Singapore’s Lenient Plan
With COVID-19 cases rising due to the Delta variant, many countries are returning to strict mandates and lockdowns, as seen at the beginning of the pandemic. Singapore, a country that endorsed strict COVID-19 restrictions at the beginning of the pandemic, is now adopting a more lenient model. This model eliminates lockdowns, large-scale contact tracing and travel-related quarantine measures, among other measures. Going even further, Singapore would no longer tally daily COVID-19 cases. Singapore’s latest lenient plan for mitigating COVID-19 aims to help the country quickly recover from the effects of the pandemic.

Vaccination as a Key Component to Singapore’s Plan

The world holds Singapore in high regard for its initial success in containing the pandemic through a swift COVID-19 response and stringent measures. Vaccination is a crucial component to the success of Singapore’s new lenient plan. Singapore’s COVID-19 task force makes it clear that eliminating COVID-19 entirely is not a realistic short-term solution. The task force suggests that learning to properly manage and live with COVID-19 is a much more effective strategy. Singapore’s Health Minister Ong Ye Kung made this clear to the Straits Times. He says, “We can turn the pandemic into something much less threatening, like influenza, hand, foot and mouth disease or chickenpox, and get on with our lives.”

Vaccinations are effective in mitigating the risk of contracting COVID-19. While there is no guarantee that vaccinated individuals will not contract the virus, vaccination helps to mitigate the severity of symptoms experienced, reducing the likelihood of hospitalization and decreasing strain on healthcare systems. Singapore predicts that about 66% of its population will be fully vaccinated by the end of August 2021. A majority vaccinated population will allow the country to employ this lenient model without significant harm.

Immediate Effects of the Plan

The beginning of this more lenient plan has shown a spike in cases connected to the opening of a karaoke lounge. Singapore reported 56 cases on July 14, 2021, 41 of which were tied to karaoke lounges. While this number may seem low, it is the highest spike Singapore has experienced in 10 months. As a consequence, Singapore has reevaluated its leniency, tightening restrictions once more and slowing down the implementation of its plan, with certain exemptions for vaccinated individuals only.

COVID-19’s Disparate Effects on the Impoverished

Like many other countries worldwide, COVID-19 has hit Singapore’s impoverished the hardest. The economic crisis caused by the initial onset of the pandemic forced businesses to close their doors, causing widespread job losses and a decrease in employment opportunities. Low-income families have suffered greatly from job losses and the downturn of the economy. Low-income families have little monetary buffer to support them through economic shocks, and thus, struggle to find the means to purchase food and necessities at an even greater rate than before the pandemic came about.

As Singapore begins to ease restrictions, employers can increase working hours, which will allow job opportunities to arise. Singapore’s lenient plan will allow the economy to fully reopen, allowing those in food service and other service-based jobs to resume employment. This means employees will receive paychecks to help them support themselves and their families.

The Good News

With about  71% of the population in Singapore fully vaccinated as of August 14, 2021, the country is well on its way to a 100% fully vaccinated nation. If Singapore can successfully reopen without significant spikes in COVID-19, then activities should resume as normal. Overall, Singapore’s plan, if successful, will allow the economy to heal and help low-income families begin to recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

– Lily Vassalo
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Singapore
Like most of the world throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Singapore has undergone a health and economic crisis while battling the novel coronavirus. However, the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Singapore has disproportionately affected Singapore’s low-wage migrant workforce as the country continues the fight against the virus and the race to distribute vaccines.

COVID-19 Within Singapore’s Low-Wage Workforce

As early as the fall of 2020, Singapore seemed to return to life as normal with restaurants reopening and malls filling with crowds. However, the nation’s low-wage workforce, which included primarily migrant workers, faced a COVID-19 surge and a battle of its own.

Singapore’s low-wage workforce consists of more than 300,000 foreign construction and manufacturing workers from countries such as India and Bangladesh. These workers live in crowded dorms throughout their work period where COVID-19 quickly becomes rampant. Migrant workers accounted for nearly 95% of the country’s novel coronavirus cases as of September 8, 2020. With the placement of quarantine orders on these workers after numerous outbreaks, many had to stay in hot, overcrowded rooms without ventilation. As a result, the workers became exposed to the virus.

