June 26, 2017

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Hyundai replaces Yeo's as S.league sponsor for 2017 season
Hyundai replaces Yeo's as S.league sponsor for 2017 season

by Daniel Yap

AFTER a run of 13 years, food and beverage maker Yeo’s will no longer be sponsoring the S. League.

The company confirmed in a statement it would pull out of supporting the 2017 season after weeks of back-and-forth, including reports of Yeo’s desire for a five-year plan for the league, and the league’s lack of such a plan.

New sponsor Hyundai will step in to take Yeo’s place, while co-sponsor Great Eastern has already confirmed its support for the 2017 season. Komoco Motors, the local dealer for Hyundai, with its Chairman Mr Teo Hock Seng has been a long-time patron of Singapore football. Mr Teo was the former chairman of Tampines Rovers FC.

The two-year deal means that the league will now be called the Great Eastern-Hyundai S. League. And after much hand-wringing about long delays in jersey printing due to the late sponsor announcements, the league will kick off this Sunday (Feb 26) at 6pm at the National Stadium with the Great Eastern Community Shield match between defending league champions Albirex Niigata FC (S) and Tampines Rovers FC.

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The S. League is in a bit of a leadership pickle now that CEO Mr Lim Chin has resigned, leaving the reins to director of operations Mr Kok Wai Leong in the interim. The Football Association of Singapore (FAS), which runs the league, is also facing its first open elections in the wake of reports of under-spending on grassroots football, a FIFA order to end political nominees sitting on the council and hold fair elections, and a lack of confidence in the current leadership.

Tote Board funding for the FAS has also now been given to statutory board Sport Singapore to administer, another sign that confidence in FAS management is less than complete. It used to be disbursed directly to the FAS, although it is not unusual for Sport Singapore to administer funds to national sports associations.

Hyundai’s sponsorship also means that chances are now slim that Mr Teo might run for the hot seat of FAS President. Mr Lim Kia Tong, current President of the FAS Provisional Council, former Woodlands Wellington General Manager Mr R Vengadasalam and Hougang United Chairman Mr Bill Ng are rumoured to be in the running for the FAS top spot.

 

Featured image courtesy of the Football Association of Singapore.

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by Daniel Yap

TWO op-eds on tobacco in the run-up to Budget 2017 caught my eye.

The first is one by the economist Mr Donald Low in the Business Times on Feb 17, calling for a “grand bargain” – an exchange of cigarettes for reduced-risk tobacco products.

The second is by Dr Chia Kee Seng, professor and dean at the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, National University of Singapore, and Dr Kenneth Warner, Avedis Donabedian Distinguished University Professor of Public Health at the Michigan School of Public Health, University of Michigan, published in Straits Times (ST) on Feb 18.

The two doctors called for an end to the scourge of smoking, pitching once again the G’s already-proposed measures of age limits, flavour bans and packaging changes as the way forward. These ideas are already being implemented by other nations.

Both pieces agree on this point – courageous action must be taken to mitigate the high cost of tobacco on our society. But do Singapore’s policymakers have the courage to save lives?

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Singapore’s tobacco policy of ever-higher taxation, bans and graphic marketing has not put a significant dent in the smoker population in Singapore over the last decade. Smoking prevalence has hovered between 12 and 16 per cent, with male smoker prevalence around 25 per cent.

One should note first that in Singapore, one-fourth of those below 18, the current legal age, had already tried smoking. It stands to reason that more laws will not stop this segment of curious youth from engaging in risky, illegal behaviour. And with the youth segment being the true “gateway” to smoking (a huge majority of smokers get hooked before the age of 21), it seems that more laws alone are unlikely to put a significant dent in the smoking rate.

The Health Ministry has set an ambitious target of 10 per cent smoking prevalence by 2020. It is admirable, maybe even attainable, but it is a big reach nonetheless. Dr Chia and Dr Warner pointed to New Zealand, Finland, Canada, Sweden and France as countries that have set a goal for a smoke-free society in eight to 23 years.

What is notable is that these countries, and many others at the forefront of the anti-smoking movement, allow reduced-risk tobacco products as a way for smokers to either quit or at least reduce the cost of smoking to society.

