Healthcare workers learn how to manage epidemics

 Government officials and policymakers from Asean will be participating in a five-day course on the handling and investigation of infections disease outbreaks.
Government officials and policymakers from Asean will be participating in a five-day course on the handling and investigation of infections disease outbreaks. PHOTO: MATTHIAS HO FOR THE STRAITS TIME

Nearly 50 Asean officials donned full-body suits yesterday as part of a simulation to understand what healthcare workers must do during an Ebola outbreak.

The exercise was part of a five-day course on disease outbreak, detection and response held at Tan Tock Seng Hospital's (TTSH) Communicable Diseases Centre.

"This is so that people making the decisions and planning can see all the way down to the ground," said Dr Matthew Dolan, director for academic development at the Defence Institute for Medical Operations in the United States. "They can then make informed plans based on personal experience."

Dr Dolan is one of the speakers on the course, which ends today.

It is a collaboration between the American institute, the Institute of Infectious Diseases and Epidemiology at TTSH, and the Nanyang Technological University's Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine.

Participants also learnt lessons drawn from previous outbreaks - such as the 2003 Sars crisis - and the importance of crisis communications.

Gatherings such as this will help Singapore forge valuable networks to share information in the event of an outbreak, according to Professor Leo Yee Sin, who is director of the TTSH institute.

"We always say that infectious diseases respect no boundaries," said Prof Leo.

"Outbreaks in neighbouring countries are potentially a risk and threat to us."

While Singapore has had experience handling infectious disease outbreaks, it has not had to manage crises such as Ebola.

"One of the most important things is to have a structure in place very early on," said NTU professor Annelies Wilder-Smith, a speaker who specialises in infectious diseases.

"It is also important to do training in the inter-epidemic period and do it on a repeated basis."

One participant yesterday was Dr Koay Teng Khoon, a public health specialist in Sabah, Malaysia.

While he has had experience managing outbreaks of dengue and food-borne bugs, he picked up tips on how to manage outbreaks such as Ebola.

"These are the diseases where you need a very quick, rapid response," he said.

"We have guidelines for how to handle them, but through the course we can... learn from what is shared by other countries."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 01, 2016, with the headline 'Healthcare workers learn how to manage epidemics'. Print Edition | Subscribe