the base effect would bring the headline numbers to below four per cent towards the end of the year."

    Singapore expects up to 10% rise in 2012 visitor arrivals

    SINGAPORE : Singapore hopes to attract up to 10 per cent more visitors this year.

    The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) has projected visitor arrivals to be between 13.5 and 14.5 million this year, an increase of up to 10 per cent from 2011.

    The growth will be slower than the 13.8 per cent pace achieved in 2011.

    STB also projected tourism receipts to reach S$23 billion to S$24 billion this year, an increase of up to 8 per cent from last year.

    Second Minister for Trade and Industry S Iswaran revealed the figures at the annual Tourism Industry Conference on Friday.

    It was held at the MAX Atria @ Singapore Expo and attended by more than 800 industry partners.

    Singapore's tourism industry has done well in the past two years, but STB wants to focus on growing Singapore's share of the tourism pie by increasing the amount of money visitors spend while in Singapore.

    From a low of S$12.6 billion in 2009, tourism receipts have more than doubled to S$22.2 billion in 2011.

    The government will pump S$640 million to seed new tourism projects over five years.

    Three new areas of growth have also been identified.

    One area is to build up the cruise tourism, starting with the opening of the new International Cruise Terminal later this year.

    Aw Kah Peng, CEO of Singapore Tourism Board, said: "We think there's a lot of untapped potential in cruising. Southeast Asia as a whole region is really interesting for cruising because of the many islands that form the archipelago of Indonesia, as well as Philippines and the long wonderful coastlines of our neighbours like Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand. We think that Southeast Asia can be the next Mediterranean when it comes to cruising."

    She added: "We have invested in the international cruise terminal to essentially double our berthing capacity. We believe infrastructure is really just a first step. Cruise lines will come to Singapore firstly because the destination is interesting and exciting, and secondly because the right infrastructure is here to support them in order for them to deliver experiences to their passengers."

    The government said another area for good growth potential is the arts and entertainment sector. So in the next phase of development, it is looking forward to co-creating and anchoring more signature content such as arts and music festivals to attract more visitors to Singapore.

    A third area of growth is the travel agent industry. This means local travel agents with established outbound businesses will be given more help to grow inbound traffic.

    STB also wants to attract global companies to set up innovative inbound operations in Singapore that draw traffic into Singapore and the region.

    The two integrated resorts have also contributed to increased visitor arrivals. And to help casino operators extend their international reach, Singapore's Casino Regulatory Authority (CRA) awarded junket licences to two Malaysian operators on Thursday.

    Twelve applications were rejected.

    Mr Iswaran said: "That should give all of us a measure of the way CRA intends to go about this process. In general, if there is any indication of non-compliance or any other kinds of potential problems, clearly the persons or entity will not be eligible for the licence.

    "In addition, it is a one-year licence and there are several safeguards built into it and there will be ongoing monitoring."

    And to help companies deal with the challenging domestic environment, the government will channel S$265 million to help companies increase their capabilities and workers' productivity.

    STB will build on the Workforce Development Agency's and the Employment and Employability Institute's (e2i) basic tourism-related training to support more advanced, specialist training in key areas like conference management and attractions operations.

    The government is also exploring the development of tourism-related scholarships to groom the next generation of industry captains and talent from the existing pool of middle managers and entry-level workers.

    Boy hero dies trying to save sister

    JOHOR BARU - Twelve-year-old Rohman Selamat was a hero for saving the lives of six of his family members, including his parents, when a fire broke out from their shophouse.

    He then rushed in to save his 13-year-old sister Khusnulkhotimah.

    However, both teenagers died in the incident at Ayer Baloi, Pontian, yesterday.

    Their mother Hasniah Abdul Hussein, 50, said the family were awakened by Rohman's screams at 4.30am that a fire had broken out.

    "The smoke was already quite thick, and all of us rushed out. That was when we realised that it was a huge fire," she said yesterday.

    Hasniah then realised that her youngest son and daughter were missing. However, she and the other survivors, and neighbours couldn't do anything to save them due to the heat.

