Monday, 28 July 2014

Door-to-door drive to warn residents about dengue

Over 2,000 volunteers to spread message; number of infections crosses 11,600 mark
By Melissa Lin, The Sunday Times, 27 Jul 2014

More than 2,000 grassroots volunteers will be trained to go door to door and teach residents how to prevent the spread of dengue.

Singapore is in the midst of its peak dengue season, which coincides with the dry months between June and October. There were 520 new cases between last Sunday and 3.30pm last Friday, bringing the tally to more than 11,600 infections this year.

Two deaths have also been reported, with the latest being an 85-year-old man who died last week.

Second Minister for Environment and Water Resources Grace Fu, who launched the nationwide dengue education and prevention drive yesterday, expects the fight against the disease to be "equally challenging" as last year's.

That was when Singapore had its worst dengue epidemic with more than 22,170 people falling ill.

According to the National Environment Agency (NEA) less than two weeks ago, Choa Chu Kang recorded the biggest dengue cluster here with 316 cases - eclipsing the high of 233 infections in a cluster in Tampines last year.

And while weekly dengue cases this year peaked in the first week of this month at 891 cases, numbers may still climb as the coming months are expected to be hot, warned Ms Fu.

The key to preventing the spread of the disease is to ensure small dengue clusters do not grow bigger, she said.

This is where the volunteers can step in, by spreading the message in small dengue clusters, leaving NEA officers to focus their efforts in areas where there are bigger outbreaks.

Doc, could you speak slower, more simply?

Spotlight on helping patients, especially the elderly, comply with medical instructions
By Salma Khalik, The Sunday Times, 27 Jul 2014

If only patients followed their doctors' orders, fewer would land in hospital or complain that they never seem to get better. That's a lament often heard in medical circles.

Various studies have shown that as many as half the patients with chronic ailments do not take their medicine as instructed - resulting not only in much waste, but even worse, avoidable deaths.

So an article by Associate Professor Chin Jing Jih in the May issue of the Singapore Medical Association (SMA) News is not just timely, but also refreshingly honest.

The SMA president, a senior geriatric medicine specialist at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), described an encounter with a patient while he was still a junior doctor and the valuable lesson he learnt.

In his piece titled Excuse Me Doctor, Can I Record Your Instructions Please?, Prof Chin recounts how the patient told him: "Do you realise that you doctors have a tendency to just rattle off a long list of instructions and treatment plans, often in some technical jargon which I have to check my medical dictionary to understand?

"And because there are many instructions to follow, I really cannot remember them even if I want to be a good and compliant patient."

For the young doctor, that was the Eureka! moment when the truth of what the patient said hit home.

"Doctors tend to overload patients and caregivers with a flood of information. This is then followed by a long list of directives and advice," he said. "No wonder so many of them suffer from recall failure and end up being labelled 'poorly compliant patients' despite their best efforts."

That particular patient had whipped out a tape recorder so he could listen to the instructions later at leisure - an act Prof Chin described as a "way of crying for help".

Abortions fall to 30-year low

Figure dips below 10,000 as more S'poreans use birth control, but rate for foreigners on the rise
By Theresa Tan, The Sunday Times, 27 Jul 2014

The number of abortions hit a historic low here last year, falling below the 10,000 mark for the first time in at least 30 years.

The Health Ministry told The Sunday Times that 9,282 abortions were performed last year, 13 per cent fewer than in 2012.

Last year's figure was also way below the peak of 23,512 in 1985. After pre-abortion counselling was made mandatory in 1987, the numbers fell steadily to an average of 12,000 a year for most of the past decade.

Gynaecologists and counsellors say the decline reflects the increasingly widespread use of contraception by Singaporeans.

The numbers would have been even lower, if not for a rising number of abortions on permanent residents and, especially, foreign women.

About six in 10 abortions last year were on Singaporeans, down from eight in 10 in 2003. Conversely, almost four in 10 abortions were on PRs and foreigners, up from two in 10 in 2003.

The foreign women who had abortions included maids, service industry workers, professionals, wives of foreign professionals and foreign wives of Singaporean men. They were from countries such as China, India, Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines.

There are practical reasons some choose to end their pregnancies.

Errant bosses faking addresses of foreign workers

They state on MOM database the men are in approved housing while putting them up in cheaper places
By Amelia Tan, The Sunday Times, 27 Jul 2014

Errant bosses have been listing false addresses on a Ministry of Manpower (MOM) online database while housing their foreign workers in sub-standard conditions.

They declare that the men are living in approved housing such as purpose-built dormitories, while actually putting them up in cheaper places such as shophouses, factory-converted dorms or construction site quarters. It comes down to money, said Ms Debbie Fordyce, a volunteer at welfare group Transient Workers Count Too.

A place at a dorm, with amenities like mini-marts and basketball courts, costs about $300 a month. But housing workers at construction sites can be free, while a month's stay in a shophouse is about $200.

Industry players who spoke to The Sunday Times said bosses are willing to be dishonest as they know it is difficult for MOM to check.

