Speech by Mr Baey Yam Keng, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Sustainability and the Environment, at the International Vector-Borne Diseases Conference on 21 November 2023
Professor Chng Wee Joo, Vice President of the Biomedical Sciences Research and Vice Dean of Research Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore,
Professor Kini Manjunatha, Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore,
Associate Professor Sylvie Alonso, Co-Director of Infectious Diseases Translational Research Programme, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore,
1 Good morning and warm greetings to all participants and international speakers.
2 Building on the success of our virtual conference in November 2021, this year’s physical gathering signifies a steadfast commitment to the advancements in vector-borne disease research and programmes. I commend the organisers and participants for your dedication in continuing this effort. With over 170 participants hailing from diverse backgrounds and expertise, this assembly represents a convergence of scientists, researchers, educators, and public health professionals. Your collective knowledge and experiences are invaluable to shape strategies and solutions to alleviate the burden of vector-borne diseases, which according to the World Health Organization (WHO) accounts for more than 17% of all infectious diseases, causing more than 700,000 deaths annually.
Singapore’s Experience with Vector-Borne Diseases
3 Singapore has a rich history in combating vector-borne diseases, dating back to the 1920s when efforts were initiated to control malaria transmission by Anopheles mosquitoes. The government escalated these efforts in the 1960s, establishing policies and enforcing mosquito eradication. Notably, Singapore was declared malaria-free in 1982, a testament to the success of comprehensive vector control strategies.
4 Rapid urbanisation and increased global connectivity then posed new challenges. Aedes aegypti, an efficient vector of Arboviruses, has expanded its geographical territory. Together with the native mosquito vector Aedes albopictus, they have caused higher frequency of arbovirus outbreaks locally. Singapore experienced dengue outbreaks in 3 of the last 5 years. While nearly 16,000 cases were reported in 2019, more than 30,000 dengue cases were recorded in both 2020 and 2022. Chikungunya outbreaks of over 1,000 cases were recorded in 2008 and 2013 and Zika reached our shore in 2016 leading to about 460 cases. We must therefore never let down our guard.
5 The local epidemiology of arboviruses underscores the threat posed by vector-borne diseases and the complex interplay between urbanisation, climate change, mosquito bionomics and disease spread. Amidst these challenges, Singapore remains vigilant, employing innovative tools including our Gravitrap Surveillance System and Project Wolbachia.
Singapore’s Novel Tools Against Aedes Mosquitoes
6 Singapore embraces innovation in vector control. The Gravitrap Surveillance System, comprising over 70,000 traps, offers consistent monitoring of Aedes mosquito populations. This data guides targeted interventions and community engagement, fostering a proactive approach to dengue control.
7 Project Wolbachia, another groundbreaking initiative, covers 26% of households in Singapore, benefiting a million residents. We have seen promising results to date, including a reduction of more than 90% in Aedes aegypti populations. In the last 4 years (2019 to 2022), residents in areas with at least one year of releases were up to 77% less likely to be infected with dengue. But National Environment Agency (NEA), in collaboration with National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU), has observed that the impact on mosquito population and dengue varied across sites and years.
8 NEA is also using data analytics and artificial intelligence as a predictive tool to adjust the number of male mosquitoes at each site. This helps to optimise our deployment strategy and reduce the number of male mosquitoes needed to support dengue suppression in these areas.
9 This conference is an excellent opportunity to share and discuss the findings that we have gathered from our multi-year and multi-site studies. We continue to deepen our understanding of this technology through the multi-site field study that was launched last year. This study will enable us to understand the site variation and acquire more robust data to optimise our deployment strategies for sustained impact and cost-effectiveness.
10 We will continue to expand Project Wolbachia, even as we deepen and refine our understanding
of this novel solution. I am therefore pleased to announce that NEA will expand the coverage of Project
Wolbachia to five additional residential areas in early 2024. With this expansion, Project Wolbachia
will cover 35% or around 480,000 households across Singapore.
11 Project Wolbachia has performed well because of our collaborative efforts. From the knowledge and material exchanges to innovations in automation and data analytics, we have worked synergistically with our partners to accelerate the development of the novel tool. I would like to thank the WHO, International Atomic Energy Agency, National Robotics Programme, Orinno Technology Pte Ltd, Verily Life Sciences, Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine of NTU, Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health of NUS, University of Michigan, and the Dengue Expert Advisory Panel for their strong technical support.
12 I also wish to extend my heartfelt gratitude to the organisers of this conference for their valuable contributions. The exchange of ideas and experiences in forums such as this conference is instrumental in developing cost-effective and sustainable solutions. Besides vector control, more research and development in therapeutics, diagnostics and vaccines are required, to tame the numerous vector-borne diseases that have inflicted a huge burden on the global community. As we continue our journey in vector-borne disease research, let us continue to leverage the power of collaboration and innovation to create a healthier, more resilient future.
13 Thank you.