Parliament: Battle against Zika likely to be a long one

Mr Gan said that though the number of new cases detected has fallen recently, it is still "early days" to gauge what the long-term trend of Zika infections will be. So people cannot afford to be complacent.
Mr Gan said that though the number of new cases detected has fallen recently, it is still early days to gauge what the long-term trend of Zika infections will be.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Whole-of-government approach not enough - a whole-of-society effort needed in fight against Zika virus, says Health Minister

The fight against Zika is likely to be a long one, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong told Parliament yesterday, and will require a concerted effort from not just the entire Government, but also society.

While the number of new cases being detected has fallen recently, it is still "early days" to ascertain what the long-term trend of Zika infections will be. "We cannot afford to be complacent," added Mr Gan in his ministerial statement to Parliament yesterday.

Addressing a question from MacPherson MP Tin Pei Ling whether there are any useful lessons learnt from the latest outbreak, Mr Gan said there were three.

"First, it is important to be transparent and timely in sharing accurate information. This is why we released regular updates on Zika... This also prevents rumours and untruths from spreading, and creating confusion and suspicion."

While the combined effort from government agencies, including the National Environment Agency (NEA) and Manpower Ministry, along with healthcare professionals, meant that Singapore was able to respond speedily, a whole-of-government approach is still not enough.

"We need a whole-of-society approach", Mr Gan stressed, urging everyone to reduce the spread of Zika by taking personal precautions against mosquito bites and checking for mosquito breeding in their homes and workplaces.

Another front in the fight against Zika is research.

The Ministry of Health's (MOH) National Public Health Laboratory and A*Star's Bioinformatics Institute have found that the Zika virus strains involved in at least two locally transmitted cases is similar to strains of the virus circulating in South-east Asia since the 1960s.

It was not recently imported from South America, where the virus has been linked with microcephaly. "We cannot tell at this moment whether the viruses found here cause more or less severe disease than those in South America," said Mr Gan. "Future research may help to shed light on this."

MOH also continues to exchange information regularly with international counterparts on managing the mosquito-borne virus.

"Public awareness is one of the most critical elements in our fight against Zika," said Mr Gan, pointing out that MOH will continue to keep people updated on the Zika situation. He highlighted how the Ministry of Communications and Information has set up a microsite on Zika, while the NEA carries statistics on Zika infections and clusters on its site.

 

"The journey in our fight against Zika is likely to be a long one, because of the presence of Aedes mosquitoes here. Even if we can control the present outbreak, we will need to continue to guard against imported cases, as the Zika virus is still circulating among many countries, including several in the region. Therefore, as we tackle Zika, life must go on," he said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2016, with the headline 'Battle against Zika likely to be a long one'. Print Edition | Subscribe