The role of MOH's chief health scientist amid the Covid-19 pandemic

SINGAPORE – Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, the former president of the National University of Singapore, has served as the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) first chief health scientist since 2018.

He was the MOH’s director of medical services from 2000 to 2004, during which he led the public health response to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) crisis in Singapore.

As chief health scientist, his main role is to set the research agenda and to work closely with researchers across institutions in Singapore to address high-priority public health and clinical needs.

This is done in three ways amid the pandemic.

First, he works with the Covid-19 research workgroup, chaired by National Centre for Infectious Diseases executive director Leo Yee Sin, to share samples, collect information and do research.

The workgroup comprises 18 other members from the ministry, public healthcare institutions, the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star), and DSO National Laboratories, the largest defence research and development organisation here. Prof Tan serves as adviser to the workgroup.

Second, the MOH and the National Medical Research Council have set aside $20 million for a special Covid-19 Research Fund, which has issued two grant calls so far and funded a number of research projects that have direct relevance to Singapore’s containment efforts.

Third, Prof Tan also works closely with Singapore’s researchers, clinicians, as well as A*Star to expedite the development of diagnostic tests or treatments and to try to quickly transform them into products which can then be used at scale in hospitals and public health intervention operations.

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