Singapore is Using Hard-Won Lessons to Fight the New Coronavirus. What Was The Key To Success?
Between 2014 and 2016, the world was hit by what was then considered as the most complex epidemic; Ebola. Globally the outbreak claimed the lives of more than 11,000 in addition to 28,000 infections. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), West African countries including Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone suffered the most.
The spread of the virus was not rapid perhaps because it did not get into urban areas. Besides, it is not an airborne disease. However, despite everything else, teamwork from the health workers was significant, a move that helped contain infections.
Today, the world is hunkered down to avoid the spread of COVID-19. The Pandemic continues to claim hundreds of lives every day across 110 countries. Unfortunately and unlike Ebola, the virus spreads effortlessly through respiratory droplets. This has resulted in many health workers choosing to down their tools in fear of contaminating the virus.
But Coronavirus is Not the First Frightening Nightmare for Singapore
As at the end of March, Singapore had 732 COVID-19 cases in addition to two deaths. Among many other measures, the country has established a working relationship with Malaysia to contain the spread of the virus. The two have agreed to put in place a 14 – day lockdown. This has caught hundreds of Malaysians living and working in Singapore and given the new wave of job losses and business closures, they may want to return home to their families.
The COVID-19 pandemic Singapore may or may not have been a surprise for the country. This is because it is not the first nightmare the country is experiencing. In 2002 and 2003 Singapore lost around 33 people to Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
This was a wakeup call for the island country. The call renewed a need to review its health strategies and structures to take care of another future pandemic. This was according to an infectious disease researcher, Martin Hibberd. Being ready in whatever little means would reduce economic cost at that time.
Surprisingly, in 2009, Singapore was hit again by H1N1 influenza – the Swine flu. The situation was more wanting than that of SARS. Hence, it was another lesson all together to upgrade the country’s health infrastructure.
Singapore Was or Seemed Ready for the COVID-19 Pandemic. Why?
From the previous challenges and having learned endless lessons, Singapore upped its measures. The first project was to invest in a reliable health system for future preparation and with the swine flu pandemic, the country implemented new travel controls. These measures put the country in the preparedness of any other pandemic including the COVID-19.
When the pandemic hit, Singapore quickly set up protocols of testing and isolating positive cases as well as identifying those they had contact with. While most countries, announced the lockdown measures, washing of hands and social distancing after identifying a few cases, Singapore instituted the measures way in advance including the closure of schools and social events.
The quick action played a significant role in reducing the number of infections and has also lowered the number of fatalities. According to public health experts, neither the health workers nor the health system is feeling overloaded. Besides, the government has continued to provide updated data of the tested and positive cases and where they are located. The country does this through various platform including government websites and a government Whatsapp account.
This is not only happening in Singapore. South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan have also implemented strict measures. They have established their test the moment genetic sequences were published. And unlike in many countries, people do not have to pay for testing in Japan while in Singapore, the government is paying for hospitalization.
The director of health and care at the International Federation of Red Cross, Emanuele Capobianco noted, “Epidemic preparedness starts years before an outbreak… If [the] number of beds or doctors were cut over the years, for example, it will be very difficult to compensate in a short period.”
How Can We Prepare Ourselves Better To Deal With A Future Pandemic?
Asian cities and countries have continued to stand out in the fight against COVID-19. Their leaders rolled out into action and collaboration to deal with the menace. And while Singapore is leaving no stones unturned other countries must establish stronger strategies to fight any other future pandemic.
Speaking in a World Economic Forum in October 2019, October 2019 pointed out that many countries do not have a responsive health system, which can bring together a hundred thousand health workers when the need arises. The American philanthropist said that being prepared for a similar pandemic would require dramatic and swift change. In case, today’s science and technology and trends in biotechnology should provide war preparedness.
Here are some of the recommendations suggested by Gates for dealing with the next pandemic: –
- Train as many experts as possible and deploy them to the necessary areas for preparation
- Conduct simulations to test the preparedness of the people, the leaders and the nation at large.
- Prepare military and medical professionals and experts
- Establish or upgrade health and strong structures especially in poor countries.
- Carry out continuous research and development in health trends, diagnostic and vaccines.
- Engage with global health stakeholders.
Nonetheless, even though COVID-19 seems to be one of the most serious threats in decades all is not lost. However, there is no single nation that can fight it alone. Børge Brende and Ryan Morhard; the President of the World Economic Forum and the Forum’s Community Lead insist on the need to work together.
The duo emphasis that leaders and infectious disease experts must participate to protect the whole world. It is possible to mitigate the crisis but only if people are informed and equipped. These early preparations will also make everyone resistant to future risks.
Meanwhile, the spread of the fast-moving virus continues to on the global spotlight as every nation fights to contain it.