NEA gets tough in fight against dengue

It will take faster action against uncooperative residents in hot spots

THE National Environment Agency (NEA) will break into homes in dengue hot spots after waiting just a week, instead of two, for residents to allow them in.

"This is about life and death," said Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, asking for understanding as Singapore grapples with what is expected to be its worst dengue epidemic.

So far this year, the NEA has forcibly entered three homes - two of which were vacant - with the aid of a locksmith in the Tampines area where the epidemic is raging. Mosquitoes were found breeding in them. There is one cluster in Tampines with 126 victims, with 34 in just one block of flats.

"We are facing a full-blown epidemic and it's going to grow," said Dr Balakrishnan, whose ministry is in charge of preventing the breeding of mosquitoes.

"We fear it's going to be Singapore's worst epidemic...possibly with more than 1,000 infections a week at its peak."

He warned it is only a matter of time before the epidemic, currently centred in the east, moves across the island. NEA has found more Aedes mosquitoes in the west compared to previous years.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong led ministers, MPs and 30,000 grassroots leaders in a door-to-door campaign across the nation to raise awareness of the dangers of dengue and to get everyone to cooperate in eradicating mosquito breeding.

They will advise people to check pails and vases regularly, use insect repellent and wear long-sleeved tops and pants to avoid being bitten.

In the first 15 weeks of the year, NEA has found 5,347 breeding spots, mostly in homes. In launching the national Mozzie Wipeout campaign in Ang Mo Kio, Mr Lee said: "We're trying to do it nationwide, all the estates, all the towns, all the homes, over this weekend and the next few weekends, to try to break the chains of mosquitoes breeding.

"If we can cut down the mosquitoes, then I think we can cut down the dengue fever cases this year."

The idea is to get the whole nation mobilised because without the mosquito as an intermediary, dengue cannot spread.

Singapore is facing a huge epidemic, with more than 5,200 people infected so far this year, compared to 4,632 cases for the whole of last year.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong told reporters after the launch at Chua Chu Kang GRC that hospitals are gearing up for a greater influx of dengue patients.

Currently, people down with severe dengue are taking up 1 per cent of hospital beds, he said. Should their numbers grow, hospitals have contingency plans that include temporary beds, postponing non-urgent surgery and sending the less ill to community hospitals.

Dr Balakrishnan hopes that the concerted efforts by everyone - including the opposition MPs who are fully behind the national campaign - will break the chain of transmission.

He said one advantage over the epidemic of 2005, when 14,000 people were infected and 25 died, is that more people are aware of the problem and seek medical help early. So NEA gets the information and acts on it faster, before a dengue cluster gets too big.

Additional reporting by Toh Yong Chuan