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Proposed amendments to the Infectious Diseases Act


Public Consultation on Proposed Amendments to the Infectious Diseases Act

The Infectious Diseases Act (IDA) is the principal piece of public health legislation that deals with the prevention and control of infectious diseases in Singapore.
It is jointly administered by the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the National Environment Agency (NEA).
The IDA has undergone several amendments over the years to keep up with the trends of outbreaks and the emergence of new infectious diseases.
The IDA was last amended in 2003 in the middle of SARS to incorporate provisions to deal with the outbreak in Singapore.
Some gaps in our public health response system were identified from the SARS experience. Beyond that, the experience of planning and preparing for a possible influenza pandemic have highlighted the need for MOH to have the further powers to deal with public health emergencies.
In addition, there is a need to revise existing public health laws to achieve better control and prevention of HIV/AIDS.
The Ministry of Health is therefore proposing to amend the IDA to strengthen our capabilities to respond effectively to outbreaks that may be more serious and devastating than SARS.
The amendments would provide MOH with the legal powers necessary to ensure that public health measures can be implemented in a timely and effective way.
MOH will conduct a 6-week public consultation (28 September to 9 November 2007) to obtain feedback on the proposed amendments. The main amendments are summarized below. Please refer to the Public Consultation Paper for more details.
(i) Public Health Surveillance
New infectious diseases like SARS, avian influenza and Nipah, and old diseases that are now resistant to treatment like Extensively Drug Resistant TB (XDR-TB) will continue to pose threats to the public health well-being of Singaporeans.
The increase in volume of international travel has also made it easier for infectious diseases to be transmitted from one country to another.
In order to avert outbreaks of such diseases in Singapore, it is important to have in place a strong and robust public health surveillance system which is able to track and detect cases of such infectious diseases before the disease spreads to the general population.
We would also need to have information on the factors within the population that may promote the introduction and spread of the disease.
Leftover samples (e.g. blood) generated in the course of routine medical care in hospitals will be an invaluable source of information on the prevalence or incidence of an infectious disease in Singapore.
Such information can be used to determine the level of immunity of the population, and identify groups which may be particularly vulnerable to an infectious disease outbreak.
Therefore, we propose to amend the IDA to empower the Director of Medical Services (DMS) to obtain left-over samples, and send them for the tests and examinations for the purpose of monitoring the infectious disease situation in Singapore.
This will also help MOH to draw up necessary policies, programmes and action plans to protect Singapore from infectious disease outbreaks.
(ii) Closure of premises responsible for outbreaks
The IDA presently empowers the DMS to close any food establishment that is suspected to be the source or is responsible for the transmission of an infectious disease.
The Ministry proposes to expand the IDA to empower DMS to close any premises as non-food establishments may also be the source of an outbreak.
The DMS may also require the owner or occupier of such premises to clean and disinfect his premises. The DMS will impose such requirements only as a last resort, and for not longer than necessary. In addition, a person who is aggrieved by an order or requirement of the Director may, within 7 days, appeal to the Minister.
(iii) Obtaining information from patients
Early recognition and isolation of infected persons is necessary in order to effectively prevent and control infectious disease outbreaks.
In order to achieve early detection and isolation during SARS, medical practitioners were required to obtain from patients who had fever, information on recent overseas trips or exposure to other affected patients. This was done so that suspect cases of SARS could be isolated without delay, thereby minimizing the risk of transmission.
We propose to amend the IDA so that when required, the DMS may require medical practitioners as well as other categories of health care workers (e.g. TCM practitioners, dentists, pharmacists, etc.) to obtain disease related information from their patients. This is because an infected person may approach other health care professionals for treatment during an outbreak.

Source: Press Release 28 Sep 2007

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