MOH should keep eye on immigration-related health issues

The following is a letter to the Today newspaper which was rejected for publication by the paper.

See Leong Kit

I refer to  Overuse of antibiotics leads to the rise of drug-resistant TB in China and  Superbug-gene found in New Delhi water raises fear of global spread in your  TODAY April 8 edition.

Once thought eradicated, tuberculosis has made a worldwide comeback with the worrying emergence of  Multidrug-Resitant Tuberculosis (MDR-TB) and  Extensively Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis (XDR-TB), both of which are very difficult to treat.

The World Health Organisation has indicated that China, India, Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam to be hotbeds of TB infection.  The majority of our immigrants and migrant workers come from these countries.

Our Health Ministry’s statistics showed that around 1,500 new cases of TB each year were detected among Singaporeans and permanent residents.  Foreigners account for another 550 new cases each year.

Even more worrying is the increasing number of TB patients here who fail to complete their treatment.  This will lead to further spread of TB and the rise of drug-resistant strains of the TB bacteria.

TB is a highly contagious airborne disease that can be easily contracted in crowded places such as schools, universities, army camps, offices, buses and trains.

While TB affects mostly the lungs, it can spread to other organs such as the brain, heart, bones and even the womb of female victims.

No longer a disease confined to the elderly, TB is now afflicting younger Singaporeans, such as a 21-year old National Serviceman, a 30-year old teacher and a 40-year old managing director.

Amongst last year’s new cases, there were 153 Singapore-born TB victims under the age of 30, of which 12 victims were under 9 years of age.

The writing is on the wall.  In 2005, our public were mostly unaware of the following two TB incidents in our schools.

In one case, a primary school teacher with a persistent cough was diagnosed with TB.

Of the at-risk 38 students and 12 teachers sent for TB screening, five students and three teachers were found to have picked up her TB infection.

In the other case, a Chinese national secondary student was found to have TB.  Of the 70 students and 10 teachers screened, five were found to have been infected with TB.

As a tiny densely-populated island with hot humid climate, Singapore is particularly vulnerable to the spread of infectious diseases, such as TB, SARS, H1N1, Bird Flu.

Our fight against public health threats must lie in constant vigilance, coupled with a transparent approach and pro-active preventive measures.

There is no room for the type of complacency and too-late reactive measures that we have seen in the Mas Selamat escape debacle.

Concerned Singaporeans certainly expect our Health Ministry to issue a timely and credible public assurance on such important public health issues.