International COVID 19 In Profile: NCID executive director & pandemic expert Prof Leo Yee Sin...

In Profile: NCID executive director & pandemic expert Prof Leo Yee Sin — BBC’s Top 100 Women (2020)

She was chosen as one of the BBC's top 100 Women because of the role she has played in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Singapore — It’s perhaps an unimaginably difficult job to steer an entire country through an infectious disease outbreak, although NCID executive director Prof Leo Yee Sin, 61, already has that under her belt, having seen Singapore through the SARS outbreak in 2003.

But Covid-19 has been a game-changer, by all accounts, and 18 months into the pandemic, the situation has yet to ease up.

Prof Leo made the headlines this week for urging continued vigilance in the flight against Covid, especially because of the Delta variant.

She told The Straits Times this week that the more highly transmissible Delta, which has upended hopes of returning to more normal life in nearly every corner of the world, demands “200 per cent” of her and the NCID.

Moreover, Prof Leo underlined the important point that Singapore “cannot solely rely on vaccines.”

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This means that despite having one of the highest vaccination rates around the world—if not the highest—Singaporeans still need to take precautions, and when needed, curbs will be imposed.

With then-Health Minister Gan Kim Yong in 2019

One of the first infectious disease doctors in Singapore

Prof Leo, an alumna of the National University of Singapore, was influenced by infectious disease specialist David Allen when she attended his lectures in 1989, so much so that she made the shift from her original field of study, immunology.

Dr Allen went on to become the first Infectious Diseases Head of Department of the Communicable Disease Centre, which later became the NCID.

In Los Angeles in 1992, Prof Leo worked with many HIV patients, and she started the first HIV programme and patient care centre in 1995 upon her return to Singapore.

In the years that followed, she had to deal with the Nipah virus, MERS, bird flu, outbreaks of Dengue fever, and in 2003, SARS. And after that came the Zika virus, Chikungunya, Pandemic Influenza and Singapore’s first Monkeypox infection.

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For her effort in fighting SARS, Prof Leo was given the Public Service Star. 

However, this is just one of the distinctions conferred upon her. Her other awards include the Excellence Star Award 2005, Red Ribbon Award 2014 and National Healthcare Group (NHG) Distinguished Senior Clinician Award 2016.

Last year, Prof Leo was chosen as one of the BBC’s top 100 Women because of the role she has played in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.

Her biography for the list reads, “As well as being at the forefront of the country’s battle against Covid-19, she has spent decades improving HIV care in Singapore and leading teams through many outbreaks of infectious diseases, including Sars. She balances her work commitments with her role as a mother of three children.”

As for Prof Leo, she graciously said, “Covid-19 has changed everyone’s life. However, it has not changed the prominence of female leadership. Those countering the virus at the frontline are predominantly women, and they do so with courage, strength and resilience.”

/TISG

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