'Swat team' may be set up to tackle disease outbreaks

Mr Chee Hong Tat giving an update on the new task force.
Mr Chee Hong Tat giving an update on the new task force. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

A Ministry of Health (MOH) task force is considering setting up a national-level "Swat team", comprising infectious disease experts who can be mobilised at short notice to respond to outbreaks in any healthcare institution here.

Such a team will strengthen Singapore's capabilities to respond to outbreaks, said Minister of State for Health Chee Hong Tat, as it is not feasible for every healthcare facility to have a full-fledged infection control response team that can respond to complex and unusual outbreaks.

The "Swat team" is one of four measures being considered by the task force set up earlier this month to help Singapore better respond to unusual infections, in the wake of the hepatitis C outbreak at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) earlier this year.


Mr Chee, chairman of the task force, gave the update at Tan Tock Seng Hospital yesterday at the launch of an SG50 book and video about Singapore's experience in overcoming infectious diseases.

Other measures being considered include reviewing standard operating procedures, making better use of technology and reviewing the list of notifiable diseases under the Infectious Diseases Act.

Mr Chee said: "The 'Swat team' members can come from different institutions in Singapore (in) both public and private sectors.

"There could be a few full-time members while the rest are experts from our hospitals, universities and government agencies who MOH could call upon and activate during an outbreak."

To date, 25 patients who were warded at SGH have been diagnosed with the same family of hepatitis C virus. Eight patients have died, with the hepatitis C virus infection "a likely contributory factor" in seven of the deaths.

An independent review panel found that while there were solid reporting procedures for well-known infectious diseases and epidemics, these were not effective in catching an unusual and unfamiliar outbreak like the hepatitis C infections.

Associate Professor David Lye, senior consultant at Tan Tock Seng Hospital's Infectious Diseases Department and Institute of Infectious Diseases and Epidemiology, said a "Swat team" is a fantastic idea. "We are small and we do not have the same number of experts in every institution. The 'Swat team' allows us to get experts from different areas together very rapidly and work together on an emergent issue," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 29, 2015, with the headline ''Swat team' may be set up to tackle disease outbreaks'. Print Edition | Subscribe