Singapore remains stubbornly behind the times in this area, maintaining a ban against reduced-risk products and constantly citing worry about a “gateway effect” where e-cigarettes, snus (chewing tobacco popular in Sweden and Finland), and heat-not-burn products would lead youth and non-smokers to pick up smoking.

Studies in the United Kingdom (UK) over the last few years, however, have shown that the gate swings almost uniformly in one direction: helping smokers quit (and typically become e-cigarette smokers) rather than enticing youth or non-smokers to “upgrade” to smoking. You can find the Department of Health’s findings published here.

 

Taking on some risks for greater good

That’s where Mr Low’s “grand bargain” comes in.

Based on the UK research, would it not be more prudent to lift the ban on reduced-risk products while at the same time clamping down on smoking tobacco? No doubt e-cigarettes are harmful to health, but this is a risk mitigation situation, much like how the G wants gamblers to put their money with well-regulated casinos or with entities like Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club, which will redistribute to social causes.

We must remember why we want to bring the smoking rate down: the health and social costs of smoking are high. If there is a way to reduce the costs by allowing alternative products, why not? Reduced-risk products can continue to be regulated and taxed as cigarettes currently are. And with alternatives in place, we can look to the other side of the “grand bargain” – cutting down on smoking, perhaps even to the point of banning it altogether.

It seems that harsher laws against smoking would be most effective in tandem with the availability of alternative tobacco or nicotine products, with a complete smoking ban as the end game.

Perhaps Singapore can lead the world in this area as well, and become a smoke-free nation by 2030? What will it cost us? Likely nothing more than converting smokers to lower-risk non-smoking tobacco and nicotine products. Courageous policy-making like this, I think, is the best care that this nation can provide for the long-term health of its smokers – and non-smokers too.

 

Featured image by Pixabay user markusspiske. (CC0 1.0)

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FOR a paper published in this month’s issue of the Environmental Research Letters journal, Ms Yuan Lin, Mr Lahiru Wijedasa and Dr Ryan Chisholm from the National University of Singapore (NUS) asked 390 people of varying ages and income brackets this: from a range of 0.05 per cent to 5 per cent, how much of one’s annual income is worth giving to secure clean air?

About 0.97 per cent, it turns out. In real terms, that amounts to USD$643.5 million (SGD$913 million) a year.

Transboundary haze is a long-standing problem in the South-east Asian region, largely caused by the drainage of carbon-rich peatland as well as companies and farmers in Indonesia using fire to clear land. Singapore experienced its worst haze episode in 2015 from September to November, with the Pollutant Standards Index hitting hazardous levels.

“[Sufficiently] negative impacts” from the air pollution make compelling enough the reason to trade-off “personal financial gain” for an improved environment, the NUS researchers concluded. At least it is, to a certain point, and to most people. Three out of 10 interviewees remained unconvinced of the need to pay at all.

The underlying challenge between personal comfort and environmental responsibility is valid too for people of these countries. 

 

1. Beijing, China – smog data control tightened

beijing

Image from Flickr user Kevin Dooley.

It was announced on Tuesday (Feb 7) in People’s Daily, China’s state newspaper, that the Beijing government has established a national network that will track the smog affecting several major cities. It will use a combination of data gathered from manual sampling stations, satellite sensing and airborne platforms to generate reports about the air quality. This national system replaces the manual smog tracking system of local meteorological stations, which smog alert services the China Meteorological Administration suspended on Jan 17.

The People’s Daily’s article reported that this change of monitoring structure was to better pollution reduction and prevent falsified data. Last year in October, environmental protection officials in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, were caught producing false numbers about the air quality by tampering with the monitoring equipment.

Public anger against China’s infamous smog condition has been rising. When the local smog alert service was suspended, citizens took to severely criticising the authorities online and raising suspicions of information suppression. Independent media outlets have complained about being told to take down articles that are derisive of Beijing’s efforts.  A Peking University study published on Feb 4, 2015, claiming that the smog had caused 257,000 excess deaths in 31 Chinese cities cannot be found online.

