S’pore medical tourism needs careful rethink

Letter from See Leong Kit
Source: Todayonline  May 14, 2012

THE timely report “India’s medical tourism could cause superbug to spread globally” (May 9) referred to a new superbug that has emerged from India, partly because of medical tourism, with scientists saying there are almost no drugs to treat it.

As more people travel to find less costly medical treatments, it is feared this superbug could spread across the globe.

First detected in 2009 in New Delhi, cases of the bacteria code-named NDM-1 have since emerged in Britain, the United States, Europe, Australia, Hong Kong and Japan.

In 2010, six NDM-1 cases were detected here. The first was a resident who had sought medical treatment in India. The second was a Bangladeshi who had visited Singapore for medical treatment.

Of the remaining four cases, three were elderly patients but the fourth was in his 30s. As they had not travelled abroad, it is likely they had caught the superbug here.

Back in 2007, a Vietnamese who came here for medical treatment was subsequently found to be infected with extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB), over which global concern is also mounting, as it kills in three in four cases.

In March last year, the Annals, Academy of Medicine, Singapore, published an editorial co-written by Dr Catherine Ong and Dr Paul Tambyah with this thought-provoking conclusion:

“The commercial forces promoting medical tourism in our country need to be regulated at a national level to curb the transmission of potentially lethal infectious diseases within our borders, lest we pay the price. It is simply not worth it.”

Indeed, with a hot, humid climate and being densely populated, Singapore is particularly vulnerable to the spread of infectious diseases. The Health Ministry should provide detailed assurances on its proactive measures to tackle such public health threats.