    "I could only watch helplessly as the fire razed our house. Rohman loved his sister so much. They were quite close," she said.

    Hasniah said a neighbour later told her that they saw Rohman asking for help from the second floor of the building.

    The bodies of the two victims were buried at the Wakaf Besar Muslim cemetery here.

    Eight shophouses were also destroyed in the fire.

    Johor Fire and Rescue Department assistant director of operations Hamid Suari said 35 firemen and five fire-engines were sent to the scene after they received a distress call at around 4.40am. The cause of the fire was still being investigated.

    Pontian deputy OCPD Deputy Supt Wan Razani Wan Ibrahim said that a man, Ng Kim Leong, 50, died of heart failure when witnessing the fire.

    Thursday, March 22, 2012

    CRA awards licences to two junket operators

    SINGAPORE: Singapore's Casino Regulatory Authority (CRA) has awarded junket licences to two Malaysian operators to allow casino operators here to extend their international reach.

    This is the first time the CRA has granted the licence even as junket rules are tightened to ensure the operators do not target locals and permanent residents.

    Huang Yu Kiung and Low Chong Aun - both Malaysian operators with an international client base - were issued junket licences after a series of stringent checks which lasted more than a year.

    Both are endorsed by Resorts World Sentosa, and their licences are valid for only a year. Marina Bay Sands said it has not yet endorsed any junket operator.

    Twelve other operators were rejected. But the CRA said it is currently evaluating a few other applications and is in the midst of conducting probity checks for these applications.

    Junket operators are essentially "tour agents" for high rollers. They offer perks such as free stays and travel by private jet to entice these clients to casinos. In turn, the operators receive commission from the casinos.

    Authorities said junket operators have to comply with strict rules in Singapore as they are meant to "supplement" and not "dominate" the casino market.

    The CRA said the regime to regulate the junket operators has "been enhanced to ensure that our gaming environment continues to be tightly regulated and free from criminal influence".

    It added that such operators "may also extend credit to their patrons. As they transact large sums of money, it is important that they are tightly regulated."

    Before the junket operators receive their licences, they are subjected to checks such as on-site visits. Interviews are conducted and their financial accounts scrutinised to verify their sources of funding.

    The law has also been tightened with rules and terms unique to Singapore.

    Among them:

    - junket operators are referred to as International Market Agents (IMAs) - a reference to the fact that these agents should target only the international market and not Singaporeans or permanent residents;

    - greater onus is placed on casino operators, which have to submit a due diligence report on the IMAs when endorsing them;

    - casino operators are also responsible for the activities of these IMAs;

    - licensed IMAs cannot share commission with unlicensed ones; and

    - the Casino Regulatory Authority has the power to stop issuing licences if it is in the public interest to do so.

    Chief executive of the CRA, Mr Lau Peet Meng said: "We have decided to use the term 'International Market Agents (IMAs)' to more accurately describe what these agents do. They will focus on bringing in foreign high rollers to our casinos, and they will not target our locals.

    "CRA has put in place a tight regulatory regime for the IMAs, and we have every intent to exercise our powers to ensure the casino operators and IMAs comply fully with our regulatory requirements."

    The changes to the law are the first since rules on junkets were introduced in 2009 and they come after extensive whole-of-government discussions. Authorities also studied the trends in developments of casinos in jurisdictions like Macau, Australia and the US.

    Hri Kumar Nair, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Law and Home Affairs, said: "This is very new to us. We will probably have to work things out as we go along...It's a need to strike a balance between attracting the international market, particularly the high rollers, and also protecting Singaporeans and permanent residents from the ills of casino operations. It's a question of finding the balance and having a strict regulatory climate particularly when it comes to junket operations."

    "...the fact that you have the Casino Regulatory Authority and the casino operator involved, the licences are short and that we are issuing only two licences, I think it's a good start. It enables us to assess the ground, assess the operations and then see if we could expand, going forward," he added.

    Resorts World Sentosa said it is "delighted" by the issuance of junket licences.

