It is a culmination of her work
in infectious diseases, a discipline
she fell into largely by chance.
When Prof Low had to choose her
specialty in 2002, her preference
— geriatrics — did not have an
opening for a trainee at the time.
“This discipline has opened my
eyes to the importance of public
health, which I think is a very
neglected branch of medicine in
this day and age,” said Prof Low,
Senior Consultant, Department
of Infectious Diseases, Singapore
General Hospital (SGH).
“Many people have the
misconception that we no
longer need to worry about
infectious diseases because a lot
of us live in first-world settings.
We have forgotten that in a large part of the world, many
people still die prematurely from
When Prof Low joined the
relatively new Infectious Diseases
department, it had only two
senior and three trainee staff.
Since then, the department has
tripled its staff strength, and
is one of the top departments
contributing to academic
medicine research at SGH.
It was also by chance that
Prof Low ended up managing
Singapore’s first two COVID-19
cases during the Chinese New
Year holiday in 2020. Because the
disease had started emerging in
China’s Wuhan province at the
time, she did not take leave as she
typically would during that period.
“We have dealt with similar
situations before — we have
had people admitted for
suspected MERS, Ebola, H5N9.
In the beginning, it was no
different from how we would work
in an isolation ward. It was upon
diagnosing them with COVID-19
when all the frenzy started,”
Coping with COVID-19
“The truth is, we have always
thought about the potential
of such a day. We have been
preparing for a pandemic for
many years while hoping that we
would never have to witness it,”
The Infectious Diseases
department cared for patients
in isolation at the peak of the
outbreak. As the situation eased,
Prof Low returned to her regular
work, participating in COVID-19
research and running three trials
— a corona antibody therapeutic
trial, a drug trial, and the highly
She designed the Lunar-Cov19
clinical trial protocol and led
the SingHealth Investigational
Medicine Unit to administer the
phase 1 trial in August last year,
and a month later, phase 2.
From the get-go, the team has
been working against time. “A
similar trial during peace time would
normally take six to nine months for
phase 1 and 2. But we were trying
to shrink the timeline [by half]. With
this compressed timeline, we have to
do everything in parallel,” she said.
The team expects to move on
to phase 3 by the first quarter of
2021. This last phase will involve
testing thousands of volunteers
from many countries over a few
months to two years.
Each day is a juggling act for
the mother-of-four. Prof Low said
her passion keeps her going.
“Many of us have forgotten
that there are still all these
threats from infectious diseases.
Many bacteria are also getting more
resistant to antibiotics, and some of these
infections, which previously can be
easily treated, are now becoming
very hard to treat,” she said.
“We are so urbanised that
people do not realise that there
is a boundary between fauna
and humans. As we continue
to encroach on the space that
belongs to the wild, we will be
exposed to pathogens that will
result in novel diseases.”
It is Prof Low’s hope that the
COVID-19 experience will create
greater public awareness, and
also encourage governments to
rethink public health policies
On a personal note, she looks
forward to bonding with her
family over activities such as
hiking, birdwatching and enjoying
the countryside in her favourite
country, Japan, after the pandemic.
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