Extend subsidised Zika testing to foreign workers

Posted by on September 6, 2016 in News, Our Stand, Press Releases

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Our press release made it into the Straits Times 7 September 2016 (imaged above)

Statement for the media:

Transient Workers Count Too urges the Ministry of Health to rethink the exclusion of subsidised testing for foreign workers who may be infected with the Zika virus.

The Ministry announced yesterday that Singaporeans and Permanent Residents can pay subsidised fees of $60 for a test. Private patients, however, will have to pay $150.

Foreign workers are considered private patients and $150 may be more than a week’s basic salary for some workers, said TWC2 treasurer Alex Au. On top of that, they may need to spend $80 to see a general practitioner to get a referral for the Zika test.

“While employers are expected to foot the bill, they may refuse to send ill workers for testing, or even forbid them from going to see a doctor,” said Mr Au. “And we could have a public health problem in our midst with rapid transmission among a group that is simply not tested.”

Indeed, 36 out of 41 patients in the first cluster of locally transmitted Zika cases identified here were foreign workers who worked at a construction site on Sims Drive, as MOH and the National Environment Agency said in a joint press release last week. It is unclear how many more have been infected since, but more than half the cases here were later identified by MOH as foreign nationals.

Foreign workers living in crowded or unsanitary conditions in dormitories and worksites may well be the most vulnerable to the mosquito-borne virus. Mr Au pointed out that in the past, dengue and chikungunya – two other potentially deadly diseases borne by the same Aedes mosquito that carries the Zika virus – have also been known to have spread rapidly in worksites and dormitories. (Please see earlier article by TWC2.)

Mr Loh Wei Hung, another TWC2 executive committee member, said that foreign workers being charged $150 for the test suggests that the health authorities are still underplaying the importance of early detection in the control of infectious diseases. “The costs of accessing primary healthcare should be made low for everybody in Singapore because it’s the first line of defence, especially when it comes to combatting infectious diseases,” he said. “Therefore, it is in the interest of the whole Singaporean community to do so.”

TWC2 is an organization that is dedicated to assisting low-wage migrant workers when they are in difficulty. We are motivated by a sense of fairness and humanity, though our caseload often exceeds our
means.

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