These workers have been extremely vulnerable to both the novel coronavirus and economic fallout due to factors such as overcrowded dorms, “hazardous working conditions,” low pay and lack of access to social protection. Many workers did not receive full wages throughout the quarantine order and faced high health costs when eventually returning home.

Poverty in East Asia: The Effects of the COVID-19

Despite recent post-COVID-19 economic recoveries in many East Asian countries, the World Bank reported that emerging post-pandemic recovery is and will continue to be uneven as the country’s most impoverished bear the brunt of the COVID-19 economic crisis. Poverty in East Asia and the Pacific stopped declining for the first time in more than 20 years as an estimated 32 million citizens across the region were unable to escape poverty as a result of unequal access to social, medical, educational and technological support.

A Future of Hope and a United Fight

Hope for Singapore’s citizens continues to come in the form of vaccines. More than a third of the country’s 5.7 million citizens have been fully vaccinated and nearly half of the population received at least one dose of a COVID-19 shot as of June 19, 2021. The government plans to complete vaccinations by the end of 2021.

Additionally, the World Bank Group has begun numerous relief programs in Eastern Asia and the Pacific region. Part of the organization’s $125 billion fund will go toward combating the “health, economic and social impacts” of the novel coronavirus globally and the World Bank Group plans to establish COVID-19 fast-track facilities. The World Bank Group intends to provide emergency funding for medical supplies and medical training while also working to strengthen national public health systems.

Returning to “Normal”

As Singapore eases back into normality as its population becomes vaccinated, a new awareness of social inequality is spreading domestically and internationally. A BBC article from September 18, 2020, states that the crisis exposes a “pandemic of inequality” within the country. Meanwhile, a foreign policy piece, published on May 6, 2020, describes Singapore’s lack of action in combating the economic crisis as a failure to see migrant workers as people.

While inequalities and poverty in Singapore have worsened throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, activists around the world and across the nation are advocating for better conditions and awareness as the reopening process occurs. Organizations such as the World Bank Group, the Human Rights Campaign and Amnesty International are continuing to provide aid and advocacy for extremely impoverished people in Singapore. As the country climbs out of the COVID-19 pandemic, a future of hope and awareness presents itself. There is hope that the distribution of vaccines, education about the crisis and international funding will reduce the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Singapore.

– Lillian Ellis
Photo: Flickr

Engineering Good On April 7, 2020, Singapore commenced its Circuit Breaker — a series of measures designed to restrict social interaction — in an effort to safeguard the country from COVID-19. The government eased the restrictions after June 1, 2020, but the economic consequences reverberated long after, including a spike in unemployment and an estimated GDP contraction of 2.2%. As in other countries, low-income families in Singapore were more adversely affected by the pandemic and the disruptions that came with it. Impoverished Singaporeans felt a disproportionate impact, particularly in education, as students transitioned to home-based learning in compliance with Circuit Breaker measures. Parents and children from low-income households felt the proverbial rug pulled from under their feet as they scrambled to access laptops and reliable Wi-Fi routers and struggled to create an environment conducive to learning. Fortunately, Engineering Good stepped in to help with its Computers Against COVID campaign.

Engineering Good

Engineering Good, a Singapore-based charity established in 2014, supports low-income families and people with disabilities by improving their digital literacy and access to technology. Responding to the urgent need for laptops that arose due to home-based learning, Engineering Good refurbished secondhand laptops for low-income families in Singapore. The project became its flagship campaign, Computers Against COVID.

Computers Against COVID

The Computers Against COVID campaign began when the South Central Community Family Center reached out to Engineering Good requesting 24 laptops for low-income families in Singapore to support households’ home-based learning efforts. Leveraging the power of social media, the charity made requests to the public to donate their old laptops and computer accessories.

The response to Engineering Good’s social media campaign was overwhelming. Within two weeks, the charity had recruited more than 100 volunteers and received more than 600 laptops as donations. In an interview with The Peak Magazine, the executive director of Engineering Good, Johann Annuar, attributed the campaign’s success to Singaporean people’s desires to give back to society. The goodwill of donors and volunteers has enabled what was meant to be a one-weekend project of fixing a few laptops to transform into a more than year-long community endeavor.

As of May 2021, Engineering Good has refurbished and donated more than 4,000 laptops for low-income families in Singapore. The charity continues to receive requests of up to 200 laptops each month and works with around 200 social service organizations that help identify those most in need.