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2. Fukushima, Japan – radiation reading the highest since 2011

fukushima

Image from Wikimedia Commons by Digital Globe.

On Monday (Feb 6), China urged the Japanese government to detail plans on how to tackle the radiation from the broken reactors of the defunct Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. It was responding to utility operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) revelation that radiation level in the containment vessel of reactor 2 was at 530 sieverts per hour.

This is the highest reading calculated since the March 2011 meltdown of the three reactors in the plant, triggered by an earthquake and tsunami and followed a few days later with the breaking down of the fourth reactor. The previous highest reading was 73 sieverts per hour.

According to Japan’s National Institute of Radiological Sciences, 4 sieverts of radiation exposure already would kill 1 in 2 people. Japan Times, an English language newspaper in Japan, reported that experts have claimed this reading as “unimaginable” and that an institute official said medical professionals have never considered dealing with this level of radiation.

Mr Azby Brown, a member of a radiation-monitoring citizen science organisation called Safecast cautioned against unnecessary alarm by noting that this reading reflected radiation activity inside the reactor and not what was happening in the wider area of Fukushima.

 

3. Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia – toxic smog failed to abate

mongolia

Image from Flickr user Einar Fredriksen.

Reuters, the international news agency, produced an article this week about the smog that has been shrouding the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar, created from the smoke from thousands of chimneys. The World Health Organisation has set acceptable standard of harmful breathable particles existing in the air, known as PM2.5, at 20-25 micrograms per cubic metre. Late last month, the reading in Ulaanbaatar hit 855 micrograms per cubic metre, at least over 30 times that limit.

But this pollution is also a socio-economic problem.  About 80 per cent of the smog comes from what is known as the “ger” districts found at the edge of the city, said Mr Tsogtbaatar Byamba, director of Mongolia’s Institute of Public Health. “Ger” districts are a mass of traditional tents, housing ex-herders who migrated to the city upon losing all their livestock to the harsh environment and weather conditions. Winter could be fierce in Ulaanbaatar and these poor would burn whatever they can get their hands on – coal, wood and even trash – to keep warm.

To tackle the smog, the Mayor of Ulaanbaatar, Mr S. Batbold, had announced on Jan 9 measures that heightened restriction of migrants to the capital. It would accept only those who need long-term medical care, already owning homes or mortgage loan.

Still, the pollution failed to abate. So, on Jan 28, near 7,000 protestors gathered in the capital’s Chinggis Square to signal their dissatisfaction against the authorities’ inability to improve air condition.

 

4. London, United Kingdom – multiple failings in applying environmental laws

london

Image from Flickr user David Holt.

The European Commission released the Environmental Implementation Review on Monday (Feb 6) which pointed at the United Kingdom (UK) as one of the 23 member states within the European Union (EU) that failed to meet air pollution quality standards.

The review aimed to improve implementation of EU’s current environmental legislation and policies, which UK has been in breach of since 2010 when it first crossed safety limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2). In fact, within just five days of 2017, it was reported that London overshot its annual air pollution limit. Not only has UK failed in effectively applying laws on air quality, laws on water standards and conservation of several species, particularly marine porpoises, have not been followed. Until the Brexit deal is realised, UK remains obliged to fulfill all EU’s environmental regulations.

According to the review, about 50,000 Britons have died prematurely from illnesses related to the country’s air pollution. Also, six million working days are wasted, at the cost of €28 billion (or SGD$49.7 billion) per year.

 

5. Dakota, United States – US Army has given approval to complete Dakota Access pipeline

Dakota

Image from Wikimedia Commons by Pax Ahimsa Gethen.

On Tuesday (Feb 7), the United States (US) Army granted the last permit, or easement, needed to allow the final section of the Dakota Access oil pipeline to be built under North Dakota’s Lake Oahe, which forms part of the Missouri River system. Should construction process goes well, the USD$3.8 billion pipeline can begin operation by June.

This project became controversial because of resistance by The Standing Rock Sioux, a native American tribe which contended that the pipeline desecrates sacred sites and could potentially pollute its water source. Protest camps sprung up in the North Dakota plains, where thousands gathered last year to show their support for the tribe. Activists clashed several times with law enforcers, with more than 600 people arrested. In late November, the police even used water cannons in the -4°C weather against them. The previous US president, Mr Barack Obama, allowed a delay in the completion of the pipeline because of this protest and instructed last December for an environmental study to be carried out.

