Don lays out areas for improvement in future pandemic response

Dean of Universiti Malaya’s faculty of medicine Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman says there must be a central stockpile of equipment such as PPE in preparation for the future.

PETALING JAYA: An academic says Malaysia’s healthcare system, despite its excellent response to the Covid-19 outbreak, can be improved to better prepare for future epidemics.

Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman, dean of Universiti Malaya’s faculty of medicine, said one of the key factors was greater partnership between the public and private healthcare systems, academia as well as NGOs.

While Putrajaya had responded well and fast to the first wave of the virus, even as early as late December 2019, she said quicker partnership between the health ministry and other sectors would have helped lighten the load.

“It would have helped if everyone was brought to the table to strategically look at where the gaps were and where the different parties could play a big role,” she said in an online talk show hosted by CSO Platform for Reform.

Adeeba, who is also a professor of medicine and infectious diseases at UM, said the partnership with NGOs in particular needed to be strengthened, citing the recent wave of infections involving migrant workers as well as undocumented migrants.

Based on her experience working with HIV patients, she said NGOs and civil societies had the trust of the community and understood their fears and needs in situations concerning public health.

She said a strong-arm, big-brother approach would never be effective as it would incite fear and cause them to go into hiding, defeating the purpose of the public health approach.

“I think we can do better. We really need to sit down and discuss this, because this is going to be for the long haul.

“Ongoing education and even assistance with bringing people forward for testing will require working hand-in-hand with NGOs and civil societies,” she said.

Dean of Universiti Malaya’s faculty of medicine Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman.

She said teaching hospitals and laboratories could have been involved in the public health initiative from an earlier stage, citing how there were delays in Covid-19 test results initially.

The guidelines in dealing with Covid-19 patients could also have been shared with other hospitals a lot earlier, she said.

Adeeba said another thing to improve on was the manual way in which contact tracing of patients had been done, which was quite labour-intensive and required the presence of health workers.

Citing South Korea, she said contact tracing could have been done digitally and that the data could also be used for other diseases such as tuberculosis.

She called for a central stockpile of necessary equipment, such as personal protective equipment (PPE), and distribution system in preparation for the future, adding that there had been a scramble for PPE initially.

She said these were areas that could be strengthened to ensure that the public health system would be well-prepared in the future.

“Although we did very well, we must never rest on our laurels. World experts say this won’t be the last pandemic, which is a really scary thing to hear.

“We must never be complacent because as you can see, this virus and pathogens are in many ways more clever than us and have brought countries like the US and United Kingdom to their knees,” she said.

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