Continuing to Fight Digital Inequality

Given the Computers Against COVID campaign’s success, Engineering Good is now looking to transform the project into a long-term, sustainable initiative. The charity hopes to continue providing laptops and technical expertise to anyone in need, whether it be for home-based learning or other purposes, such as remote work. Invigorated by a sense of purpose, the organization’s volunteers are eager to continue making a difference, especially after realizing, as one volunteer described it, that “an extremely tiny sacrifice’’ of one’s time to fix a computer could potentially transform a family’s life for years.

While the issue of digital inequality has long loomed large in Singapore, COVID-19’s subversion of work and student life has accentuated the urgency with which both the public and nonprofit sectors must address the digital divide. As Engineering Good supports low-income families through laptop repair and other services, public demand for further government action is growing. As Singapore’s digital divide closes, impoverished families are able to participate in endeavors that educate and empower them, allowing disadvantaged Singaporeans to rise out of poverty.

Vyas Nageswaran
Photo: Flickr

Women in SingaporeIn 1961, young girls and women in Singapore received the promise of change when the country passed the Women’s Charter legislative act. The Women’s Charter establishes the regulation of romantic and family relationships. The act keeps the door open for Singaporean women to make decisions in their lives, such as who they marry and divorce. It also protects against family violence and holds criminals accountable for offenses toward women of all ages. Though this is the intention of the Women’s Charter, the statistics for prosecution, rape, domestic violence and citizens’ views of women in Singapore do not align with it.

Equality and Domestic Violence

Singapore struggles with gender equality, with 57% of Singaporeans believing men are the head of the household and should have the upper hand in decision making. However, 52% of Singaporeans expect women to take on household roles such as chores and caregiving. Domestic violence is another issue women in Singapore frequently face. One in 10 women experiences a lifetime of physical violence by men. In addition, 83% of Singaporeans encourage women to stay in violent relationships under some circumstances, including for a child’s sake.

Unfortunately, 71% of women in Singapore who experience abuse from a partner are not likely to make a police report. This leads to six out of 10 Singaporean women suffering repeated victimization. The safety of these women is at risk due to the lack of respect fellow citizens have for women. Regarding sexual assault, 40% of Singaporeans between the ages of 18-39 and 50% of Singaporeans aged 40 and older believe that women who wear revealing clothing are asking to experience assault and should be responsible for their harassment.

The Lack of Sexual Assault Justice

The majority of women in Singapore have not received the justice that the Women’s Charter promises. On January 5, 2021, Minister Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam announced that there were 6,988 reported cases of sexual assault in Singapore. Out of these 6,988 cases, 1,368 led to prosecution, resulting in only 931 criminal convictions. Out of the 1,368 who authorities charged, 1,364 had prior sexual assault convictions.

Minister Shanmugam, a former lawyer and Singaporean politician, discussed flaws within the nation’s system. He admits that “The government does not track the use of alcohol, drugs or prevalence and diagnosis of psychiatric conditions in relation to sexual assault offenders.”

Governmental Changes

In September 2020, Minister Shanmugam announced an evaluation of women’s issues in Singapore, led by three female political officeholders. The convention subsequently occurred in October 2020. Officials discussed handling sexual offenses, potential increases of penalties, criminalization of conduct and factors authorities should consider when assigning sentences.

Shanmugam opens up about the country’s societal views. He states, “I think a whole society mindset change is necessary. The government has got to lead it with the right pieces of legislation.” He adds, “We need men to be part of the mindset shift — to embrace the changing aspirations of younger women as equal economic partners and facilitate their success in the workplace by sharing in household and caregiving responsibilities.”

With the ongoing issue of victimization, Shanmugam reflects, “We need to try and deal with that —  how we encourage, so people report. And, once the report is done, taking action thereafter is easier.”

AWARE Improving Lives

AWARE is one of the many NGOs working on improving the lives of women in Singapore. Its vision is to create a society where there is true gender equality. In this community, people would see both men and women as individuals with the right to make responsible and informed decisions for their lives. AWARE’s mission is to remove all gender-based barriers through its research, advocacy, education, training and support services.

