Dengue outbreak plagues Singapore

Singapore, September 11:

Minister calls for a ‘no-compromise’ campaign to check disease.

A dengue fever outbreak has plunged Singapore into its worst health crisis since the 2003 SARS epidemic, forcing officials to speed up a campaign against the spread of the mosquito-borne disease. Public hospitals in the modern city-state better known for its cleanliness are delaying non-urgent operations to cope with an outbreak that has killed eight and infected over 9,000 of Singapore’s 4.2 million people this year. These could soon surpass the record 9,459 cases and eight deaths from dengue last year, causing public alarm despite the fact that the debilitating viral disease is an endemic, year-round problem.

By one estimate, over 100 new cases per day are now being reported, and since there is no dengue vaccine mosquito eradication is the only solution. Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan has urged Singaporeans to postpone breast enlargement and other forms of non-critical surgery to ease the load on public hospitals in Singapore. The last time non-urgent forms of surgery were delayed here was during the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) regional health crisis in 2003 which killed 33 Singaporeans and slowed down the travel-dependent economy.

Khaw has called for a “SARS approach” to the dengue problem — a no-compromise campaign to cut the disease transmission chain. A government hotline will be set up to take calls about possible “hotspots” of mosquito breeding after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called the situation “worrying” and urged the entire population to help. “It is hard to understand because in the past, Singapore has had a very sophisticated dengue surveillance and prevention system,” said Dr Kevin Palmer, a dengue expert with the World Health Organisation (WHO) regional office in Manila. “Singapore is a place where dengue should not be a problem but it is, and there must be an explanation why we are seeing such a big rise in cases this year,” he told AFP.