However, the suspension of the project was overturned when the current president, Trump, ordered on Jan 24 a continuation of the construction. Supporters of the pipeline believe that it is safer to transport oil using a pipeline than by rail or trucks. Then, less than a fortnight after, the Army said that it would cancel the study. Mr Robert Speer, the acting secretary of the Army stated that there was already enough information on the likely effect on the environment to make a decision about whether to grant the easement.

The tribe and its supporters are not accepting the recent development. Mr Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, one of the activist groups, promised even greater “mass resistance”.

 

Featured image Earth by Flickr user Kevin Gill. (CC BY-SA 2.0) 

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Man in a purple shirt sitter and pondering while two businessmen walk by, at the CBD.

by Wan Ting Koh

IT’S all about workers’ rights early this year, with a few prominent cases making headlines and even into Parliament. The issues all revolve around what is fair for an employee – whether it concerns his or her termination, taking sick leave, or even whether he or she is getting paid.

In Parliament this afternoon (Feb 7), MP Tan Wu Meng asked for updates on the Surbana Jurong terminations, with NCMP Daniel Goh following up on what constitutes due and fair process in dismissing employees due to poor performance, and how employees can seek redress.

Surbana Jurong, a Temasek Holdings-owned infrastructure consultancy, came under the spotlight last month for terminating 54 of its employees, a practice which it said was part of a performance review. The lay-offs raised concerns that the company was retrenching workers under the banner of poor performance so that it wouldn’t have to pay additional compensation to its employees.

Surbana has insisted that the terminations were not a retrenchment exercise. Its chief executive Wong Heang Fine sent an email to staff following news of the terminations, informing them that the company “cannot allow a small proportion of poor performers to be a drag on the rest of the organisation”.

“We cannot allow our 1 per cent of poor performers to continue to affect the rest of the 99 per cent of staff who are performing,” he said in the email.

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After their dismissal, terminated employees took the issue to two unions, the Singapore Industrial and Services Employees’ Union and the Building Construction and Timber Industries Employees’ Union, and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

Surbana later acknowledged in a joint statement with the unions that the process “could have been better managed”. It added that it would work closely with the unions to provide an “equitable and mutually agreeable arrangement” for the affected workers and to help them find new jobs.

When asked for an update on the Surbana case, Minister for Manpower Lim Swee Say said that the company and unions have reached a “fair settlement” of ex gratia payments. This means that Surbana will pay a sum of money to affected workers even though there is no obligation for it. Mr Lim added that Surbana’s mass termination and then public labelling of the employees as poor performers were “unacceptable”.

There may be other factors such as working environment and HR practices, said Mr Lim, adding that a poor performance in one company doesn’t mean it will be the same for the next company.

Mr Lim said that companies dismissing employees over poor performance have to substantiate their claim with documented evidence. “If the employer cannot substantiate, he may be ordered to reinstate the employee or pay compensation,” said Mr Lim. He added that employees who feel that they’ve been unfairly terminated may approach MOM, which will ask the companies for proof.

Being prematurely dismissed is one matter. What if you’re not being paid your salary?

 

Salary issues

Some 6,000 salary non-payment and short payment cases were lodged by employees last year and in 2015. Mr Lim gave the breakdown of cases in a written answer to NMP Kok Heng Leun’s parliamentary question last month about how many such cases had been referred to the Labour Court.

Of the 3,000 cases referred, 1,400 cases had the Labour Court issuing court orders in favour of employees. Out of these, 800 cases saw employees being paid within 14 days while 250 cases had employees who were paid after 14 days. A total of 350 cases were defaulted as the 200 companies involved were in financial straits or had ceased operations.

Some 25 employers were charged in court for more egregious offences each year for the past two years, Mr Lim added. These charges may include failure to pay salaries on time, or not paying a dismissed employee within three days of termination, and each charge carries a fine of not more than $15,000, or a jail term not exceeding six months, or both.

