It’s hot and humid in Singapore, all year round. Perfect weather for people-watching, subway-riding, and ice-cream eating. Oh, and of course, mosquito breeding!
In May and June of this year, I had the opportunity to participate in a study exchange in South East Asia to learn more about Global Health. While a group of young professionals from Malaysia and Singapore spent time in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, my first week in Asia was spent in Singapore, where I met with the National Environment Agency (NEA) to learn about their dengue prevention program.
Mosquito-borne illnesses are a serious global health concern, affecting populations throughout the world, with a disproportionate impact on children and adolescents. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), dengue fever is the most significant mosquito-borne viral illness in the world, with up to 50 million infections occurring annually.
This year Singapore is experiencing the worst dengue outbreak on record, and the city-state is in high gear trying to control the health impacts of the outbreak. From what I could gather, the fight against dengue is happening in a multi-faceted way: GIS is used to identify areas of the city where outbreaks are occurring; public education campaigns are used to teach people how to prevent mosquito-breeding in their homes and gardens; and targeted, chemical and biological mosquito controls are used when deemed necessary.
Many Singaporeans live in public-housing developments, which house residents of all income levels. These developments are exemplary of intelligent urban planning – they are highly dense, and designed in blocks to facilitate social interaction. Most blocks have daycares, playgrounds, shops, gardens, and community centres. While these dense areas mean that dengue can travel quickly among residents, they are also ideal places to locate public education sessions on prevention. As you can see in the photos, I accompanied some of the NEA staff to housing developments where they were working on the ground.
It was impressive to see the systematic approach to dengue prevention in the offices, and in the communities. Still, this tightly organized process is clearly resource-intensive, and so would be difficult to model in any other setting – after all, Singapore is one of the richest countries in the world, and is also a tightly controlled society. It’s considered a “fine-city” by local residents, as fines and jail sentences are the methods for maintaining societal control. For example, if residents fail to comply with the strategies to reduce mosquito-breeding, they can be fined, and if they ‘re-offend’ can be thrown in jail!
Clearly, this is where questions around ethics emerge – where do public health policies conflict with individual freedoms? I didn’t get a chance to discuss this question deeply with local Singaporeans, but regardless, “operation mozzie-free” is going full-speed ahead in Singapore to try and curb this year’s outbreak. Stay tuned for updates!