    A Resorts World Sentosa spokesperson said: "We are delighted with the licensing of International Market Agents in Singapore. The addition of IMA business for the overseas VIP market will bring a progressive new source of high net-worth play into our gaming environment. This will bring economic benefits for both Resorts World Sentosa and Singapore. RWS will work closely with the authorities to comply with Singapore's junket regulations in its execution."

    As for Marina Bay Sands, a spokesperson said: "We are interested in learning more but we will not be providing further comment at this time."

    Authorities said they have taken a conservative approach to ensure that Singapore has a robust regulatory regime.

    Further changes to the Casino Control Act are expected to ensure social safeguards are in place. For example, there are plans to amend the Act to state clearly that junket operators should not target Singaporeans.

    There's more to gold than meets the eye

    COME October, investment-grade gold will effectively be 7 per cent cheaper as Singapore has decided that it will scrap the goods and services tax (GST) on the import and supply of precious metals to encourage more gold trading here.

    What this means is that investors - whether retail traders, gold exchange-traded funds (ETFs), or private banking clients - will soon be able to trade and store their gold in Singapore free of GST.

    At the moment, most investments of this sort are done offshore or kept within the free trade zone at the Singapore Freeport.

    Before a young investor enthused by this prospect runs out to buy himself bullion gold bars or coins though, here are some issues to consider.

    Is gold still a 'safe-haven' asset? 

    Gold has traditionally been seen as a 'safe-haven' in times of economic uncertainty and as a hedge against inflation. Many still view it as such.

    'Given the on-going eurozone debt crisis and concerns regarding a slowdown in global economic growth, gold continues to be a safe haven for investors to park their funds,' says Kelvin Ngo, head of investments at independent financial advisory firm Providend.

    In the past two weeks, 'gold prices have come down due to the US showing better economic and jobs data', observes Lynette Tan, investment analyst at Phillip Futures.

    'Similarly, with the Greek debt deal temporarily resolved, investor appetite could return and gold could be sidelined for now,' she adds.

    With the focus now on economic growth in China, Europe and the US, if investors begin to feel uncertain about sustained growth again, 'safe haven demands' for gold may return.

    But there are those who do not see gold as a safe haven asset. 'Gold is not like bonds, where there is a regular cash flow from interest,' says Wong Sui Jau, general manager of, the online unit trust distribution arm for iFAST Financial.

    'Historically, gold and gold equities have shown fairly high volatility as well. Thus we don't believe it exhibits the qualities of a safe haven asset,' he says. In his view, gold can be an investment to consider for diversification purposes, but should not be seen as low risk. 'Based on three-year annualised volatility, gold has almost as high a volatility as equities,' he says.

    How much longer will the gold bull run last? 

    Gold prices have surged in recent years, which gives investors reason to 'be cautious in their investment stance, especially if one is looking to make a quick profit', says Mr Ngo.

    But he thinks the bull run could continue as long as global risk aversion remains high, real interest rates stay negative and the outlook for the USD, euro and yen remain negative. He sees three main catalysts today - the eurozone debt crisis is not expected to be solved in the near future, the Federal Reserve has indicated that interest rates could remain low till 2014, and the printing of money is expected to weaken the US, euro and yen. 'Hence, the gold bull run could easily continue till the end of 2012,' says Mr Ngo.

    Agreeing, Ms Tan says if more talk of economic stimulus or monetary easing arises from the Fed or the European Central Bank this year, implying that the economies require more liquidity to aid growth, this will support gold prices. 'Due to gold's special status as a store of value, we are likely to see sustained investment demands, particularly when economic growth remains uncertain,' she says.

    Phillip Futures is thus 'still bullish on gold in the long term, with prices likely to test a new high above the US$1,920 an ounce level reached in the second half of 2011,' Ms Tan adds.

    On the other hand, Fundsupermart's Mr Wong is 'cautious, if not outright negative on gold'. 'We believe the bull run, which is now 11 years, has gone on for too long,' he says, explaining that demand for gold, outside of holding it as an investment, has not shown growth.