AWARE launched the Sexual Assault Care Centre in 2014 to support survivors of sexual assault. Throughout 2017, the Sexual Assault Centre saw a 57% increase in cases. The NGO also created a Women’s Care Centre, a helpline that provides information and support for Singaporean women in distress. In 2018, the Women’s Care Centre saw 32% more helpline calls and 48% more counseling clients. Furthermore, AWARE has collaborated with police in developing a new training video to help supplement police officers’ understanding of the behavior and feelings of victims and how police and responders impact these victims.

Bringing awareness to the hardships women in Singapore face is crucial. However, with the help of AWARE and Minister Shanmugam, steps are being taken to safeguard the well-being of women.

– Alexis Jones
Photo: Flickr

Elderly Poverty In Singapore
In Singapore, elderly people from the age of 65 and up formed 15.5% of the country’s total population, ranking among the most rapidly aging communities in Asia besides Japan. This has been due to the improved healthcare system and living standards that have significantly decreased the mortality rates over time. Research shows that between 2012 and 2015, poverty in Singapore increased by 43.45%. Poverty levels among the old age population increased by 74.32% in the same period. The increase in the elderly population has increased dependency on the working-age population, with most having to return to work after retiring. Here are four reasons for the increase in elderly poverty in Singapore.

Lack of Government Foresight

Singapore developed rapidly over the last few decades, however, studies indicate that only a proportion of the population enjoys wealth. In 2013, the government reported that 105,000 households experienced poverty, which was one in 10 families.

During its planning, the government lacked foresight resulting in it failing to consider some important factors. These factors include longer lifespans of the elderly, the fact that savings from their years of labor would depreciate annually and the fact that they have varying education levels due to not always being able to access formal education. Poor communication skills, high medical costs and inefficient government support programs are some of the reasons that contribute to increasing elderly poverty in Singapore.

Lack of Efficacy

Government support is key to alleviating poverty in many countries. Singapore’s government has put in place programs to assist the poor, such as ComCare, a short to medium-term assistance scheme. However, the lack of education and confusion around the processes and criteria of this program frequently discourages the elderly from applying for the help they need. Citizens aged 55 and over included only 35% of applicants of ComCare in 2015, even though the elderly make up a large portion of Singapore’s impoverished. Moreover, high medical care costs due to age issues may also deplete the assistance provided—retirement income adequacy declines due to decreased social security benefits and less income from pension benefits.

Lack of Financial Planning

Financial planning among individuals is also to blame for the skyrocketing levels of elderly poverty. Insufficiency in funds to live a complete life due to poor personal decisions, such as engagement in drugs or refusing to relocate for employment, is a frequent cause of this. As such, inadequate financial resources and the poor management of these resources are the root cause of financial adversities.

Most older adults in Singapore are poor due to forced retirement. The statutory age of retirement is 62. Many employers also coerce elderly employees into early retirements to avoid higher taxes and expenses. This leaves little notice for a lot of elderly Singaporeans to save at an earlier stage. Additionally, financial education does not receive priority, leaving many in Singapore vulnerable to avoidable mistakes.

Changes in family structures and lifestyles coupled with the increased costs of living have also increased the levels of elderly poverty. Therefore, this has necessitated good financial planning, necessary at a younger age for better old age.

Lack of Training

The elderly lack the communication skills required for positions in the service industry. Singaporean language policy, which eliminates other Chinese dialects except for Mandarin, marginalizes the old since most of them can only communicate in Hokkien, Teochew and Cantonese. Therefore, positions in customer service or as receptionists are consequently out of reach for many leaving only the option of manual labor.

A lack of communication skills can also affect an individual’s social mobility, as limited communication can make upgrading skills for the purpose of improving one’s job a tall order. The government provides language courses, but it does not tailor the courses to the illiterate, who would instead use their time to generate income. Overall elderly poverty further ties to other factors such as health, education and job opportunities, which also constitute the determinants of socio-economic state in old age.

The Tsao Foundation

During its developmental stages, Singapore did not adequately spend on welfare and social policies, spending more on its pursuit for economic development. However, NGOs exist that are providing long-term solutions to elderly poverty in Singapore. An example of this is the Tsao Foundation. For 28 years, it has developed training and financial education opportunities, as well as community-based elderly care to help transform the aging experience in Singapore. The Foundation was even able to continue its mission remotely through COVID-19 through its pre-existing online Expert Series, allowing people to continue their education throughout the pandemic. The Tsao Foundation aims to help shape an inclusive society that promotes intergenerational solidarity, benefiting everyone involved.

