Singapore Upset With Gujarat Over SARS

New Delhi, May 17: | Updated: May 18 2003, 05:30am hrs
Singapore is angry that it is being tagged as a SARS exporting country. A top health ministry aide has challenged a comment made by Gujarat health secretary SK Nanda earlier this week that one Harsh Murjhani may have been infected with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) at Singapore airport. Mr Nanda had told the press that Mr Murjhani had been ordered to wear a mask for 10 days.

The Gujarat health secretarys comments are an irritant to Singapore authorities. The island nation expects to be off the World Health Organisation (WHO) watchlist early next week. Thats because it has been 20 days since the last case of SARS transmission was reported there. Look, we are doing contact tracing for all our neighbours. We will be keen to do this if theres any case in Gujarat. But till date there has been no contact with the (state) authorities. And if this chapMurjhanihas SARS why was he been allowed to go home with a mask Wont he be a danger to everyone else Singapore minister of state for health Balaji Sadasivan, a neurosurgeon by profession, told FE over telephone.

As is known, Singapore is paranoid over SARS. Tourism traffic has dropped. So has economic outlook. Sadasivanhe was asked by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to share best practices with Indian authorities during the visit of Singapore prime minister Goh Chok Tong herethinks it is unfair to talk of SARS loosely. We are all on one side in this war, we have much to share with each other, he said.

For example, Singapore has an interesting analysis on SARS. It believes that the best hospitals are more likely to be affected first. Indeed, only premium hospitals, the Prince of Wales Hospital in Hong Kong, the Beijing Hospital in Beijing, the National University Hospital in Taipei, and the Singapore General Hospital in Singapore, where immuno-suppressed patients interact with multiple healthcare personnel, suffered transmission of SARS.

As for the battleon the ground, Singapore got each of its 5,000 general practioners and thousands of nurses trained on SARS. They are being updated on audio, video and internet broadcast. Every GP is being audited. More interesting is how the education ministry has issued a digital thermometer to each of the countrys 600,000 school-going children. Carrying this thermometer is as mandatory as the pencil box. Another 400,000 digital thermometersthey cost $5 apiecehave been issued among the community. China has been the biggest gainer in this massive thermometer contract, though one Bangalore-based firm Opto Circuits has claimed some orders too.

Besides, each Singapore resident has been instructed to take his or her temperature twice a day. In my ministry each official does that. Any one having temperature more than 37.5 degrees (C) has to stay at home, Sadasivan said. At airports, land routes and the Singapore port new technology has been deployed. Thermal image screeners have been installed after customisation by defence scientists. These scanners were originally meant to, say, pick up the heat of a human being hiding behind a wall. Each costs $60,000. Singapores scanners have been loaned to Canada, Hong Kong and China.

Messages left for Nanda were not returned until the filing of this news report.