Uniting to fight dengue fever
Left to right: Ms Cheng Li Hui, migrant worker Bipul, and Assoc Prof Tan Lai Yong worked to clear mosquito breeding sites (Photo: Tampines Town Council)
Another war rages amid COVID-19 -- against an age-old enemy, dengue fever. As Singapore faces its largest outbreak of dengue since 2013, a group of volunteers from the NUS College of Alice and Peter Tan (CAPT) have decided to be a part of the nation’s intensive efforts to control the spread of the disease.
Led by Associate Professor Tan Lai Yong, CAPT’s Director for Outreach and Community Engagement, the team comprising CAPT students and alumni carried out a neighbourhood anti-dengue clean up in August, together with Tampines Town Council and SG Accident Help Centre. Tampines is one of the dengue clusters in the eastern part of Singapore, and Ms Cheng Li Hui, Chairman of Tampines Town Council and MP for Tampines GRC, was on site with the volunteers to help clear potential mosquito breeding spots. CAPT volunteers also invited some migrant workers volunteers who were keen to contribute to the community.
Ms Cheng commented, “It is heartening to see migrant workers, residents and volunteers working together to help eliminate any potential mosquito breeding spots. Despite challenging times, the SG United spirit is stronger than ever. We are all part of this Tampines home, and we will continue to work with NEA and residents to keep Tampines safe from dengue.”
Following COVID guidelines, numbers were kept small – with five CAPT volunteers, five migrant workers, and five others from SG Accident Help Centre. After a recce trip as well as a briefing by the National Environment Agency staff, the teams were off on three different routes to clear the ground, including drains and gardens that were potential mosquito breeding sites. Each team took about 45 mins to complete the task.
No man is an island
CAPT volunteers had come up with the idea of involving migrant workers when they were helping to pack welfare bags for them at SG Accident Help Centre. The experience was an eye-opener in more than one way. From the dormitory’s management, they learnt that the workers had wanted to contribute to the community in some ways.
The team also understood that dengue cases have spiked during the circuit breaker implemented in April to stem escalating COVID-19 numbers. More people staying home had posed greater risks of transmission. The Aedes mosquitoes carrying the dengue virus, tend to feed during the day and in a domestic setting. The dengue fever season traditionally peaks between May and October and with warmer temperatures alternating with rain, the numbers may continue to rise. Singapore is also grappling with a new strain of the virus.
Said CAPT volunteer Tham Hui Hui who graduated this year with a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies, “Conducting an anti-dengue walk is different from the 5-steps mozzie wipe-out at home. With the migrant workers’ experiences at work, they led the team in the wipe-out and taught us so much about how to spot areas that could potentially breed mosquitoes.”
The project team also took the opportunity to share some stories of the workers – putting up posters at HDB elevators to tell their stories to the local community.
Added Hui Hui, “Some of them were in tough situations, yet they chose to participate in the activity together with us to contribute back to Singapore. I was really touched by their desire to serve the community. Beyond the work that the migrant workers do in Singapore, they also shared with us about their families and their hobbies. They hold identities beyond their work, they hold identities as a father, son, chef and many more. I am thankful to learn a little more about their culture and stories through the short time spent together.”
CAPT is always on the lookout for other opportunities to co-volunteer and is playing by ear amid the changing guidelines due to COVID-19. This was not the first time CAPT volunteers had worked with migrant workers. Last year, they had involved them in a project to paint walls and assemble furniture at St Luke’s Hospital.
“It was a wonderful opportunity to co-volunteer with migrant workers to help fight a common dengue problem. The experience has helped me see afresh that we are together in society as we weather COVID and other challenges,” said Assoc Prof Tan.