Associate Professor Ling Moi Lin, President, Asia Pacific Society of Infection Control
Associate Professor Helen Oh, Chairman, Organising committee of 10th Congress of the Asia Pacific Society of Infection Control
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
It is my pleasure to join you here in Singapore at the 10th International Congress of the Asia Pacific Society of Infection Control and I would like very much to welcome our delegates who have come from overseas, a mark of confidence in this congress and our situation here in Singapore.
2. Much has been said about the COVID-19 pandemic. It has drastically changed our lives in the last two years, and where we are today is a large part thanks to the extraordinary contributions of our healthcare professionals, like yourselves.
3. Infection control physicians and nurses have had to step up to the forefront of this particular battle and many of you went beyond your call of duty, supporting our healthcare operations in the community, the foreign workers’ dormitories, screening checkpoints, isolation facilities, testing facilities. As a result, the practice of infection control, something that was largely confined to healthcare institutions in the past, has now moved out into the community. You see infection control practices in many, many locations. Our frontline workers in non-healthcare settings are now able to better appreciate the importance of washing their hands, wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment. You have made this possible through support for our community partners, providing education, providing training during this critical period, and at the same time, having to manage the situation within your own institutions.
Success and Opportunities for Growth
4. The practice of infection prevention and control, especially in a healthcare setting, has always been critical in protecting the vulnerable population. The safest healthcare systems are those with robust infection control programmes, surveillance protocols, diagnostic testing capability, quality improvement, and the safest healthcare systems are those where they are administered by trained staff with strong leadership support for infection prevention and control. Over the years, the Ministry of Health has been working closely with the National Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) Committee and many other stakeholders in driving the national IPC programme to reduce healthcare associated infections. This has built a good foundation for our healthcare system, and we have seen success in reducing hospital acquired infections.
5. During the pandemic, the importance of good control, clearly, was demonstrated and well understood. But it was also well demonstrated how a lack of knowledge can result in infection clusters forming within the community. We managed to control the spread in a timely manner, but what happened in COVID-19 was a stress test of our infection prevention and control capabilities. We uncovered weaknesses. Some of those were weaknesses around our processes and we identified institutional process weaknesses. But on the back of our institutional strengths, we were able to adapt in a relatively agile and timely manner. Refining the protocols, changing our tactics, keeping Singaporeans safe. We have to continue to build on that progress that we have achieved not just during only over the last two years, but prior to that as well, maintaining our vigilance, so that we are ready for the next infectious diseases challenge that come our way.
6. And so these gaps, process, also match gaps in knowledge. Scientific studies1 continue to highlight and subsequently, fill in those knowledge gaps, demonstrated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The extent to which environmental factors such as ventilation and fomites – the role that they play, the risks that they have – we learn quite a lot, how the disease was transmitted, how it interacted with our human behaviours, study after study. As we move towards normalcy, it is timely for us to rethink what infection prevention and control should look like, how we need to make provisions for this in our daily practices in our post-pandemic world. We have to learn the lessons of our response and remain committed to our vision of reducing healthcare associated infections and its burden on our systems.
Learning from Academic Studies and International Collaborations
7. This growth of knowledge that we have had, this refining of our processes, is matched by an increase in effort on the academic front. The past few years, you have seen an explosion of new evidence and scientific knowledge in the field of infection control and we have to refine these academic processes as well, to match the interventions and process and knowledge, to achieve the breakthroughs that we need to further reduce the burden of infections, whether healthcare associated or not.
8. In this space, international collaborations are key. One example is the ASEAN Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) taskforce that brings together regional expertise and policy makers from 10 ASEAN member states and the United States Centers for Disease Control, to identify and promote collaborative solutions for the complex problems of infection prevention and control, and antimicrobial resistance in the region. The taskforce will provide a platform for shared learning and information exchange, coordinate our efforts in research and development, and increase the mutual understanding of partner activities and programmes in the region. We look forward to this collaboration with ASEAN members and the United States in strengthening our regional capacity to respond quickly and effectively when infectious disease threats arise in our healthcare settings.
9. This development in academic efforts, is matched by what you do here at the Congress – the opportunity to bring together people from around the world, in person and online, sharing expertise, sharing ideas, giving us the opportunity to sharpen and refine our thinking. Because the damage that infectious pathogens with epidemic and pandemic potential that may potentially pose to public health and our global economy isn’t going to go away. The next threat can appear at any time. We need to be prepared. And dealing with these types of crises really is a problem that we need international collaboration and cooperation. You cannot do this alone. None of us can. And we look forward to working closely with all our international counterparts to help each other, share knowledge, and be ready for whatever the next pandemic may be.
10. On this note, I declare the 10th International Congress of the Asia Pacific Society of Infection Control open. I wish you all a fruitful, fulfilling experience at this conference. Thank you very much.