 

Sick leave entitlement

Employers are expected to excuse employees with sick leave or hospitalisation leave from work too. MOM called these “basic protections” after several Singapore Airlines (SIA) employees claimed that taking sick leave would affect their chances of promotion. Their allegations came after SIA stewardess, Ms Vanessa Yeap, 38, was found dead in a San Francisco hotel room on Jan 31 (United States time). She was reportedly ill two days before her death.

According to crew members interviewed by ST, every employee has 10 incentive points each year and these are docked when the employee submit medical certificates for common illnesses. All points are lost when the member of the staff accumulates 12 medical certificates.

Points are considered in the staff’s annual appraisals, though they account for less than 5 per cent of the weightage.

When contacted by ST, SIA said that operating with a medical certificate is a disciplinary lapse. It declined to say how it measured performance of its staff, but said that it takes into account many other factors apart from crew attendance.

It said: “As with all other businesses, employee productivity and attendance at work are important for a successful airline operation. Although crew attendance is a component in the performance management process, we would like to emphasise that crew performance is measured across many other factors.”

In response to concerns, MOM issued a statement yesterday saying it expects all employers to excuse their employees from work if they have a medical certificate.

It added: “Paid sick and hospitalisation leave is a basic protection under the Employment Act and is also a core benefit in collective agreements… employers should avoid penalising an employee solely based on his consumption of sick leave.”

According to ST, MOM is in touch with the SIA Staff Union and SIA’s management over the issue.

Under the law, employees with three months of service get five days of sick leave and 15 days of hospitalisation leave.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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by Wan Ting Koh

IS IT any surprise that the only contraceptives most women know about are the condom and the pill? They might even know the varieties of condoms available since they are sold openly on the counter, and even the brands of birth control pills.

But a vaginal ring? It sounds more sexually erotic than procreation-prohibiting. Only 31.7 per cent of 259 women surveyed were aware of this contraceptive, according to a study conducted between 2013 and 2014 by National University Hospital doctors.

MSM has the results of the study, but doesn’t say much more about such non-traditional contraceptives apart from how some of them work. A vaginal ring is a small, flexible ring a woman inserts into her vagina to prevent pregnancy. It releases the hormones, progestin and estrogen into the body, which prevents the ovaries from producing mature eggs. Once in place, the vaginal ring is left alone for three weeks and taken out in the last week of the month.

Apart from gynaecologists, the ring, popularly known as the NuvaRing, can be found at Mount Elizabeth’s (Mount Elizabeth Road) pharmacy and costs $43.14 per box. Each box contains one ring. Now compare that to a minimum of $8 for a box of 12 condoms. Ladies, wouldn’t you rather get the guy to buy himself the cap than get you a ring?

The study also looked at women’s awareness of seven other contraceptives to ascertain the level of awareness and knowledge of contraception among women in Singapore, and to see if current measures to educate women on contraception are effective. All the women, who were between 21 and 49 years old, know of the condom, and 89.2 per cent were aware of oral contraceptives.

However, less than half were aware of five of the newer methods available. These five are: birth control patches, implants, hormonal intrauterine device (IUD), injectable contraceptives, and, yes, vaginal rings. Awareness of hormonal IUDs ranked at the bottom, with only 24.3 per cent being aware of them. Women ought to be aware of alternatives other than the pill and condoms, because they might be more suitable for their bodies, or even more effective.

MethodAwareness
Condoms100 per cent
Oral contraceptive pills89.2 per cent
Tubal ligation73 per cent
Copper IUD72.2 per cent
Implant48.3 per cent
Injectable contraceptive46.7 per cent
Patch40.9 per cent
Vaginal ring31.7 per cent
Hormonal IUD24.3 per cent

Here are the seven contraceptives (apart from condoms and the NuvaRing) available in Singapore, and where you might get them. Note though, that all require a prescription from, or a consultation with, a doctor.

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1. Oral contraceptives

These come in the form of pills which contain a combination of hormones, estrogen and progestin, in your body when ingested. These hormones prevent pregnancy by preventing ovulation.

