Get private hospitals to help combat Covid-19 – now

Health Minister Dr Adham Baba says government hospitals are prepared to handle any increase in the number of Covid-19 cases.

I just don’t see how this could be the case.

He says we have 12 government hospitals that have Covid-19 treatment capability and the best prepared is the Sungai Buloh Hospital which can handle 772 patients at any one time.

Let’s do some back of the envelope maths. Optimistically, if we assume that all 12 of the government hospitals have 772 beds each, we should be able to treat 9,264 patients in total at any one time.

That might seem like a lot of people but keep in mind that we have already crossed 1,000 infected people, with the numbers increasing by triple digits daily. If we assume that things get worse at the current rate and that 0.05% of all Malaysians eventually contract the virus, that’s already a whopping 15,500 people.

And if you think 0.05% of the population contracting Covid-19 is unrealistic, keep in mind that as of now, 0.06% of the population of Italy has already contracted it. This is in-spite of their first nationwide lockdown since World War 2.

Our government hospitals will crumble under the weight of that many patients. They need help. This is where private hospitals can and should step in.

We shouldn’t wait until the situation gets worse before we galvanise them. The government needs to act swiftly and decisively to ensure that private hospitals are equipped and ready to take on the burden of helping Malaysia fight this deadly virus in its hour of need.

A host of private hospitals are currently offering Covid-19 testing services. This is good but not nearly enough.

Liew Chin Tong, former deputy minister of defence says “As a nation, we should approach the Covid-19 pandemic with a mindset of a nation facing a war — we are indeed facing a human vs virus war.”

He’s right on the money. This is Malaysia’s hour of need. We need to come together as a nation to fight off a common enemy.

Now more than ever, financial gain needs to play second fiddle to human gain. Our number one priority should be to save as many lives as possible.

Private hospitals should think of this as a national service. They should open their doors when the need arises and help fight and win the war against Covid-19. This can be a part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) effort.

However, a lot of people who are infected would be reluctant to get themselves diagnosed if they don’t have the financial capability to foot the bill. To combat this, private hospitals should treat Covid-19 patients either for free or by only taking a nominal sum.

Making diagnosis, treatment and medication either free or inexpensive will greatly reduce the barrier to treatment for the needy. This will prove pivotal in our fight against the virus. This is exactly what China did to great effect.

And it’s in everyone’s best interests to do it, even private hospitals. The sooner we contain the disease, the sooner we can get back on track and to business as usual. This is a small investment to ensure future financial gain.

Italy, which currently has the most number of deaths – topping even China – has done exactly this. In Lombardy, within a span of three weeks, 1,135 people were in need of intensive care, while only 800 intensive care beds were available.

The massive strain caused their medical system to buckle and fray at the seams. To combat this, the Italian government instructed private hospitals to treat Covid-19 patients for free.

And if you think the situation in Malaysia wouldn’t get as bad as it did in Italy, keep in mind that northern Italy has one of the most efficient universal healthcare systems in the world. To think that we’d fare better if we were in their shoes is foolhardy.

(Part 2 of the column on what the world will look like post-Covid-19 will appear next week)

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.