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     FrontPage Edition: Tue 8 April 2008

Health Minister says protecting Singaporeans is everyone's job


Protecting Singaporeans Is Everyone's Job
Speech By Minister for Health Khaw Boon Wan on 08 Apr 2008
We are here to pay tribute to two groups of individuals who went the extra mile to protect our health. We are safer today because of their prompt and effective actions.
First, our “chikungunya-warriors”. When I first read of chikungunya many years ago, I thought it was some kind of a fruit. But it turned out to be a new virus which had jumped species from fruit bats to human beings in Africa.
With globalisation, it gradually spread to South Asia and then S E Asia. It is now in our neighbourhood, including Malaysia and Indonesia. I know that one day it would also come to reside in Singapore, like dengue.
When the first local cluster was detected in Little India, we went all out to prevent it from gaining a foothold here. Frankly speaking, I was pessimistic that we could succeed. But we did. Thanks to many of you in this room today.
Second, our “walnut-crackers”. With the demand for Viagra and similar drugs, we know that counterfeits will surface and try to con consumers looking for a cheaper fix.
We cannot protect consumers 100% and prevent all accidents. But if our doctors are alert and our inspectors are quick to act, we can minimize casualties. This was what happened when the illegal product, Power 1 Walnut, surfaced in this market. Our “nutcrackers” were swift in their action.
Although the events were different in nature, both teams shared three common qualities.
First, they were alert and quick. When chikungunya tried to sneak into Little India, we were lucky to have Dr Lily Sarma, a vigilant GP at the fort. She was alert to the symptoms of her patient and she was quick to report to MOH of her suspicion. Her action has allowed public health officers to step in immediately and prevent the spread of the disease.
In the case of Power1 Walnut, the alarm was sounded by Dr Kao Shih Ling in NUH. She alerted HSA to her observation after attending to three patients with similar symptoms. HSA's quick laboratory analysis and swift actions have contained the potential harm posed to more people.
Second, they collaborated and worked well as a team. Singaporeans’ instinct to unite and fight a common enemy is one of our strengths. When confronted with a common threat, the public, private and people sectors work and collaborate as one Singapore. In both incidents, there was trust and confidence in each other.
I am particularly impressed with the strong show of public-spiritedness. In Little India, several owners and managers allowed us to set up screening centres within their buildings to facilitate the investigations.
The Singapore Contractors Association chipped in to alert their industry members and their foreign workers on the dangers of both chikungunya and Power 1 Walnut. Many agencies were mobilized: MOM, URA, BCA, LTA, SLA, PUB and the Police. Together with the NEA and HSA teams, we delivered success.
Third, they were professional and dedicated. Many worked long hours each day and over several weeks. In Little India, they took temperatures and screened the blood of over 2,600 people who lived or worked there.
NEA mounted massive vector control exercises and carried out more than 5,700 inspections, climbing up gutters and going down into monsoon drains. Our laboratories in the Environmental Health Institute, DSO National Laboratories and National Public Health Laboratory worked non-stop to produce results overnight.
Their action allowed us to isolate the carriers from infecting others and treat them promptly. HSA and the Police mounted several successful raids and netted more than 75,000 units of illegal products including Power 1 Walnut.
We are proud of all of you. Your good work has allowed us to sleep better. On behalf of Singaporeans, I thank each and every one of you.
Chikungunya has failed this time. But it and other infectious diseases will try to sneak into Singapore again and again. Likewise, unethical operators will continue to smuggle in counterfeit and illegal products.
After Power1 Walnut, I am sure there will be other fake drugs in the black market. Our job is never finished. Let’s hope Singaporeans will help to lighten our work.
First, raise our standards of personal and public hygiene. Don’t breed mosquitoes.
Second, let’s not be gullible to purveyors of quick fixes. Consult your family GP when unsure of any health product. Certainly, do not buy from peddlers and back alleys or order through the Internet.
Unfortunately we cannot eliminate foolishness. I just received 2 alerts from Alexandra Hospital (AH) and Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) of patients experiencing similar symptoms. Just 2-3 hours ago, the HSA laboratory confirmed that they have taken fake Cialis and one of the two is in coma in TTSH. There will be gullible people testing our vigilance.
As healthcare workers, let’s reflect on the achievements of Dr Sarma and Dr Kao. They detected some weak signals but recognized a pattern before it became obvious to others. Some might say they got lucky. But was it luck? Or is it something in their training, their interests, the journals they read, the way their brains function? Let’s emulate their examples and let’s all work hard on our luck.

Source: News 8 Apr 2008

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