Oral contraceptives are available at pharmacies and some GP clinics for a range of prices. You can buy these contraceptives after visiting a doctor for a prescription at certain Watsons, Guardian and Unity pharmacies. Pills cost between $6 and $50.

2. Implants

Birth control implants are devices that release a hormone which prevents pregnancy. They come in the form of plastic rods the size of matchsticks, and are placed under a woman’s skin – usually her upper arm. Implants are probably not available over-the-countertop at pharmacies, as they require doctors to inject them.

However, they should be available at gynaecologists or specialist clinics. GynaeMD Women’s Clinic provides Implanon, a type of implant, for $823, including the consultation fee and the device itself. Consultations range between $120 and $135. The implant should last for three years.

3. Copper IUDs

In case you’re wondering what they are, IUDs, are T- or U-shaped plastic devices that are inserted into a woman’s uterus by a doctor. The copper IUD is wrapped with a copper wire and makes the uterus and fallopian tubes produce fluid that kills sperm.

The IUD device has a plastic string tied to its end, which hangs down through the cervix into the vagina. The doctor uses this string to remove it. IUDs are a long-term birth control method that can last up to five years.

Copper IUDs are available at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital’s outpatient pharmacy for around $40. You can visit a gynaecologist to have the copper IUDs inserted as well. A procedure at Judy Wong Clinic for Women would cost $420, not including consultation fee and GST.

4. Hormonal IUDs

Similar to the copper IUDs, hormonal IUDs are inserted into the uterus for long-term birth control. It comes in a T-shaped plastic frame that releases a substance and thickens the cervical mucus to prevent sperm from reaching or fertilising an egg.

KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital’s outpatient pharmacy has Mirena, a brand of hormonal IUD, for around $350. A procedure at Judy Wong Clinic for Women would cost $680, not including consultation fee and GST.

5. Birth control patch

The birth control patch is a small, square patch that looks like a plastic bandage. The woman sticks it to her skin, and it releases hormones into her body to prevent pregnancy. One patch can last a week. The more popular brand of patches in Singapore is Evra, which is stocked at certain Unity, Guardian, and Watsons pharmacies.

Unity pharmacies sell a box of Evra, which comes with three patches, for $43.15. Guardian sells it for $40 per box, while Watsons sells it for $35.70. Not all branches of the pharmacies stock the patches though – it is recommended that you call the branch before making a trip. KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital’s outpatient pharmacy also sells Evra for $36 per box. These require a prescription too.

 6. Injectable contraceptives

The contraceptive injection is a shot that contains hormones which stop a woman’s body from releasing eggs and thickens the mucus at the cervix. Shots are needed either once a month, or once every three months, and are administered by doctors.

Dr Tan & Partners clinics provide injectable contraceptives for $45, not including consultation fees. Its consultation fee for its branch at Robertson Quay is about $60 to $80. Judy Wong Clinic for Women provides the shot for $40, not including the consultation fee.

 

7. Tubal ligation

This is a permanent form of birth control that involves severing the fallopian tubes so that the eggs cannot reach the uterus. The equivalent procedure for a man would be a vasectomy, where the vas deferens from each testicle is clamped. This prevents sperm from mixing with the semen that is ejaculated from the penis.

Tubal ligations are surgical procedures that are subjected to hospital and doctor rates. You can approach gynaecologists and specialist clinics for them.

 

Featured image by Najeer Yusof.

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skillsfuture_300x250

by Wan Ting Koh

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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A Tissot wristwatch with clock hands pointing at 8:30
8:30 Clock face

IT’S an ambitious target – to have nine out of 10 people who are infected to know that they are, and so on. But on World Aids Day today (Dec 1), this goal, known as the “90-90-90 Treatment Goals” and set by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids, is a timely reminder of how much more work needs to be done to de-stigmatise the illness in society.

One way is to tell stories. In The Straits Times (ST) today, there’s a touching account of two patients from Dr Wong Chen Seong, a doctor at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, who cares for these patients.

The consultant at the hospital’s Institute of Infectious Diseases and Epidemiology describes a life of shame and regret, recently made a little better because of advances in medical treatment. HIV testing and treatments these days are now much more effective and affordable, lifting what was once thought of as a death sentence and offering patients a period of “hopeful living”, he said.