    One reason why he is negative is the difficulty in justifying the price of gold. 'There are no earnings which gold can be tied to like traditional companies where valuation mea-sures will make more sense,' says Mr Wong. His view is that gold prices have risen so much over the last few years simply because people are more willing to pay more for it. However, the 'safe haven' status driving this willingness is 'suspect', he says, especially as confidence in the US dollar rebounds with recovery in the US economy.

    Albert Cheng, managing director, Far East, at the World Gold Council, a gold producers' association, would disagree. Investors need to note that gold is also a commodity, so the way market fundamentals and the dynamics of demand and supply change matters.

    On the demand side, about half of gold demand stems from demand for gold jewellery, over 30 per cent from investment demand and about 8 to 10 per cent goes to industrial uses such as in gold wire for electronic goods, while a small portion is purchased by central banks, Mr Cheng says.

    On the supply side, about 2,500 tonnes come out of the world's gold mines each year. Another 1,000 to 2,000 tonnes of recycled gold is also supplied to the market, making a total of about 4,000 tonnes of gold annually.

    While supply remains relatively constant, demand is likely to keep rising, driven by China's and India's rising middle class and their demand for jewellery, as well as the rise in investment demand for gold as a liquid asset to act as 'an insurance policy to portfolios'.

    Mr Ngo agrees that the gold market will remain bullish in the short term, but adds that investors ought to keep in mind that gold is a non-yielding asset with little industrial use, so its longer-term performance may be lower than that seen over the past decade.

    How should a young investor invest in gold?

    Apart from understanding the gold market and the dynamics driving gold prices, a young investor may wish to consider how to incorporate gold into his or her portfolio.

    'Young people would like to take a little more risk, so in terms of gold investments, their allocation would be much smaller, compared to people in their 40s or 50s,' says Mr Cheng.

    With time on their side to ride out economic cycles, young investors 'should allocate more to equities given that historically, equities outperform most asset classes over the long-term', says Mr Ngo.

    'However, a small allocation in gold could be useful to provide diversification benefits, especially in times of crisis, or may be used as a hedge against inflation, deflation or currency devaluation,' he says.

    While physical gold remains the 'safest way' of getting exposure to gold, as it removes counterparty risks, there are issues of space, security and storage costs to look into. 'As such, gold indices and ETFs, which are backed by physical gold, would be the next best option available for investors,' Mr Ngo says.

    Mr Wong prefers gold equities, which can be invested in through resource unit trusts or commodity funds, as they are more diversified across companies, and 'even if the gold price stagnates - a high possibility in our opinion - a gold mining or gold related company can still have avenues to raise profits by controlling costs'.

    Other options may be to trade gold 'in the form of Spot Loco London contracts in the over-the-counter market and in the form of futures, ie, exchange-traded contracts in COMEX, CBOT, TOCOM,' says Grace Chan, director of marketing and sales channel, Phillips Futures.

    But this would only be suitable for 'savvy investors', as futures trading involves leverage which means the investor could sustain losses in excess of his initial funds and then may need to deposit additional funds at short notice, Ms Chan says. Only those 21 years and above can open a futures trading account, and need to be assessed to understand the products in order to trade futures.

    ARA may raise $1 billion in Singapore yuan REIT

    ARA Asset Management Ltd's planned initial public offering of a yuan-denominated real estate investment trust (REIT) in Singapore could raise as much as S$1 billion ($790.6 million), three sources with knowledge of the matter said.

    "The listing is targeted to be around June or July," one of the sources told Reuters.

    ARA, part-owned by Hong Kong property giant Cheung Kong (Holdings) Ltd, is planning to inject Chinese office and retail properties from its flagship Asia Dragon Fund into what would be Singapore's first yuan-denominated REIT, sources said.

    DBS Bank, Citigroup and Standard Chartered have already started working on the Singapore listing.

    The $1.1 billion Asia Dragon Fund, set up in 2007, is fully invested and the manager has since shifted focus towards managing and divesting the assets, ARA said when it announced its financial results in February.

