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09 Dec 2019

9th Dec 2019

Datuk Dr Christopher Lee, Deputy Director General of Health (Research & Technical Support), Ministry of Health, Malaysia

Dr Richard Hatchett, Chief Executive Officer, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations

Professor Thomas Coffman, Dean, Duke-NUS Medical School

Dr Marie-Pierre Preziosi, Lead Flagship Projects, Initiative for Vaccine Research, World Health Organization

Dr Cristina Cassetti, Deputy Director, Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health

Distinguished guests

Ladies and gentlemen

Good morning. It is my pleasure to join you at the Nipah Virus International Conference to mark the 20th anniversary of Nipah. It is important that we can come together to take stock of the current work and consider how we may better address Emerging Infectious Diseases (EIDs).

EIDs continue to be of threat to the world. Singapore, like other countries, is not spared from them. Besides Nipah, Singapore had also experienced other EIDs including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), pandemic influenza A(H1N1), and Zika. While we may not be able to predict when, or where, the next EID will emerge, our collective experience and capabilities – between governments, healthcare providers, research institutions, international organisations such as the World Health Organization (WHO), and other stakeholders –can help us better manage the next EID and mitigate its impact.

There are three important elements in the defence against EIDs – i) Capabilities, ii) Cooperation, and iii) Commitment to Research.

Building Capabilities

4.     Firstly, building and maintaining capabilities. Strong public health capabilities and systems are important in managing and responding to public health crisis. This includes developing a broad range of expertise including surveillance and risk assessment, preparedness and response, as well as research. Beyond public health, the healthcare system must be able to support the clinical needs of persons with EID. Building from our experience in tackling EIDs, Singapore adopts an integrated and dedicated approach, with the capability to provide both clinical services and public health functions, to detect, respond to, and contain EIDs. In this regard, the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) was opened this year to strengthen Singapore’s capabilities in public health preparedness and infectious disease management and prevention.

At the heart of it, the capabilities and the commitment of our healthcare professionals are critical in managing an epidemic. Recognising this, Singapore continues to invest in training and maintaining the expertise of public health practitioners and healthcare professionals. We established the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health (SSHSPH), National University of Singapore, a full-fledged national public health tertiary education institution to train and develop public health manpower. In addition, other local tertiary institutions are producing more healthcare professionals in nursing and medicine, and creating different specialist tracks to boost our healthcare and clinical capabilities.

Cooperation, collaboration and coordination to move forward in fight against Nipah virus

6.     The responsibility and ability to address diseases do not rest in one institution, one sector and one country alone. This brings me to the second “C”, or perhaps more accurately, the second series of “C”s – Cooperation, Collaboration and Coordination.

The management of zoonotic diseases such as Nipah underscores the importance of coordination across sectors. In Singapore, we adopt an interdisciplinary One Health approach to integrate human, animal and environmental health surveillance and response. Robust animal and human surveillance, together with human and infrastructure capabilities, are critical in providing an early warning for veterinary and human public health authorities. The Ministry of Health, together with other agencies including the Animal & Veterinary Service in NParks, the National Environment Agency, and the Singapore Food Agency work closely together to develop capabilities and strengthen surveillance.

During the Malaysia-Singapore Nipah outbreak, close working relationships amongst the professionals in Singapore, Malaysia and US CDC facilitated the identification of pigs as the intermediate amplifying hosts. Fostering collaborations and partnerships with international and regional public health stakeholders is important, especially since infectious diseases are not constrained by borders. Communication, cooperation and collaboration between local and international players are required for successful public health intervention.

Commitment to research

9.     Finally, as novel diseases continue to emerge, we need to be better prepared for them by being committed to conduct and invest in research. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovation (CEPI) was launched at Davos in 2017 with the aim to accelerate the development of vaccines against EIDs. It marks an innovative partnership between public, private, philanthropic, and civil organisations to facilitate intellectual and technological advances in managing infectious diseases. Singapore’s support of CEPI’s efforts through Duke-NUS’s partnership with CEPI to organise this Nipah Virus International Conference is an example of how different players can come together to support work on research.

Separately, WHO has identified the Nipah virus pathogen as an epidemic threat that requires urgent research and development. The Nipah Research and Development roadmap, which will be discussed at this conference, with the aim to develop countermeasures such as diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines against the Nipah virus, can help to identify solutions on how to address the threat of Nipah.


11.     Nipah is one example of why we should and could do more for EID. I applaud the organisers for bringing experts from different fields across the region together to review, discuss and foster greater international collaboration.

I hope that this conference will bring about new partnerships and collaborations, and inspire innovative and effective solutions to boost our efforts in fighting Nipah virus. I wish everyone a fruitful and successful conference. Thank you.

Category: Speeches