The Citizen as a Public Health Actor: Complaints as Public Engagement with Aedes Mosquito Control in Singapore, 1965–1985

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April 30, 2024

In 1986, the World Health Organization heralded Singapore as a model for the control of dengue fever, a viral disease spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Between 1965 and 1985, public health officials successfully employed educational campaigns and mandatory home inspections to convince citizens to guard against mosquito breeding at home. Although this story appears to recapitulate standard narratives of top-down progress in Singapore, this paper argues that the significant role of the public in public health has been overlooked. Citizens complained frequently, sometimes publicly, to public health authorities and often compelled direct responses from them. Through these complaints, citizens modified official anti-mosquito measures and expanded the reach of public health. Public health in Singapore thus appears not simply as the imposition of an autonomous states vision onto a docile or even resistant citizenry but as a coevolution of the state and the public.