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Available Capabilities to Detect Emerging Infectious Diseases and Pandemics and Current Assessment of Utility of Metegenomic Testing for Purposes of Detecting Novel Pathogens in Environment



Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament

Dr Tan Wu Meng

MP for Jurong GRC

Question No. 1041

To ask the Minister for Health (a) what capabilities does Singapore have to detect emerging infectious diseases and pandemics including novel pathogens; and (b) what is the current assessment of the utility of metagenomic testing for purposes of detecting novel pathogens in the environment.


    Singapore has a multi-layered approach for the early detection of emerging infectious diseases and novel pathogens. This is enabled by the expertise of our professionals, state-of-the-art facilities and technologies, and international networks.

2.   Externally, we have established links with the World Health Organization (WHO), governments, and key institutions in the region and internationally. We collaborate closely with international partners to share information and facilitate research. These processes and relationships provide us timely information about emerging disease threats globally. The insights gathered guide our surveillance and risk assessment of potentially important public health threats to Singapore. 

3.   Within Singapore, our professionals form the next layer of defence. Officers across One Health agencies (human, animal, food and environment sectors) work together to detect diseases and pathogens in these settings. Our medical community, including general practitioners, play a key role in the early detection and notification of infectious diseases of public health concern. The Severe Illness and Death from Possibly Infectious Causes (SIDPIC) program in public hospitals also aims to identify emerging infections and novel pathogens among persons with serious illness of unknown cause. 

4.    We have developed a comprehensive laboratory system supported by specialist laboratory scientists and state-of-the-art technologies. This includes the National Public Health Laboratory (NPHL), which is actively involved in surveillance for highly infectious pathogens, and NEA’s Environmental Health Institute (EHI), which conducts environmental pathogen surveillance.  Technologies such as biosafety-level 3 containment laboratories, electron microscopy and next generation sequencing platforms, has allowed us to identify and respond to emerging threats such as Zika virus, avian influenza, monkeypox and SARS-CoV-2. Partnerships exist between various laboratories within and outside of Singapore to drive research and capability development for the detection of new and emerging pathogens. 

5.   As technologies evolve rapidly, new tools including metagenomics become available to augment the detection of emerging pathogens.  There is currently limited evidence to support the utility of metagenomics in predicting emerging pathogens. Due to the complex microbiome in the environment, the use of metagenomics in detecting novel pathogens in the environment must be complemented and supported by epidemiological and disease information from human or animal studies.

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