I had previously written about the teacher from Little Greenhouse preschool with tuberculosis, whose contract was had appeared to be at risk of premature termination according to media reports (the preschool has since put this decision on hold). A concerned member of the public wrote in quickly to express unease at the decision, which would send the wrong message to the public. At the instigation of Dr Catherine Ong, who felt strongly that medical professionals should make a stand and also provide some public education, Dr Cynthia Chee from the TB Control Unit and I put our names to a letter that was eventually published on Monday 29th August. The local infectious disease society and Academy of Medicine chapter, along with the infection control society, also put in a letter that was published at the same time.

Screen capture of our letter to the Straits Times, published 29th August 2016.

Timing and opportunity are key in public education, and when news of the Zika outbreak erupted over the weekend, I felt that our message would be buried as public attention shifted towards the new disease. But perhaps the letters were not completely wasted, as our letter was picked up in an article by HRM Asia (a human resource magazine/portal) about the case. Coincidentally, another preschool teacher, this time from a Montessori school in Punggol, was diagnosed with tuberculosis this month, soon after starting her job, and subsequent screening picked up at least one child with latent tuberculosis. Unfortunately, she was released from her contract “by mutual agreement”, and has probably since returned to the Philippines.

Perhaps most importantly, Member of Parliament for Jurong Group Representation Constituency Dr Tan Wu Meng has promised in a Facebook post to raise a parliamentary question about measures to protect employees from unjust termination of employment when they are diagnosed with diseases such as tuberculosis (or cancer). It is good to see this issue gaining traction.