It is important to prioritize education and to create opportunities throughout every generation. Through the efforts of the Tsao Foundation, the intent is that elderly poverty in Singapore will not continue.

– Simran Pasricha
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in Singapore
Period poverty in Singapore is not only detrimental to the poor, but it is particularly detrimental for women in poverty. Unfortunately, many do not see period poverty as a substantial issue. Rather than appropriately encouraging and educating adolescent women about their menstrual cycles, many women receive shame for it. Mental health and physical issues are also apparent due to period poverty in Singapore. The lack of access to proper menstrual materials pushes Singaporean women into using unsafe materials for their cycles. As a result, women develop a number of health issues such as bacterial vaginosis, urinary tract infections, green or white vaginal discharge and vaginal and skin irritation.

Mental Health Issues

Mental health issues are also important to consider when discussing period poverty. It is a serious necessity to one’s overall well-being and when overlooked, it can have drastic consequences. Individuals who experience severe aversive conditions such as shame and guilt are more likely to experience negative mental issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In Singapore specifically, it is taboo to discuss one’s menstruation cycle.

This resulting cultural attitude that egregiously directs shame toward Singaporean women and children can make women more likely to develop PTSD. Even in cases when PTSD is not present, findings have determined that the absence of proper menstrual products is due to higher rates of depression, anxiety and distress. Naturally, the issue with period poverty also has links to issues of other forms of poverty. Vanessa Paranjothy recounts that this is especially arduous in areas where there is a lack of running water, plumbing and electricity. Another issue regarding menstruation mishandling in Singapore involves women’s lack of access to the materials necessary to overcome period poverty.

Freedom Cups Helping Women

However, women in Singapore have found their own ways to address the period poverty crisis. One example includes a group of sisters, Joanne, Rebecca and Vanessa Paranjothy and their creation of Freedom Cups. These devices function as reusable tampons and pads, effectively containing menstrual blood. As long they receive proper washing, these devices are re-usable for a span of up to 10 years, without the high risk of infection as with reusing pads. Moreover, these items are able to gather menstrual fluid for up to 12 hours per individual use.

Due to the reusability of these Freedom Cups, women are able to better afford the product, without furthering their fall into period-related poverty. Additionally, the Paranjothy sisters supply one freedom cup to another woman in need for each cup sold. So far, the sisters have distributed Freedom Cups to more than 3,000 women. This, however, is not the end of the sisters’ efforts. They continue making efforts across the world to end period poverty, such as in the Philippines.

Further Initiatives

Widespread organizational efforts also address period poverty in Singapore. Groups such as The World Federation of United Nations Associations had marked success with its Mission Possible: Singapore or Pink Project. This project involved the mass donation of menstrual and other health products to the Star Shelter as well as the Tanglin Trust School and the advertisement of the issue of period poverty to the areas.

However, of all of the efforts done to alleviate period poverty, foreign aid and involvement are the most crucial. The issues that exist regarding menstruation mishandling in Singapore are reflective of many of the issues across the world. Many women still experience feelings of shame and a lack of adequate care when it comes to their menstrual cycles. Vanessa Paranjothy recounts that, despite their efforts to initially provide Freedom Cups to women in the Philippines, only married women received them.

Without the continued investment into education regarding how to perceive their bodies and access to suitable menstrual materials, women will continue to suffer the adverse effects of period poverty. However, actions involving donation and innovation of feminine hygiene products, such as those the Paranjothy sisters made, and a greater emphasis on sexual education can help alleviate period poverty in Singapore and other developing countries.

– Jacob Hurwitz
Photo: Flickr

testing and povertyDoing away with certain high-stakes exams could help alleviate poverty. The pandemic has forced many to consider alternatives to what was the status quo, including high-stakes exams used in education systems around the world. These popular exams have roots as far back as the selection of civil servants in ancient China. During the past two centuries, the number of educational systems that make use of high-stakes testing has grown. Exams may be useful as a means of helping students, parents and educators understand how the student is doing. However, they become high-stakes when decisions regarding admissions and advancement rely on exam results. Eliminating high-stakes exams could reduce both testing and poverty.

