$10m for H1N1 research

by
July 22, 2009
$10m for H1N1 research <!–10 min–>

By Grace Chua
The research will include projects on public-health issues such as the spread of infection, and on clinical issues such as the rate of complications in various groups of people, said Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan (left) on Wednesday night. –ST PHOTO: STEPHANIE YEOW

THE Ministry of Health is setting aside $10 million for research into H1N1 influenza so that Singapore can be more prepared for a second wave of outbreak.

The research will include projects on public-health issues such as the spread of infection, and on clinical issues such as the rate of complications in various groups of people, said Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan on Wednesday night.

‘We are still at war with the virus…While the rest of Singapore can return to life as normal, the scientific and medical community still has much to do,’ said Mr Khaw, speaking at the National Medical Excellence Awards ceremony at Chijmes to honour doctors and medical researchers who have made significant contributions to clinical work, medical researchers and academic medicine.

Earlier this week, Mr Khaw said in Parliament that the number of H1N1 infections here will peak in the next two weeks before starting to decline, as is happening in New York City. But a second wave of infections is expected when winter returns to the northern hemisphere later this year.

So far, the Ministry of Health has received 45 proposals for H1N1-related projects from local hospitals and research institutes. The proposals are under review. Grants from the $10 million kitty will be awarded by September and will fund the work for one to three years, the ministry said.

Warning Singapore is not out of the wood from the H1N1 spread, Mr Khaw said laboratories here continue to work round the clock, in partnership with GPs and polyclinics to sample flu patients for the virus.

‘This is to track the spread of the virus through the community and to look for any significant genetic changes in the months to come. Our scientists continue their studies of the strain to spot any mutation of the viruses, looking for clusters of disease, with the aim of quickly recognising changes in the viruses, and to be able to deal with the problem as fast as it occurs,’ said Mr Khaw.

Mr Khaw said the H1N1 pandemic is a good illustration of why Singapore must invest in science and research.

‘It is not simply for prestige, to profile our scientific capabilities. It can actually make a critical difference to our life and death,’ he emphasied. ‘The first wave of H1N1 will eventually run its course. But there will be new waves. And it is not just H1N1. H5N1 remains out there among the chickens and the ducks? We must continue to invest in research, to try to stay ahead of the virus, if not, not too far behind the curve.’

He called for strong collaboration between clinicians and scientists to fight ‘a common enemy’. ‘Given Singapore’s limited resources, it does not make sense to make duplicates of everything. We have to learn to complement each other’s capabilities,’ said Mr Khaw.

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