Up to $10m contract for campaign against dengue

Singapore, in its fight against dengue, has awarded a contract worth up to $10 million to an advertising firm for year-round campaigns against the deadly disease.

The contract from the National Environment Agency (NEA) to DDB Worldwide is made up of two parts: $5 million for campaign costs from now till next March and another $5 million should the contract be extended another year.

The year-round campaign against the worsening epidemic starts tomorrow and there will be no let-up even during the months when the Aedes mosquito is lying low.

The disease peaks during the hotter months between May and October.

But this year, the 5,127 cases so far have already surpassed the 4,632 recorded for the whole of last year, official figures show.

Both DDB and NEA declined to comment on the contract but according to the tender documents, the key target group is housewives and working mothers.

This is likely due to the fact that seven in 10 breeding spots of the dengue-causing mosquitoes are found in homes, such as in containers and flower pots.

Singapore now has 48 dengue clusters, mainly in the east. The worst-hit area is Tampines Street 12, 21 and 22 where 124 people fell ill.

The battle will be fought on several fronts: from social media to grassroots events and roadshows at construction sites.

It will include using the traffic light warning system wherein banners in red, yellow and green colours are put up in dengue clusters to indicate the severity of the situation in the area.

This is on top of a "mozzie wipeout" drive to urge people to clear stagnant water in homes that can breed mosquitoes. But there is one nagging problem, according to the tender. People tend to become complacent when infection rates start to fall.

Public health experts have observed that people "naturally will not remain in a state of alert... unless the threat is constantly made visible to them", said the tender.

There is a need to inculcate a "sense of ownership", and have the messages communicated in an "intensive manner", it added.

Year-long campaigns, however, are a challenge, said Nanyang Technological University's Assistant Professor Marko Skoric from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information.

"Do you want to hear about dengue for a year? I'm not sure."

He suggested giving a variety of materials, rather than crafting a specific message, so people can continually discuss and reflect on the topic.

Social media like Facebook can be particularly useful.

"When you share a message, there's a certain sense of commitment," said Dr Skoric. "In the process, you may persuade not just others, but also yourself, that it's important to do something about dengue."

chpoon@sph.com.sg