The Positive and Negative Consequences of Testing

Research has shown that there are positive and negative impacts of high-stakes testing. The benefits of high-stakes examinations include concrete educational standards and assistance for students who perform poorly. On the other hand, disadvantages include a narrowed curriculum, cheating and policies that disproportionately impact minority students.

According to the World Bank’s Public “Examinations Examined,” “[It] is difficult to make the case that examinations, whatever the motivation in their introduction, played a major role in the promotion of equity.” With an emphasis on testing and poverty in contemporary education, understanding how high-stakes exams reflect inequity may help educators better assist disadvantaged students.

Testing and Poverty

High-stakes testing puts pressure not just on students, but also on parents, educators, schools and  governments. These pressures affect those with low socioeconomic status the most. Students from low-income families often face cognitive, emotional and social developmental deficits induced by poverty and stunting. The effects of poverty and stunting turn into a 19.8% deficit in adult annual income.

Low-income families also often lack the financial resources to pay for their student’s academic success with tutors, textbooks and materials. Moreover, educators and schools may focus their efforts on more advantaged students. Studies in Zambia, for example, reveal that advantaged students tend to do better than poor students.

Furthermore, public spending on education is higher in wealthier communities. One reason may be because the government rewards schools that perform better in high-stakes exams with additional funding. Many of these schools, comprised of students from high socioeconomic statuses, tend to have more resources than their low-income counterparts.

This lack of spending directly connects testing and poverty, as using testing to measure success gives fewer resources to underprivileged students. A report by the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity reports that 330 million students are in school but are not learning the basics. This may be connected to poor quality teaching or poor resources, which can result from measuring success with tests. Ultimately, being poor has become closely connected to poorer exam performance. Indeed, “Large scale assessments in exam subjects and grades routinely show a steep ‘social gradient’ in performance,” according to the Center for Global Development.

Doing Away with High-Stakes Exams

Education is central to reducing poverty. For example, individual income increases by 8% for every year that one goes to school. More specifically, having a secondary education in Tanzania decreases by 60% the chance that a working adult will be poor.

Recognizing the benefits of education and the consequences of testing and poverty, schools could eliminate some high-stakes exams. Countries such as Kenya and Singapore, as well as most Caribbean countries, use tests to determine a student’s placement in secondary schools. Yet those who made it into secondary schools in Kenya obtained employment benefits, decreasing low-skill self-employment, compared to those who did not. According to the IMF,  “increasing [the] average years of schooling and [the] reducing [of] inequality of schooling” can significantly reduce economic inequality.

If primary and secondary education were universal, extreme poverty could lessen by half. To make this happen, developing countries dealing with the pandemic should consider doing away with certain high-stakes exams. This will allow poorer students to contribute to human capital.

The Good News

While it took 40 years for American girls’ enrollments in education to increase from 57% to 88%, it took Morocco 11 years. Yet, in 2013 there was a disparity in the net enrollment rate in lower secondary education. Though 79% for boys in urban areas were enrolled, the rate was only 26% for girls in rural areas.

Since 2007, Education for All (EFA) has provided girls in Morocco’s rural communities of the High Atlas mountains the opportunity of secondary education. The organization’s provision includes nutritious meals, hot showers, beds and access to computers. EFA has at least 50 girls who are enrolled at university.

While this work is laudable, governments may be able to provide similar results by doing away with high-stakes testing. When exams act as a gatekeeper to advanced education, they reproduce cycles of poverty. All students must have access to equal education in order to escape from poverty.

–  Kylar Cade
Photo: Flickr

Dengue Fever in Singapore Is on the RiseDengue fever is not an uncommon virus, The World Health Organization estimates that there are around 390 million cases of dengue fever annually. The majority of these cases were reported in Asia with only 30% of these cases occurring outside of the continent. In 2019, it is estimated that Asia had 273 million cases of dengue fever. Dengue fever in Singapore has been rising since 2018, however, there has been a sharp increase of reported cases throughout 2020.

Dengue fever is spread by female mosquitoes and is most prominent in tropical areas. The severity of dengue fever can differ largely. In mild cases of dengue fever, the infected person may experience severe flu-like symptoms such as joint pain, fever, vomiting and headaches. However, severe dengue fever is associated with internal bleeding, decreased organ function and the excretion of plasma. Severe dengue fever, if left untreated, has a mortality rate of up to 20%.

