S'pore 'well prepared to deal with Ebola'

S'pore 'well prepared to deal with Ebola'
PHOTO: S'pore 'well prepared to deal with Ebola'

SINGAPORE - Singapore is well prepared to spot and deal with Ebola if it reaches the Republic's shores, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said yesterday after a visit to DSO's Clinical Diagnostic Services Laboratory.

The DSO lab has been designated by the Health Ministry as the national testing facility for the Ebola virus since Aug 1.

The research outfit has so far tested two suspected Ebola virus samples, both of which turned out to be negative, he said.

Noting that the lab's researchers and scientists were the same people who screened for the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and H1N1 and H7N9 influenza viruses, Dr Ng said: "They dealt with hundreds of specimens and, thankfully, as a testimony of their professionalism, there were no breaks of protocol... There was no outbreak from the lab. It was kept to very high standards."

The world's worst outbreak of Ebola has killed some 6,000 people in West Africa, and doctors and scientists are racing to develop an effective vaccine against it.

Dr Tan Boon Huan, who heads the DSO National Laboratories' biological defence programme, said Singapore has the know-how to raise its capabilities in this area.

Beefing up laboratory capabilities will boost Singapore's defences against an outbreak of new infectious diseases, he added."We cannot rely only on labs in other parts of the world," Dr Tan said. "We must have our own indigenous capabilities to stay ahead."

Dr Tan said this would benefit neighbouring countries without advanced virus-testing outfits.

Labs dealing with biological hazards are generally classified into four safety levels, Biosafety Level (BSL) one to four, with BSL-4 demanding the highest levels of protection. Singapore has labs with BSL-2 and BSL-3 capabilities that can spot bioterrorism agents or highly contagious and dangerous viruses. More contagious or deadly virus samples must be sent to BSL-4 labs in Japan or Australia.

Dr Tan, among only three scientists here who are trained to work in a BSL-4 lab, said such a lab will allow researchers to better spot pathogens and come up with effective countermeasures.

This was a point also made by Dr Ng: "You build up expertise, you get early warning for pathogens even before others and, therefore, you can build up your systems.

"But at the same time, you should only do it when you are fully confident because... if there is a break in protocol and if there is a breach in procedure and the virus leaks from the lab, you can have consequences."

This article was first published on Dec 6, 2014.
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