PM lauds foreign medical 'warriors' who didn't walk away

The Straits Times, dated 23 July 2003 Filipina Brenda Buenaflor, 28, could have gone home at the height of the SARS crisis, but the nurse with the paediatric isolation ward at National University Hospital (NUH) chose to stay. Yes, she was afraid. So was her husband and her parents who kept calling her from Luzon province in the Philippines to return home. "I decided to stay. At the end of the day, this is my job, and it's like a war, you don't leave your fellow colleagues to fight it alone. If everyone left, who would be there?" Foreign health-care workers received special mention by Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong last night. They had "stuck it out with their Singaporean colleagues through the crisis", he noted. "It would have been so easy for them to walk away in the face of danger. They could have said, 'It's not worth it. This is not my country. These are not my people', " he said. "They could have simply returned home. But they stayed on and stood shoulder to shoulder with us." Miss L. Bawm Sawng, a 28-year-old nurse from Myanmar, who has been in Singapore since 2000, recalled that her father wanted her home. "But my mom, who is also a nurse, told me to be brave and take care of myself. I know it's dangerous but it is a privilege to be able to help people," said the NUH nurse. Australian doctor Rodney Lee, 39, an associate consultant microbiologist at Changi General Hospital (CGH) thought he has escaped SARS in Hong Kong. he had been based at Queen Mary's Hospital, Hong Kong's SARS central. He arrived in mid-March when Singapore's first few SARS cases were detected -and stuck it out. "All sections of the hospital, from nurses to cleaners, attacked SARS head-on, working 12-hour days instead of the usual 8." And having watched how Singapore dealt with the crisis, he, his wife and two children are here to stay. "The health-care system here is a wonderful, well-oiled machine and it's workers showed a maturity which other countries could have learnt from." His most enduring memories of SARS is of his boss, Dr Wee Thing Poh, head of the hospital's pathology department, telling him that she knew Dr Alex Chao, who died of SARS, since he was a little boy. "She watched him grow up. There was a great sadness in the way she told us that he had died. I never expected to be affected personally by SARS, but through what she shared, I was."