Dengue Fever in Singapore

Singapore has experienced many dengue fever epidemics. The most recent epidemic occurred in 2013. It was the largest outbreak in Singaporean history. However, in 2020, Singapore has exceeded the 22,170 dengue fever cases reported throughout the 2013 outbreak. As of July 2020, the number of dengue fever cases reported in Singapore was higher than 14,000. This exceeds the number of cases reported in July during the 2013 outbreak and is almost twice as many cases reported in July 2019.

The National Environment Agency of Singapore reports that the number of cases being reported continues to be on an upward trend, suggesting this may be the worst outbreak of dengue fever in Singapore’s history. Singapore has also reported that there are 610 active dengue fever clusters as of October 3, 2020. A dengue cluster is where there are two or more confirmed dengue fever cases reported in a localized area within 14 days. As of October 5, there were more than 30,800 cases of dengue fever in 2020.

Changes in Dengue Fever

The 2020 outbreak of dengue fever has been driven by the virus serotype DenV-3. There are four major serotypes of dengue fever with DenV-3 being one of the least common. The prevalence of the serotype DenV-3 increased from the beginning of 2019 where nearly 50% of cases were reported to be DenV-3. This means there is lower population immunity, causing higher rates of infection and an increased likelihood of severe dengue fever development.

The typical season for dengue fever in Singapore is from June to October. However, Singapore had a major rise in cases in mid-May 2020, increasing the season length by two to three weeks. The sudden rise in dengue fever in Singapore has been attributed to a decrease in preventative measures due to the lock-down caused by COVID-19. Singapore imposed a lockdown on April 7 to minimize the spread of COVID-19. As a result, more people have neglected taking preventative actions such as removing still bodies of water around their homes to decrease mosquito breeding.

How Singapore Can Stop the Spread

The spread of dengue fever in Singapore can be decreased by mobilizing the Singaporean population to take active measures in preventing mosquito breeding. Removing stagnant water from gardens and gutters will help remove the breeding ground for mosquitoes. Also loosening hard soil and spraying pesticides in dark corners of the home will stop mosquitoes from laying eggs in these areas. The Singaporean government is also urging people to use insect repellent throughout the peak dengue fever season to stop the infection.

The Singaporean government has highlighted that the dengue fever outbreak in Singapore is a major health concern that needs immediate attention. With two significant health concerns, COVID-19 and dengue fever outbreaks occurring simultaneously, preventative measures must be taken to ensure the healthcare system is not overrun. With compliance to the National Environment Agency’s guidelines, the Singaporean people will be able to reduce the number of dengue fever infections.

Laura Embry
Photo: Flickr

The Nipah Virus
The first documented outbreak of the Nipah virus (NiV) took place in a Malaysian village called Sungai Nipah in the year 1999. Since then, there have been outbreaks reported in Bangladesh, India and Singapore. Contact with infected animals such as pigs and fruit bats and consuming contaminated fruit lead to contracting the virus. Then, the virus is transmitted from person to person. It can also cause acute respiratory illness and encephalitis or be asymptomatic.

In Kozhikode city in the South Indian state of Kerala, an outbreak of the Nipah virus occurred in May 2018. The virus originated from infected fruit bats. In early May, an index patient was admitted to a local hospital. Within weeks, 18 cases were confirmed and 17 patients succumbed. By July 2018, the outbreak was contained.

Contact Tracing and Quarantine

Infected patients were confined and treated in isolation wards. Exhaustive contact tracing efforts helped identify over 2,000 individuals who may have come in contact with those who were infected. They were quarantined and periodically checked on throughout the maximum incubation period.

At the onset of the outbreak, the government issued health and travel advisories for the citizens and visitors to the affected areas. Members of the response team also visited houses to inform citizens about the required precautions. They encouraged people to wear masks since the virus was transmitted via droplets of body fluids. They were also advised to avoid consuming fruits due to the possibility of contamination.

Field Visits and Collaborative Efforts

Officials visited the homes and localities of the infected patients. They collected information from family members and inspected the surrounding areas to uncover the source of the virus. In a sealed well in the home of an infected patient, health officials discovered dead bats.

