Doc who helped make it safer to conduct Covid-19 swab tests among 3 recipients of LKY scholarship

Dr Hairil Rizal Abdullah (left), Dr M. Premikha (centre) and Mr Matthew Lee are three recipients of the bond-free scholarship. PHOTOS: SGH, DIOS VINCOY JR

SINGAPORE - Inspired by a close mentor, Dr Hairil Rizal Abdullah moved from Malaysia to Singapore in 2008 to join the local medical field.

The 42-year-old, who became a Singapore citizen in 2018, has since made significant contributions to the healthcare sector here.

He said his mentor, a clinician, inspired him to pursue a similar path she had taken - moving to Singapore and learning about healthcare here.

Dr Hairil told The Straits Times: "Ninety per cent of who I am or what I have achieved is really because of my mentors, and it is really about standing on the shoulders of giants.

"What I am trying to do in my current career is to pay it forward and to try to inspire as many mentees as possible, just like how my mentors did."

As a senior consultant at Singapore General Hospital's (SGH) department of anaesthesiology, he has been at the forefront of the Covid-19 crisis since it started more than two years ago.

In March 2020, Dr Hairil led a small team of doctors at SGH to develop a transparent and safer booth system for swab tests.

Swab Assurance For Everyone, or SG Safe, is a foldable transparent booth equipped with a pair of level-three biosafety gloves. This procedure makes it easier for healthcare workers to perform high-risk coronavirus swab tests.

The system was also deployed at foreign worker dormitories where large-scale testing was conducted.

Dr Hairil next plans to create the largest database of perioperative and critical care patients, and develop machine-learning models for predicting surgical complications.

Perioperative refers to the three phases of surgery - pre-surgery, during surgery and post-surgery.

Dr Hairil's strong sense of commitment to serving the healthcare sector earned him the Lee Kuan Yew Scholarship this year.

He is one of three people who were awarded the bond-free scholarship at a ceremony at InterContinental Hotel on Thursday (June 2).

Set up in 1991 by the Tanjong Pagar Citizens' Consultative Committee to commemorate the significant contributions by Singapore's founding prime minister, the Lee Kuan Yew Scholarship is given to outstanding Singaporeans to help them pursue postgraduate studies.

Dr Hairil is currently pursuing a PhD in clinical and translational sciences at Duke-NUS medical school.

Another recipient, Dr M. Premikha, 26, also played an important role during the pandemic.

While she was at the Ministry of Health (MOH) from July 2021 to January this year, her team was tasked with securing early access to Covid-19 vaccines and therapeutics for Singapore.

Among her responsibilities was negotiating advanced purchase agreements with different vaccine manufacturers.

When she was at MOH, Dr M. Premikha's team was tasked with securing early access to Covid-19 vaccines for Singapore. ST PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR

Noting that the team had to factor in several uncertainties in the agreements, Dr Premikha said: "It was so hard to ascertain the demand because when I was negotiating, we did not even know if there was a need for a booster vaccination.

"We were like, 'So what if we don't need the boosters? What do we do with the stocks? Or what if we need them? Then we won't have enough'."

She also worked with Gavi, the international vaccine alliance, to bring in vaccines through its Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (Covax) programme, and coordinated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to donate vaccines to neighbouring countries in need.

Later this month, Dr Premikha will head to Johns Hopkins University in the United States to begin a one-year master's programme in public health.

The third recipient of the Lee Kuan Yew Scholarship is Mr Matthew Lee Mun Hong, 32, who has been in public service since 2014.

Passionate about leveraging data and technology to drive change, he has contributed significantly to the whole-of-government strategy for greater data sharing within the Government and with the public.

Mr Lee established a data unit in the Ministry of Manpower when he was posted there. By pooling employment-related data from across government, the unit created a secure data lab, ensuring good data governance.

He said: "This whole project was about trying to bring data that was already available across government and pulling it together so that different parts of government could use that data for better analysis, rather than just relying on survey data."

Mr Matthew Lee helped to create a secure data lab by pooling data from across government. ST PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR

Mr Lee is now the deputy director of subsidy and subvention for the Healthcare Finance Group at MOH where he oversees funding for the long-term care sector.

He drove the transformation of finance processes in his division, where he teamed up with the Government Technology Agency (GovTech) to simplify the disbursement process.

He said: "I worked with GovTech and I knew there were these off-the-shelf sort of solutions just to automate the workflows and basically got rid of the very frustrating part of the process for the team."

Mr Lee hopes to continue supporting the public service by undertaking a postgraduate programme focused on technology management. In July, he will pursue a Master of Science in management at Stanford University in the US.

Dr Premikha will get a $50,000 allowance for up to two years from the scholarship since she is from the private sector, while Dr Hairil and Mr Lee, who are in the public sector, will each get a one-off award of $10,000 as their postgraduate studies are sponsored by their agencies.

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