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Times 30 Jun 07
Dengue link with poor living quarters?
By Khushwant Singh
FOREIGN workers packed like sardines in crammed quarters. Foreign workers making up more than a third of dengue cases. Could there be a link between the two?
Singapore is in the midst of a dengue outbreak and 1,133 of the 3,216 cases involve foreign workers, says the National Environment Agency (NEA).
But there have been only five construction sites this year in dengue problem areas, each with two to three cases - too few to explain the surge. Other sites were 'clean' and no worker dormitory has been implicated.
The source then, for the alarming spate of infections among foreign workers, could well be the smaller shophouses, private apartments, terrace houses and makeshift shelters that are used as workers' quarters, sometimes illegally.
Just this month, 409 foreign workers were infected, up from 283 last month - among them, a group of foreign workers living in rented apartments in Kim Keat.
NEA regards this area, Little India and Geylang as potential dengue hot spots. These areas are where walk-up apartments, shophouses and landed properties are rented out to house foreign workers, NEA said.
In Lorong 30 Geylang, The Straits Times found 10 foreign workers sharing a room made of cardboard sides and a zinc roof, on a shophouse rooftop that is often flooded ankle-deep in rainwater.
Dismal living conditions for the workers, but not so for the dengue-spreading Aedes mosquito - which needs only a puddle the size of a 20-cent coin to lay its eggs.
A recent blitz by the Manpower Ministry has uncovered such foreign worker 'slums' all over the island.
Between January and last month, 116 companies were found to have fallen short in giving their foreign workers suitable housing. Of these, 18 paid composition fines amounting to $30,700. The others were issued a warning and advised to make improvements.
Among the more appalling examples - making four men cook, clean and sleep in a public toilet, and crowding 50 men in a room above a shophouse with only a single shower and toilet.
Enforcement action by the NEA and Ministry of Manpower (MOM) must continue to curb the spread of dengue among foreign workers in crammed quarters.
This is because the workers are reluctant to complain, although MOM's policy is not to reveal the identities of whistle-blowers.
Said executive director Jolovan Wham of the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics: 'Their priority is to have a job and earn money so they will not do anything to jeopardise this.'
If the foreign workers' housing problem is licked, this could well provide some respite in the dengue situation plaguing Singapore.
Related articles on Dengue fever
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