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NParks vet is making sure the bug stops here

Photo Caption: Throughout his 12-year-long career, Dr Kelvin Lim has seen outbreaks of salmonella and animal-related diseases, such as rabbit haemorrhagic disease.

By Rachel Ng

Across the globe, scientists are studying how the coronavirus developed, mutated and transmitted between species. Dr Kelvin Lim, 38, is one of those who play a key role in helping people understand the spread of such infectious diseases.

The director of Veterinary Health Management at the National Parks Board (NParks) is part of a team that develops and enhances biosurveillance programmes for animal disease risk assessment. The team also coordinates animal disease outbreak response and does contingency planning. 

This is one of many roles that recipients of the NParks Scholarship can take on when they join the board.

Dr Lim sees the pandemic as a wake-up call for public health preparedness and disease prevention. According to international experts, about 60 per cent of existing infectious diseases among humans are zoonotic, meaning they can be transmitted from animals to humans, and vice versa. Such diseases include severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and Influenza A (H1N1) virus, both of which had infected people in Singapore.

“When preparing for public education and outreach, I intend to make zoonotic disease prevention and control relatable, so that we reach a good balance of healthy fear and respect for these diseases,” he says. 

Throughout his 12-year-long career, Dr Lim has seen several outbreaks of animal-related diseases. 

He recalls a secondment to the Singapore Food Agency in 2019 when he had to manage several foodborne outbreaks caused by the salmonella bacteria. He had to conduct overseas farm assessments to ensure that animals and animal products which were being brought into Singapore adhered to local regulations. 


An affinity for animals 

Growing up, Dr Lim loved watching documentaries by British natural historian David Attenborough and reading stories by British veterinary surgeon and writer James Herriot.

The animal lover decided to pursue his undergraduate studies in veterinary science and medicine at Australia’s Murdoch University under the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) Undergraduate Scholarship. 

In 2013, Dr Lim pursued his postgraduate studies at Ohio State University under the MND EDGE Scholarship offered by the Ministry of National Development and its statutory boards, which includes NParks. The scholarship puts scholarship holders on job rotations and postings at its statutory boards. 

“If you like challenges, are eager to be in a fast-paced, multi-faceted work environment, and are willing to get your hands dirty, consider a career as a public health veterinarian,” he says.

Since Dr Lim joined NParks in April 2019, he and his team have tackled at least three instances of animal disease outbreaks such as the rabbit haemorrhagic disease last September. 

He aims to build up capabilities in identifying diseases that impact biodiversity, wildlife, and animal and public health, in order to develop better risk-mitigation measures and contingency plans. 

Looking forward, he says: “It is essential that public health veterinarians develop expertise in what we do, and collaborate better across agencies and other disciplines to work together in the new normal.”

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