Tuberculosis (TB) was one of the worst menaces confronting Singapore as it emerged from three and a half years of Japanese occupation. The disease afflicted thousands and threatened more. Medical facilities to combat TB in Singapore were inadequate. As public money was being channeled to the more pressing business of postwar reconstruction and rehabilitation, a group of doctors and laymen, led by SH Peek, decided to form SATA as a charity organisation.
The idea of setting up SATA had originated during the Japanese Occupation among a group of Singaporeans interned in Changi Jail and Sime Relocation Camp. These men wanted to do something for society when they regained their freedom and returned to normal life. Many projects were talked about in those long evenings but no definite ideas came up until after the war. Then, a discussion group was formed. Led by company director, SH Peek, a proposal was prepared, and handed to the Government. At a meeting with government officials, SATA was given the green light but there would be no aid.
A temporary diagnostic clinic was established in St. Andrew’s Mission Hospital.
The Singapore Anti Tuberculosis Association was registered on August 23rd, 1947. Its first job was to set up X-Ray facilities – a very useful means of gauging quickly the seriousness of the TB problem in Singapore.
This required money, and the Association’s first fund-raising campaign was planned and launched. A flag day, football matches at the Jalan Besar Stadium, a variety show and dance at the Victoria Memorial Hall, a Gala Night at Great World Amusement Park and theatrical projects, and outright donations helped considerably. Within months the Association had a fairly substantial bank balance, and a temporary treatment unit – a prefabricated hut built on land next to St Andrew’s Mission Hospital at Tanjong Pagar – opened in 1949. It was a wooden structure, with one room for air treatment, a second for injections, and a third for doctors who could only work one at a time, such was the lack of space.
SATA Clinic, Shenton Way, as it appeared in 1954.
Dr GH Garlick, a radiologist, was appointed in September 1948 as its first Medical Director to oversee its operations and the clinic was officially opened on 29th November, 1948 by Lady Gimson, wife of Sir Franklin Gimson, who was then Singapore’s Governor.
Aiming for what was feasible, SATA concentrated on providing outpatient diagnostic and treatment services. Money was raised through cash donations, charity events and the Greeting Seals Campaign.
The 1950s were momentous years for SATA and there was a rush of support and activity. Many prominent businessmen donated money and even land. In 1952 the Royal Singapore Tuberculosis Clinic, which cost $1,000,000 at that time, was built in Shenton Way, largely due to the efforts of its chairman, Mr CL Edwards, and Dr Garlick.
Over the years, SATA embarked on various projects to cater to those suffering from TB. The Rehabilitation Centre was one such project. It sought to train cured patients in skills to make them employable. There were several sections. Sewing machines were bought for the tailoring department and a printing press was also acquired. There were bookbinding, gardening and carpentry works. Weaving and box-making were introduced. Items made by ex-patients were sold at the SATA Shop which opened in 1957.
Elsewhere, those recovering from TB were also benefitting. Additional land was donated by Dato Lee Kong Chian, a prominent businessman and philanthropist, for the erection of 10 semi-detached cottages for inmates and their families. Dato Lee gave his massive South Winds resort on the west coast as a settlement for convalescents and chronic cases in August 1954. Buildings were repaired and land was cleared for the setting up of a chicken and vegetable farm, which went on to become a top supplier of eggs in the country. Pigs and cattle were later introduced. The site was eventually acquired by the Singapore government for industrial development after independence.
Dato Lee Kong Chian donated his massive South Winds resort.
About the same time, Mr G Uttamram, a noted philanthropist, donated 6 acres of land along Upper Changi Road, where the present headquarters of SATA still stands.