“People with HIV are living longer, healthier lives than could ever have been imagined during the dark early years of the epidemic,” said Dr Wong.

One such medical advancement is the availability of the HIV Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, also known as PrEP. More on this coming up later today.

Speaking of hopeful living, look on the bright side if your pay isn’t going to go up this or next year – at least you’ve still got a job in this lousy economy.

Wage growth is slowing. The median income went up only 2.7 per cent in June, compared to 4.7 per cent a year ago, according to figures released yesterday by the Ministry of Manpower. Economist labour executives said they don’t expect the situation to be better next year.

Said National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Zainal Sapari: “It’s more important to make sure workers continue to have jobs.”

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong gave an interview to Malaysian news agency Bernama on Monday, in which he reiterated the challenges of building the high-speed rail between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, and pledged to get the job done.

“It is a very ambitious, very complicated and very expansive project,” he said in the interview, according to the transcript that was released yesterday. “We have to try our best to anticipate what the likely issues are… and have a clear understanding of how we will deal with it if a situation arises.”

He said both Singapore and Malaysia have made “very good progress” on the agreement, but did not give details about how the costs would be shared when asked. It was one of the items that made the project complicated, he acknowledged, but added: “We are almost there.”

Mr Lee was also asked about the presidential election, and if the G had a list of people in mind to run for the position. To that, he said: “There is no shortlist. It depends on who comes forward. It is not for the G to arrange.”

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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by Li Shan Teo

THE number of Zika cases in Vietnam has more than doubled over the past three days to 23 cases, said the country’s health ministry. A dozen of the new cases were reported in Vietnam’s commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City, and the country’s first case of microcephaly that is likely linked to Zika was reported last Sunday (Oct 30).

Singapore has been relatively lucky, with the number of Zika cases dwindling over the past month.

Since the first case came to light in August, the National Environment Agency (NEA) has reported a total of 442 cases, including 16 pregnant women. But if you think these numbers are alarming, there’s cause for relief: Only 12 cases were reported last week, and 11 cases the week before. So far this week, only two new cases have been reported.

How did we tackle the issue so quickly?

If you need a memory refresher, Zika is a virus transmitted by the Aedes mosquito. While the infection is generally mild, there can be some severe consequences such as microcephaly and neurological complications.

One of the measures taken by the NEA was vector control. Adult mosquitoes were killed using insecticide fogging and misting, and space spraying indoors. Mosquito breeding sources were also removed through intensive search-and-destroy operations to prevent disease transmission.

On top of that, other measures employed include encouraging residents to perform the “5-step Mozzie Wipeout“, and the release of mosquitoes infected with the Wolbachia bacteria, which results in eggs that do not hatch after they mate.

 

Featured image d2623-8 by Flickr user U.S. Department of Agriculture. (CC BY 2.0)

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by Li Shan Teo 

HEARD of pitaya (yellow dragon fruit) from Ecuador? What about the ghost pepper from India?

Well, these exotic produce might be a common sight soon at supermarkets, specialty shops and even market stalls here.

Stores like Fairprice Finest and Cold Storage are bringing in more exotic produce – from countries like Colombia and Ecuador – to introduce some variety to our grocery lists.

Have Singaporeans developed an appetite for the unusual?

Mr Victor Chai, the director of fresh and frozen products for Fairprice told TMG that the supermarket constantly looks for ways to engage its customers and “cater to their evolving lifestyles” by “periodically [introducing] new and unique products”. 

Singaporeans are becoming increasingly well-travelled – according to Visa’s Global Travel Intentions Study conducted last year, 95 per cent of Singaporeans have travelled abroad for leisure from 2014 to 2015. Introducing new products from “around the world” was therefore one way to engage with the customers of today. 

According to Mr Chai, the exotic produce available generally generate good sales. The moon drop grapes, which were introduced in Fairprice in August, have been “well-received by [its] shoppers” with good sales. Cold Storage is also selling this variety of grapes.