Short of spot-checks at every dorm, it is hard to verify the addresses of all 771,100 work permit holders, excluding maids who live in their employers' homes.

"How do you even start to check when there are so many places?" said Mr Jolovan Wham, executive director of the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics. In recent years, he has seen several workers not living at their registered addresses.

Industry players said bosses have managed to abuse the address registration process because of its ease of use. All they have to do on the Online Foreign Worker Address Service is to log in with their SingPass IDs and passwords, and then key in the addresses and postal codes of their workers' abodes.

The information will be accepted as long as the dorm listed has not reached its maximum occupancy.

One construction boss said the system is so easy to "cheat" that some employers get clerks to key in postal codes of various dorms in the hope of hitting one that is not fully occupied. "It's trial and error. The staff will keep trying until they find one which is not full," he said.

As a result, dorms end up being full according to MOM's database. Bosses who want to legitimately house their workers there cannot register as the website says places are not available.

"We have to wait a few days for the dorm operators to compare their records with MOM and remove the names of bogus workers," he said.

Western radio broadcasters tuning out

They are ceding the short-wave, or political 'soft power', space to China instead
By Nirmal Ghosh, The Sunday Times, 27 Jul 2014

For 67-year-old Victor Goonetilleke, sitting with his headphones on in his house in the lush green Sri Lankan countryside, June 30 was the end of an era.

Voice of America's (VOA) short-wave broadcasts to Asia abruptly went off the air, raising howls of protest from many of the US government-funded broadcaster's listeners across the region.

But as the broadcasts had already been greatly diminished, this was not a surprise. The big Western radio broadcasters have gradually ceded the political "soft power" space they once dominated to a new heavyweight: China Radio International (CRI).

In recent years, Radio Canada International and Radio Netherlands Worldwide have shut down while the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and VOA have cut back on their range of languages and hours of programming. Now, the VOA has left Asia.

Mr Goonetilleke is not just an avid radio listener. He professionally monitors radio frequencies for the VOA. He is also a former veteran radio correspondent with Radio Netherlands for 24 years in an era when short-wave radio broadcasts from the likes of the BBC, VOA, Radio Netherlands, and Deutsche Welle were often lifelines to other worlds for hundreds of millions especially in times of conflict and misery.

The BBC now broadcasts in 29 languages across the planet, down from a peak of 69 in the 1970s. CRI broadcasts in 65, up from a reported 43 in 2006. Some programmes are run by local FM stations.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Rise and rise of Speakers' Corner

Popular protest venue shouldn't just be a place to vent anger or frustration
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 26 Jul 2014

IN LESS than two months, the Speakers' Corner at Hong Lim Park will celebrate its 14th anniversary.

In the last year or so, thousands of Singaporeans turned up there to protest against the Population White Paper and the Central Provident Fund (CPF) system.

The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community has also made its presence felt through its annual Pink Dot mass picnic at Hong Lim Park. The picnic last month drew a reported 26,000-strong crowd.

The park's current popularity stands in stark contrast to its early years, when it languished in obscurity. Indeed, there was no shortage of cynics and critics when the Speakers' Corner was first set up on Sept 1, 2000.

One of its strongest opponents was then Non-Constituency MP J.B. Jeyaretnam. He tabled an adjournment motion in Parliament in May 2000 on the planned opening and said the move does not open up freedom of expression in Singapore. It was "just a pretence".

A year later, in May 2001, he even asserted in the House that the setting up of Speakers' Corner was a trap. He was referring to a police investigation which resulted in two activists being warned for holding an assembly at Hong Lim Park without a permit.

"You will not get me there any more," the late Mr Jeyaretnam famously said.

Philip Jeyaretnam: His SG50 guest list will include naysayers

Lawyer and writer Philip Jeyaretnam believes that even the cynics and dissenters have a role to play as Singapore reflects on its ever-changing sense of identity amid preparations for the country's 50th birthday next year. The 50-year-old, who is co-chairman of the SG50 committee driving the culture and community events for the celebrations, tells Maryam Mokhtar why it is important to rope in these naysayers. He also relates how the political activities of his father, the late opposition politician J.B. Jeyaretnam, helped shape his sense of being a Singaporean.
The Straits Times, 26 Jul 2014

Among your best-selling books is First Loves, the story of a Chinese boy growing up in Singapore in the 80s. If you had to tell a story about our country through a protagonist, how do you think it would have played out?

I feel like I'd written that story. With First Loves, the protagonist Ah Leong is in many ways a sort of everyman figure. He's also something of a blank slate.

He is a young boy, very naive, and encountering the real world and finding the rough edges, bumping up against them, trying to get through them.

So many of those stories in a way explore Singapore but, of course, that was back in the 80s.

What would Ah Leong be like today, more than 30 years on?

Maybe I need to write that story, that's probably the best way of answering your question. (Laughs)

We celebrate Singapore's 50th birthday next year and a major focus this year is to get Singaporeans to reflect on our country's journey so far. How would your committee help us do it?

Many of the things the committee supports - some of the books coming out and the arts events to be held - will reflect on the last 50 years as well as where Singapore is today, plus where we're going and where we should be going.

