Forum: Medical profession more prepared for outbreaks after Sars experience

Healhcare workers at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Singapore has a complex healthcare system - there are over 14,000 registered doctors working in restructured hospitals, community hospitals, private hospitals, medical centres, and clinics in malls and housing estates. This is regardless of their speciality.

In 2003, when the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) struck Singapore, it was a new and unknown disease. It caught the world by surprise - 774 people died, out of more than 8,000 infected over a nine-month period.

Since then, the medical profession has put in great effort to be ready for the next pandemic. We have gone through the H1N1 crisis in 2009, seasonal yearly influenza, as well as preparation for the Middle East respiratory syndrome in 2015.

We have collectively learnt a lot in the 17 years since Sars. The Private Hospitals and Medical Clinics Act has made it compulsory for all medical facilities to maintain a one-week supply of personal protective equipment (PPE). All doctors would have gone through training on the use of PPE, and been educated on the role of precautions such as maintaining hand hygiene in reducing the transmission of infections.

In the face of the current novel coronavirus outbreak, the Ministry of Health has been fast and proactive in engaging the various stakeholders - leaders of restructured and private hospitals and professional bodies such as the College of Family Physicians Singapore and the Singapore Medical Association (SMA).

Overall, we are a lot more prepared. The SMA represents a diverse group - specialists and generalists, private and public, as well as medical students. We are working closely with the ministry to provide a reliable source of support, ground feedback and insights on real-life encounters, as well as to keep our members updated.

With modern communications and social media, news spreads quickly. It is important not to be distracted by potentially fake news, but to refer to reliable sources such as the official ministry updates at

We do not underestimate this new outbreak, but will meet the challenge together with the people of Singapore.

Tan Yia Swam (Dr)

First Vice-President

Singapore Medical Association

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 29, 2020, with the headline Forum: Medical profession more prepared for outbreaks after Sars experience. Subscribe