10 August 2014

Singapore is on standby to act on Ebola

Singapore's Ministry of Health (MOH) has gone beyond WHO recommendations for Ebola virus disease (EVD), which it says it has already put in place as part of its preparedness plan against EVD. It is also ready to calibrate its measures as the situation evolves.

As recommended, the ministry is raising the awareness and knowledge of travellers about the potential risk of EVD. "Information on EVD has been provided to the public and potential travellers on MOH’s website, and in its media release issued on 7 August. Singaporeans have been advised to avoid non-essential travel to affected areas. Instructions have also been provided on precautions to take if there is a need to travel to affected areas," the ministry stated in a release on 8 August.

At the same time, all medical practitioners and hospitals have been alerted, through professional circulars, to the EVD situation in West Africa. "They are advised to remain vigilant to pick up cases of EVD early amongst patients with compatible symptoms and a travel history to affected areas. MOH has also provided guidance on the criteria for defining suspect EVD cases, and on how to notify MOH of such cases," the ministry said.

Singapore is no stranger to preparedness procedures for infectious diseases since dealing with SARS in 2003. According to the Ministry of Health, all public hospitals have put in place infection control procedures in the event of an imported EVD case. Processes have also been put in place include:

  • Sending samples for EVD testing at the National Public Health Laboratory’s designated testing facilities. 
  • Centralising the management of suspect cases of EVD in Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH). Suspect cases who are seriously ill will be transported in specially configured ambulances, and all suspect cases will be managed in negative pressure isolation rooms with strict infection control procedures.

Contingency plans are also in place at Singapore's Changi Airport to manage passengers with signs of EVD. In 2013, Changi saw 53.7 million passengers arriving and departing. Such passengers will be isolated and transferred using a portable medical isolation unit (PMIU) to TTSH for further management.

Precautionary measures in Singapore's preparedness against EVD over and above the WHO recommendations include border health measures as well as contact tracing and quarantine. MOH has worked with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) and the Changi Airport Group (CAG) on border health measures. Individual health advisory notices (HANs) have been distributed to nationals from the affected areas at air and land checkpoints since 2pm on 7 August 2014.

The HAN advises travellers to consult a doctor early, and inform the doctor of their travel history if they become unwell, with sudden onset of high fever, stomach pains, diarrhoea, vomiting, rash or bleeding, within three weeks of being in any of the affected areas in West Africa. Similar advice is provided in Health Advisory posters at land and air checkpoints, which have been progressively put up from 8 August.

The MOH says it has been ready to conduct contact tracing in the event of a confirmed case of EVD since the beginning of the outbreak in West Africa. All close contacts will be quarantined and monitored for up to 21 days, either in their homes or in the Government Quarantine Facility (GQF) in Pasir Ris.

Read about the WHO announcement here.
India's preparedness measures are here.