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Speech by Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, at Launch of National Dengue Prevention Campaign 2019, on Sunday 7 April 2019, at Kampung Admiralty Community Plaza

TOPICS: Dengue

Mayor Dr Teo Ho Pin

Mr Amrin Amin, Adviser to Woodlands GROs

Mr David Sim, Chairman of Woodlands CCC

Ladies and gentlemen

1 Good morning. Thank you for joining us today for the launch of the National Dengue Prevention Campaign 2019.

 Increase in Dengue Cases

2 Dengue is an ongoing threat, and the effects of climate change will exacerbate this challenge. In the first quarter of 2019, we saw over 2,000 dengue cases in Singapore, with three deaths from dengue fever. The number of cases is more than a three-fold increase from the same period last year. The National Environment Agency, or NEA, has also found from its Gravitrap surveillance system that the mosquito population remains high.

3 This predicament is not unique to Singapore. Indonesia, for instance, has reported a sharp spike in dengue cases in January 2019, with more than 13,000 cases and 133 deaths reported. And in Malaysia, according to their i-dengue website, there were 34,222 dengue cases between 30th December 2018 and 23rd March 2019, which is more than twice the number of cases reported over a similar period last year.

4 We are fast approaching the warmer months, which has traditionally been the peak dengue season. Warm weather is optimal for accelerated breeding of the Aedes mosquitoes, and is likely to lead to an increase in the number of dengue cases. Hence, it is imperative that we be extra vigilant to contain dengue.     

Dengue Prevention Strategy

5 NEA has a holistic and rigorous vector control strategy comprising four key thrusts. First, effective surveillance. NEA has successfully deployed its Gravitrap surveillance system in all HDB estates. The Gravitrap is a mosquito trap which allows NEA to capture female Aedes mosquitoes and their eggs. By deploying them in all HDB estates, NEA is able to get an overview of the mosquito density in different parts of Singapore. This helps our officers to plan the distribution of resources to focus on areas with high mosquito population, thus enabling more efficient deployment of limited manpower resources. The Gravitrap surveillance system has enabled NEA to remove 21 per cent more breeding habitats last year, compared to 2017. Riding on the success of this innovative surveillance technology, NEA will progressively expand the deployment of the Gravitrap surveillance system to landed estates, in the second half of this year.

6 Second, prevention and control measures to keep the mosquito population low. You may have heard of ‘Project Wolbachia – Singapore’. Under this project, NEA has been studying the feasibility of releasing Wolbachia-carrying male Aedes mosquitoes into the community to reduce the mosquito population and lower transmission of dengue. When the male Wolbachia-Aedes mosquitoes mate with female Aedes mosquitoes, they produce eggs that do not hatch. NEA has seen some very encouraging results from the recently-concluded phase 2 study. In the study at Nee Soon East, we observed that the Aedes mosquito population has decreased by about 80 per cent, and in Tampines West, it has decreased by 70 per cent. When I visited the Phase 3 field study at Tampines West in February, my residents welcomed this novel approach to reduce the mosquito population. We are thankful for their support.

7 NEA’s collaborations with local and international companies to increase the efficiency of Project Wolbachia are also bearing fruit. One example is the partnership with home-grown Orinno Technology Pte Ltd to develop a launcher that systematically and uniformly releases mosquitoes. Verily – a Google affiliate – has also developed a sorter that accurately separates male mosquitoes using artificial intelligence. These male Wolbachia-Aedes mosquitoes, which do not bite, are released at high-rise residential blocks. These innovations have helped Project Wolbachia’s progress, and we look forward to more technological breakthroughs.

8 However, we cannot rely solely on science and technology in our fight against dengue. This brings me to the third key thrust, which is swift and robust outbreak management to break disease transmission. Whenever there is an outbreak, NEA, together with the Inter-Agency Dengue Task Force and Town Councils, immediately launches intensive source reduction exercises to remove potential mosquito breeding habitats in public areas and housing estates. In 2018, NEA conducted close to one million inspections for mosquito breeding, including about 9,000 checks at construction sites, and it uncovered about 18,000 mosquito breeding habitats.

9 The last, but equally important thrust, is community vigilance and involvement. This is the reason why we are gathered here today. The Government can only do so much to fight dengue. To win the war on dengue, we need everyone to be vigilant and to play their part. All of us have a responsibility to remove stagnant water at home. Common breeding spots include pails, dish trays, flower pot plates and vases. All it takes is a 20-cent-sized drop of water for mosquitoes to breed.

10 This morning, Mayors, local Grassroots Advisers, community leaders and Dengue Prevention Volunteers will be visiting neighbourhoods across the island to share with residents some dengue prevention tips, including how to identify potential mosquito breeding areas. The continuous support of our local communities has helped us tremendously in the past, and will continue to be an important part of our war against dengue.

Conclusion

11 Let me conclude by thanking all our grassroots leaders, volunteers and residents who have partnered us in our dengue prevention efforts. Let us continue to stay vigilant, and practise the five-step Mozzie Wipeout to protect ourselves and our loved ones. Thank you. 

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