    Many of the fund's properties are in China, although its mandate also covers Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia.

    REIT IPOs in Singapore tend to be large because of the way they are structured. For instance, if ARA and related parties choose to retain 30 per cent interest in the Asia Dragon Fund's assets, they would have to buy 30 per cent of the units in the newly created REIT vehicle.

    ARA now manages six listed REITs, including Singapore-listed Suntec REIT and Hong Kong-listed Hui Xian REIT , a yuan-denominated trust backed by Cheung Kong, the flagship property firm of Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing.

    It also has several unlisted funds and managed S$20.2 billion worth of real estate assets as of the end of last year.

    DBS and Citigroup have declined comment, while ARA and StanChart could not be reached.

    Last year, ARA put on hold plans to list a REIT with Qatari hotels and serviced residences worth about $1 billion in Singapore, due to geopolitical problems in the Middle East and North Africa.

    'It felt like I was being stabbed'

    His stomach was bloated and his stools were loose and dark.

    At just 26 years old, he found out that he had stage three cancer of the colon.

    Kiat (not his real name) is among the youngest to be affected with the disease, which normally affects those past the age of 50.

    Colorectal cancer runs in his family, and his father and aunt had developed the same condition before.

    For Kiat, a Singapore permanent resident, it started when he developed stomach cramps two years ago.

    Said the IT consultant, now 28: "I didn't think it was anything. I mean, many people get abdominal pain."

    But then, he started losing weight, going from 60kg to 53kg in just a few months.

    The regular blood donor of six years was also surprised when he was turned away from donating blood.

    He said: "I was told I had low blood pressure. I had also been feeling faint several times a month."

    Then, in December 2010 when Kiat was in Malaysia, the bus he was on made a sudden turn, and he felt a sharp pain.

    He said: "It was like I was being stabbed with a knife, like something tore inside me."

    He bore with the pain for the rest of the trip, but when he returned to Singapore a few days later, he developed a fever.

    Feeling weak and unsure if he could get help by himself, he called for an ambulance to take him to hospital.


    Initially thinking that Kiat was suffering from appendicitis, the doctors scheduled for him to undergo surgery to remove his appendix.

    But during the operation, they noticed a hole in his colon.

    It was then that they found out that he had colon cancer.

    The cancer, caused by a hereditary gene leading to a condition called lynch syndrome, had spread to the lymph nodes in his abdomen.

    Kiat said: "The cancer had literally eaten a hole in my colon. I was shocked. "I kept thinking that I was so young. I don't smoke or drink - why was this happening to me?"

    His wife, 29, a Singapore PR who also works in the IT sector, said: "He kept asking the doctors how long he had left. He couldn't eat and kept crying.

    "I was so scared of losing him. I prayed every day for him to get better."

    The couple do not have children. To prevent Kiat's cancer from spreading, doctors removed the lower half of his colon. They also started him on chemotherapy to kill any cancer cells that remained.

    For the next eight months, Kiat had the chemo drugs injected into him every three weeks. He said: "I felt physically weak after the sessions. But I kept telling myself that I had to be optimistic, be positive."

    To take his mind off the cancer, Kiat continued working whenever he could. He also continued to travel and hang out with his friends watching soccer and playing PlayStation games. The cancer is now in remission.

    He was given the all-clear in the middle of last year and is no longer on medication.

    Looking back, Kiat is thankful to his wife and family, who supported him throughout my treatment.

    He said: "There were days when I was down or had a short temper. But they were always patient and gave me space.

    "I want to tell other young people that colon cancer is no laughing matter...If you have any of the symptoms, it's best to see a doctor right away.

    "And if you know of someone with such a condition, please try to be understanding and supportive."

    Colon cancer can be hereditary

    Colorectal cancer is the most common type of cancer here, The Straits Times reported in May last year. About 30 new cases are diagnosed here every week.

    Singaporeans, along with Americans, have one of the highest rates of colorectal cancer in the world, it was reported in March last year.

    Only 10 per cent of colorectal cancer patients are under the age of 50. And only 0.5 per cent are under the age of 30.