The World Health Organization (WHO) describes the early response to the outbreak as improvised. However, a centralized, efforts from top state government officials and health experts helped create an organized approach to managing and curbing the crisis. Their efforts collaborated with support and guidance from the Central Government as well. Furthermore, several heroes in the fight against the NiV outbreak were praised, including Lini Puthussery. Puthussery was a nurse to patients diagnosed with the virus, and she later caught the disease.

Quick Response Measures for Future Outbreaks

In anticipation of NiV outbreaks in the future, the Kerala government established a network that includes public and private hospitals to enable testing. These hospitals quickly identify index patients as well. In June 2019, this allowed a swift response to a possible outbreak, and there were no fatalities. There are plans to upgrade existing Virology Institutes in the State. Additionally, there are efforts toward overcoming challenges from previous outbreaks. One of the challenges is ensuring the sufficient stock of PPE equipment. These challenges also include proper management of bio-medical waste and decontamination of ambulances and treatment centers.

The experience garnered from the NiV outbreaks helped facilitate the Kerala Governments’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The State has adopted a people-centric approach to the coronavirus pandemic. It has also implemented a vigorous, centralized effort for contact tracing and quarantine and the sustenance of vulnerable groups.

There is neither a known vaccine nor a cure for the Nipah virus. The disease has an estimated fatality rate of 40% to 75%. However, Kerala’s success in containing the NiV outbreak in 2018 and possible outbreaks in the following year has established an admirable model for a global response to combat it.

Amy Olassa
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Singapore
Despite the enormous wealth present in Singapore, poverty is also a pressing issue within the nation. With the lack of a minimum wage, there is no guarantee that Singaporean citizens have the opportunity to make enough to live on. Leaders within the country, however, are bringing the issue to the forefront of the national conversation. Poverty in Singapore increased by 43.45% in just three years, from 2012 to 2015. Poverty affects the elderly the most, with their rates increasing 74.32% within the same time period. This rapid increase has spurred government officials to address the issue. Various government policies, such as the lack of a minimum wage and restrictions on the withdrawal of retirement money, often receive critiques as possible causes of the growing problem of poverty in Singapore.

PSP Talk

The Progress Singapore Party is a major national political group, that describes itself as the ‘party for the people.’ It supports increased attention toward rising poverty rates. The party’s rhetoric largely focuses on fighting for all Singaporeans, not just elite classes that possess money and power. The party hosted a talk series, PSP Talk, in September 2019 to highlight pressing issues and direct the national conversation. Poverty in Singapore was one of the major topics of discussion during the event. Yeoh Lam Keong, the former chief economist at GIC Private Limited, spoke at the talk series, notably proposing several poverty reforms based on the findings from his research. Keong took the opportunity to emphasize the severity of poverty in Singapore.

“To my shock and horror, I [realized] that the position of the poor in [Singapore] was much worse and much more awful than I [could] imagine,” said Keong about his research.

PSP Talk opened up an opportunity for education and reflection on Singapore’s relationship with poverty and welfare reform. Keong defined three classes of poverty in his presentation– the elderly poor, the working poor and the unemployed poor– to establish an academic understanding of the situation in Singapore. He went on to explain his research-based policy initiatives, which the government could enforce to support its impoverished citizens. Keong’s initiatives included raising funding for the Workfare Income Supplement and Silver Support Scheme, programs that provide funds to those in need, by $500-$600 a month. He argued that this was a fiscally achievable action that would aid the suffering populations of the poor and elderly. Since Keong’s presentation on these policy reforms, the Singaporean government has set up expansions to the Silver Support Scheme. In January 2021, the program will expand its qualifying criteria and increase quarterly payouts by 20%.

Party member Secretary-General Tan Cheng Bok also spoke at the event. Dr. Tan made a public commitment to understanding the complexities of poverty in the nation and working to create solutions. He continued to support this assertion in July 2020 while campaigning for the General Election, pushing voters to elect representatives who ask the “right questions,” and value trust and transparency. After a narrow defeat, Dr. Tan vowed to continue to serve the people on these issues.

Looking Forward

PSP Talk represents a promising step toward addressing the growing rate of poverty in Singapore. The Progress Singapore Party’s decision to highlight poverty at this gathering of academics and national leaders suggests a new focus for Singapore’s government. The party continues to push for increased influence within the government while holding the current elected officials accountable to the needs of all Singaporean citizens.

– Riya Kohli
Photo: Flickr