As people reflect and participate, the sense of engagement will grow. And when they are engaged, there is a lasting impact which will go beyond 2015.

The starting point is celebration. What are we celebrating? We are celebrating the people who have made Singapore.

That leads to the idea that it has to be ground up. It is not just having big events but a celebration for people to take part in. That's the major thrust.

But at the same time, it is an opportunity for reflection, which is both retrospective and prospective.

One looks back at the last 50 years and one looks forward - whether it's the next 50 years or the next decade. That's where many of the projects are very thoughtful. Anyway, that's also very much what the arts is about.

The arts is about writers who will interrogate what the nation is about, who does it belong to and where is it going? The same thing applies to artists, dramatists and so on.

Many of the projects will provide that opportunity. For example, the National Arts Council has a project in which all the Cultural Medallion and young artist winners will contribute a new piece of work loosely linked to the SG50. And the Institute of Policy Studies has 50 books coming out.

Jubilee Fund to help give the poor a break

Care Corner initiative will see 500 families get $2,000 each to pay bills
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 26 Jul 2014

A SINGLE mother supporting four children, 48-year-old Madam Surinah (not her real name) "inherited" $2,000 worth of housing arrears and utility bills upon her divorce five years ago.

She worked hard to pay them off but her $450 salary as a cleaner barely allowed her to feed her children. As the debts ballooned, everything went downhill.

She said: "I had panic attacks, lost my job several times and all these affected my health and relationship with my children."

To help people like her, voluntary welfare organisation Care Corner wants to raise $1 million to help the needy pay off their household debts and arrears.

Called the Jubilee Fund in honour of the nation's 50th birthday next year, the idea behind it is also informed by the biblical concept of Jubilee, in which debts are cancelled every 50th year so that everyone gets an equal chance to start life afresh.

The Jubilee Fund will disburse $2,000 each to 500 vulnerable families to help them with their bills. It is meant for families with less than $800 per capita and they can be identified by Family Service Centres and charities.

Social workers at Care Corner said they have seen how unpaid bills can debilitate those struggling with the incarceration, ill health, disability or death of a family member.

To live in anxiety is to be human

Many people are anxious at times in their lives but, for some, anxiety can take over their lives
By Chong Siow Ann, Published The Straits Times, 26 Jul 2014

"SOME people believe football is a matter of life and death... I can assure you it is much, much more important than that," said the legendary manager of Liverpool Football Club, Bill Shankly.

In the wake of that humiliating trouncing of the Brazilian football team in the semi-final of the World Cup - a defeat that assumed the proportion of a national tragedy - that quotation doesn't seem so ridiculous.

Various explanations have been advanced for this inexplicable and spectacular failure of a football powerhouse. Much had been said about the excessively high expectations placed on a team whose nerves were stretched as they inched closer to that coveted trophy that represented so much more to the Brazilians.

Signs of a potential meltdown were evident in the ill-concealed strain on the faces of the players and their occasional tearful outbursts. The team was already, to steal that line from the 19th-century poet Robert Browning, dangerously close to the edge of things.

On that day and on that pitch, the Brazilian team could not show grace under pressure. Instead, they buckled and crumpled under the German onslaught.

Collectively, they seemed to have "choked".

"Choking" is the sports colloquialism for that stress reaction that happens under high-pressure situations and where athletes become self-conscious, over-think their actions, and end up not being able to perform.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

In a national crisis, can we count on you, Singapore?

Is our society resilient enough to survive tragedies like MH17?
By Devadas Krishnadas, Published The Straits Times, 25 Jul 2014

IT HAS been a week since the crash of Malaysia Airlines (MAS) MH17 over Ukraine. Even as recovery efforts are still in progress, a quick scan of the front pages of major newspapers and news websites suggests that the world is already moving on from the tragedy.

The contrast between the permanent and deeply unsettling effect of the crash on family and friends of the victims, as well as on MAS as an operating entity, and the shifting interest of the rest of the global community is sobering.

It has been reported that there were many more flights by Singapore Airlines (SIA) traversing the route flown by MH17 than most other airlines - including MAS. Given that the attackers seemingly did not specifically target the aircraft because it was MAS, the statistical probability was greater that an SIA aircraft would have been struck - simply because it flew more flights over the area. We lucked out, MAS did not.

Our feelings are with the Malaysians and all those affected by the tragedy. For ourselves as Singaporeans, we may feel some relief at our good fortune. But perhaps we can also spend some time to pause and reflect on what it would mean if it had been an SIA aircraft that had been shot down and if many of the passengers had been Singaporeans. How would our Government have responded? How would our people have reacted?

These are important questions to ask ourselves for two reasons.

First, awful tragedies can happen even when all things are done right, so we should think about how best to manage our reaction now rather than in the event, however unlikely.

Second, the quality of a country's response to a tragedy is not only a function of the crisis management efforts of the government but the reaction and conduct of the people.

The Malaysian government has been resolute and confident in its response to the MH17 tragedy. This is in marked contrast to its handling of the earlier MH370 incident. Obviously, many lessons have been learnt and applied.