Singapore still at risk from foreign infectious diseases: Health Minister

SINGAPORE - Health Minister Gan Kim Yong was speaking to more than 130 participants at an inaugural conference to pay tribute to the late Malayan-born Dr Wu Lien-Teh, who had helped to stop a potentially catastrophic pneumonic plague in China in 1910. Dr Wu is commonly regarded as China's founding father of modern medicine.

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Mr Gan said that Saturday's seminar reminds all that we must continue to learn from the valuable teachings by our predecessors such as Dr Wu.

"His many accomplishments and selfless spirit serves as an inspiring role model for today’s public health leaders amidst the constantly evolving threat of emerging infectious diseases," he said.

During his speech, Minister Gan recounted the 2003 Sars epidemic which hit Singapore.

"During the SARS epidemic in 2003, we had to use one major general hospital to manage SARS cases and divert patients with other diseases to other hospitals. Our hotels and businesses which depend on the tourism industry plunged as tourists and business travellers stayed away from Singapore," he noted.

He added that having learnt valuable lessons from the SARS episode, Singapore has strengthened its preparedness against pandemics.

"We increased the isolation room capacity in all hospitals, drew up pandemic preparedness plans, and stockpiled face masks, other personal protective equipment, antiviral drugs and vaccines. Various Ministries and government agencies also drew up their preparedness plans as a pandemic calls for a whole of government response and indeed a whole of society response. Regular exercises were carried out to test the response plans and to address gaps and deficiencies," he said.

He added that the next major epidemic after SARS - the influenza pandemic of 2009 - further provided a good opportunity for Singapore to strengthen and fine-tune the country's pandemic preparedness and response plans.

Mr Gan noted that Singapore still faces the threat of emerging infectious diseases and the public has a role to play in preventing potential epidemics.

"The Ministry continues to monitor the situation closely.

"The public can also play a part in the national response to an epidemic or pandemic by observing good personal hygiene, obtaining the appropriate vaccinations and if unwell, exercise social responsibility by visiting the doctor and not going to work or school.