Blueberries, which used to only be available in limited quantities, were also well-received and are now available at majority of Fairprice outlets almost all-year round, Mr Chai added.

As for the yellow dragon fruit, Mr William Lim, the owner of Holland Village Fresh Fruits market stall, said that he had brought in the fruit from Ecuador about five to six years ago. While current sales are not as good as when he had first brought the yellow dragon fruit in, he would still continue to sell them, as he attributed the drop in sales as something inevitable due to the economic downturn – it may also be harder for smaller fruit shops to generate good sales due to their location and comparatively smaller customer base.

Mr Lim also imports the Ecuadorian passion fruit. He chose to import these fruits because Singaporeans are known to like sweet fruits, he said. The yellow dragon fruit and the Ecuadorian passion fruit are both well known for their sweetness.

Here are some interesting finds in the stores:

 

1. Ghost pepper

Touted as one of the hottest peppers in the world, the ghost pepper, also known as Bhut jolokia, measures more than 1 million Scoville heat units. For comparison, it’s 400 times hotter than Tabasco sauce. The pepper is cultivated in India and indigenous to the Assam region in the northeastern part of the country.

While Singaporeans love spicy food, it’s best to be careful with the ghost pepper. According to reports, a healthy 47-year-old man who attempted a super-spicy feat – eating a hamburger served with a ghost pepper puree – tore a hole in his oesophagus and had to be rushed to the hospital.

A seed from the pepper can cause the mouth to feel like it’s on fire for up to half an hour.

Still, ghost peppers can make a great ingredient for many sauces. Just remember not to go overboard.

You can find them at Fairprice Finest at $4.95 per box.

peppers-2

Image from TMG file. 

 

2. Yellow dragon fruit

We’ve all seen the “traditional” dragon fruit with the bright red skin. But yellow dragon fruit are rare and a novelty to Singaporeans. The main difference? The yellow ones are produced in only two countries in the world – Ecuador and Colombia. The flesh is also said to be much sweeter.

The dragon fruit is also rich with health benefits, such as aiding with digestion and improving immunity. Its high fibre content improves the body’s bowel movements, and high levels of vitamin C present in the fruit gives the immune system a boost.

These fruits are being sold at Momobud at $13 per piece.

They’re also sold at Holland Village Fresh Fruits for $8 to $10 per piece. You can also buy them for $28 per kilogram. The market stall is located at No. 1 Lorong Mambong, Singapore 277700.

Image from TMG file. 

 

3. Ecuadorian passion fruit

Unlike the normal dark-coloured variety, the passion fruit from Ecuador – also called the Granadilla – has transparent flesh and is sweet. The fruit is sold with straws at Fairprice Finest, so that consumers can “drink” the pulp.

The Granadilla has many health properties: rich in anti-oxidants, improves and maintains eye vision, alleviates asthma attacks and treats insomnia.

You can buy these passion fruits at Fairprice Finest for $6.50 – they come in a pair.

They are also sold at Holland Village Fresh Fruits at $3 a piece.

passionfruit

Image from TMG file.

 

4. Moon drop grapes 

Local supermarkets have started to import moon drop grapes, and unlike normal grapes, these are somewhat oblong in shape. The skins of the grapes are also darker than that of normal grapes.

The grapes are rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron. They also control your blood sugar, relieve constipation and improve your vision.

Cold Storage sells them at $15 per pack.

You can also find them at Epicure Fine Foods Pte Ltd for $25 (1 kg bag).

moon-grape

Image from NTUC Fairprice. 

 

5. Golden raspberries

Raspberries don’t just come in red. In fact, they come in a variety of colours such as purple or black. The golden raspberries that have recently been introduced in local supermarkets are the sweetest of the group – they tend to have a sweeter and milder flavour compared to their red counterparts.

Like all raspberries, golden raspberries possess a variety of health benefits. They contain powerful antioxidants that inhibit tumour growth and inflammation in the body. The fibre and water content of the fruit also help to prevent constipation and maintain a healthy digestive tract.

You can read more about the health benefits of raspberries here.

You can buy the golden raspberries at $7.95 per box at Fairprice Finest.

golden-raspberries-copy

Image from TMG file. 

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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