    Such cancers in patients under 50 are usually hereditary, said Dr Koh Poh Koon, a consultant colorectal Surgeon from Capstone Colorectal Surgery Centre .

    He added that patients with lynch syndrome, a genetic disorder, have up to an 80 per cent risk of developing colorectal cancer.

    Most patients with lynch syndrome develop the cancer in their mid-40s. They are also at a higher risk of developing other forms of cancer. The mutated genes can lead to cancers of the stomach and urinary tract.

    Women with lynch syndrome can also get cancer of the ovaries or the endometrium, which is the inner membrane of the womb,said Dr Koh. Such cancers tend to be detected only in the later stages because there are usually no early-stage symptoms.

    And symptoms that do show are often dismissed by younger people in the mistaken belief that these cancers affect only older people. Former cancer patient Kiat told The New Paper that he had stools which were almost black in colour.

    Blood in stools

    It was only after he was diagnosed that he realised that this was caused by blood in his stools. Kiat said:"My colon was actually bleeding. But I didn't know because I didn't see actual blood in my stools."

    Dr Koh said: "Often, the only clue we have that we might be at risk of such cancers is a family history involving more than three family members, over two generations.

    "This is especially so if one of the affected is an immediate relative or is below 50 years old."

    Individuals who suspect something is wrong should strongly consider genetic screening. "It has been shown that early diagnosis and appropriate genetic screening can prevent the number of deaths caused by lynch syndrome," Dr Koh added.

    Colorectal cancer is cancer that starts in either the colon or the rectum. It is also commonly
     known as bowel cancer.

    According to HPB, colorectal cancer is the number 1 cancer in Singapore.

    In the early stages, people with colorectal cancer may not experience any symptoms.

     In the later stages, the common signs and symptoms include: A change in the bowel habits, including diarrhoea or constipation, and the presence of blood in the stool.

    Symptoms typically include rectal bleeding and anemia which are sometimes associated with weight loss and changes in bowel habits.

    How to tell if you are at risk:

    1. Are you over 50 years old? More than 90% of those diagnosed with CRC are over 50 years old. It is recommended to go for screenings starting at age 50 and continuing until you are 75 years old.

    2. Do you have a family history of CRC? If you do, or have a family history of polyps in the rectum or chronic inflammatory bowel disease, it's best to get tested.

    3. Do you eat a lot of red meat? Studies have suggested that a high consumption of meat is linked to an increased risk of colon cancer. In all cases the worry is confined to red meat, not chicken.

    4. Do you take care of your body? If you don't exercise, smoke or drink a lot, you are at risk.

    Contact me to do your critical illness protection plan now.

    Once you reach stage IV in colorectal cancer, you have about a 10% chance of survival.

    That's why early detection is absolutely essential. Get tested once a year.

     Ask your doctor if you should get a scope.

     If you are diagnosed, there are several treatment options available. 1. Surgery.

    2. Radiotherapy

     3. Chemotherapy

     4. Targeted therapies

    Tuesday, March 20, 2012

    Some register once they get child's birth cert

    [Above: (From left) Ms Cheryl Tan’s children, Claire, six, and Marc, three, transferred from another preschool to Lorna Whiston Pre-School. Mrs Irene Lee’s son, Werner, is attending Pat’s Schoolhouse.]

    For some parents, success starts in the womb.

    Her second child, whom she plans to name Isaac, will be born only next month, but Mrs Irene Lee, 33, has already decided which school he will attend when he turns 18 months old - even if that is almost two years away.

    She chose Pat's Schoolhouse, which her four-year-old son, Werner, is already attending.
    She intends to sign her newborn up when registration begins at the end of this year.

    Speaking about her advanced planning, she explains that she believes children's formative years are crucial.

    "At this age, they absorb beyond what you think they can. My son Werner came back one day and told me the sun is a star," she says with a note of surprise in her voice.

    Housewife Daphne Chia, in her 30s, thought she was "well-prepared" when she tried to register her 11/2-year-old son, Aaron, at St. James' Church Kindergarten (Leedon campus) in 2009.

