Taskforce reviewing disease-outbreak detection after hepatitis C crisis finishes work

People walking past Block 6 at Singapore General Hospital, on Dec 8, 2015.
People walking past Block 6 at Singapore General Hospital, on Dec 8, 2015.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The task force reviewing how Singapore deals with infectious-disease outbreaks, which was set up in the wake of the hepatitis C crisis last year, has finished its work.

In its report, it suggested 15 changes to simplify outbreak reporting, create better ways to share information across organisations, establish a clear decision-making framework, and beef up Singapore's ability to respond in such a crisis.

The report was submitted to Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) in a statement yesterday.

During last year's hepatitis C outbreak at the Singapore General Hospital, 25 kidney patients admitted between January and September were diagnosed with hepatitis C infections. Eight of them died.

The independent review committee tasked with investigating the outbreak concluded in December that poor infection control practices and a slow response were to blame. A task force, headed by Minister of State for Health Chee Hong Tat, was set up to strengthen outbreak detection and response.

In response to the recommendations made, MOH said that it will expand the list of notifiable infectious diseases from 43 to 49.

It will also make notification of cases more "user-friendly" by putting in place a system to accept anonymous reports of outbreaks.

The taskforce also recommended the ministry to improve its data-analysis capabilities to better monitor the local infectious disease situation. In response, the Ministry said that it will consolidate data from different sources and design a system that triggers alerts if it detects abnormalities. It will also share this data with healthcare institutions.

Within the ministry, the Communicable Diseases Division has been made responsible for overseeing all infectious diseases and outbreak reporting. This division will be given more resources to deal with the complex infectious disease environment.

The ministry also promised that it will work with healthcare institutions to keep outbreaks in check, both in hospitals and in community facilities.The National Outbreak Response Team was set up in March 2016 to deal with serious incidents, while the new National Centre for Infectious Diseases will be ready in 2018.