    What she didn't expect was that the 11/2-year lead time was not enough to secure a spot in the popular kindergarten.

    "They told me there were more than 100 people on the waiting list, and I realised that people go to the school once they have the child's birth certificate to register,"she says with a wry laugh.

    Fortunately, her son, Aaron, now three, eventually secured a spot in the school's newly-opened third session, which runs from 2.30pm to 5.30pm on weekdays.

    He started school in January last year.

    The annual fees for St. James' nursery to kindergarten classes is about $3,080. The experiences of these two mothers are not uncommon.

    About four years ago, Ms Cheryl Tan tried to get her daughter, Claire, then two, a place at the Lorna Whiston Pre-School.

    It was about four months before she was due to start pre-nursery, but the school had already run out of places, she says.

    "My friends had already warned me I should have registered earlier, but I thought it was a little absurd,"she adds.

    "When I didn't get a place, I thought, serves me right," she says with a chuckle.

    Her two children, Claire, six, and Marc, three, have since transferred from another preschool to Lorna Whiston after being offered places some time last year.

    For Mrs Lee, having Werner in Pat's Schoolhouse gives her priority.

    Mrs Lee started looking at schools only around the time she wanted her older son, then 11/2 years old, to enrol in one, which typically would mean she was too late.

    "But I got lucky," she says, noting that many parents were unable to get their kids in.

    She had found out that Pat's Schoolhouse had vacancies at a weekly story club they operate - and this gave her priority in enrolment in the preschool.

    So she signed up, and shortly after, secured a spot for her son.

    The competition for a place in prestigious commercial preschools is fierce - 13 out of Pat's Schoolhouse' 15 centres are running at maximum capacity.

    The larger centres can accept up to 300 students.

    "The number of parents on the waiting list varies from month to month, but some centres such as the one located at Serangoon, typically have waiting lists of over 300 parents," says Ms Patricia Koh, founder of Pat's Schoolhouse.

    During the year, places do become available for certain classes when children transfer out of the school.

    At Etonhouse Preschool, the waiting time for a place in their pre-nursery and nursery classes, which cater to 18-month-olds to three-year-olds is one to two years.

    It does not matter that the annual fees the school charges ranges from $13,400 to $23,590, depending on factors such as the location of the campus, duration of the school session and the children's ages.

    "We have parents register even before their child is born to ensure that he or she has a place and so that they do not have to go through a waiting list," says Mrs Ng Gim Choo, founder of Etonhouse Preschool.

    In contrast, attending a kindergarten run by the PAP Community Foundation costs about $1,200 a year for Singaporeans.

    The steep prices do not deter parents, say "branded" preschools.

    She explains that at Etonhouse, the child-to-teacher ratio does not exceed 15:1, ensuring that the children and their families get "personalised" attention.

    In addition, teachers at the school hold bachelor's and masters degrees, and hail from all over the world.

    The curriculum, designed in-house by the school, is also based on research on how toddlers learn best.

    Impressed by the large playground and wide spaces available for children to run about, Ms Casey Yong, 33, registered her son, Enzo, for a place at Etonhouse last year, when he was just eight months old.

    He will begin attending the school in August this year, when he turns 11/2 years old. Ms Yong expects to pay up to $24,000 a year when her son starts school.

    "I feel it's not knowledge that I want to implant in him. It's about having him have an inquisitive mind for the rest of his life, and a thirst to learn, which I feel Eton does well to fuel," says the housewife.

    Popular but pricey
    From $13,400: Annual school fees for Etonhouse International Educational Group (Singapore)
    From $11,760: Annual school fees for Pat's Schoolhouse
    From $11,428: Annual school fees for Lorna Whiston Pre-School
    Compared to $10,700: Subsidised annual tuition fees for Singapore citizens at Singapore Management University for freshmen entering academic year 2012/2013. It does not include textbooks and fees for additional programmes. 

    Contact me to start planning for your children's education financing now.
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