Remove 10km travel limit for patients under MCO

We, the undersigned patients, patient support groups, NGOs, nurses and doctors are seriously concerned about the prohibition on patients seeking treatment at medical facilities that are located more than 10km away from their home, as listed in the health minister’s regulation gazetted yesterday under the Prevention and Control of Diseases Act 1988.

This prohibition, if broadly implemented, risks causing harm and increasing morbidity and mortality among those already living with a chronic illness or disease. This prohibition could deny them access to treatment and severely disrupt the continuity of care during this time of crisis.

The fact is that access to healthcare in Malaysia is unequal. At least 25% and 15% of those living in Sarawak and Sabah respectively live beyond 10km of any kind of healthcare facility. Such inequality exists even in Selangor.

Many of the specialised treatments for mental health and chronic conditions such as those for cancer, heart ailments, rare diseases and even kidney disease are centralised in the Klang Valley, Penang and other major urban areas.

Accessing these treatments often requires patients, especially those living in rural areas, to travel significant distances within the state, and even to another state. For many diseases, there is often no other alternative to the medical treatment that they require.

This prohibition risks putting thousands of patients across the country at risk of not obtaining the necessary treatment and denying them the medical care that they need.

For many, it could literally be a matter of life and death.

Requiring patients to seek an authorisation permit from police personnel prior to their travel places the police in an unfair position of making decisions for which they are neither trained nor have expertise. Police officers are not healthcare professionals.

A patient from Melaka, for example, who needs to travel to Kuala Lumpur to access her life-extending treatment to treat her breast cancer, should only require a letter from her doctor and a confirmed appointment with her hospital. Public and private hospitals should set up hotlines specifically for this purpose.

There are clear limits to remote consultation. Most patients living with chronic diseases already have their own team of specialist doctors taking care of them.

Many patients cannot afford to compromise, interrupt or defer treatment. It could mean moving from one stage of the illness to another. It could mean the deterioration of that disease. It might mean that these patients are forced to choose between allopathic medicine to alternative therapies. They could lose their lives.

The enforcement of the movement control order (MCO) to curb the spread of Covid-19 should not result in the loss of life due to the neglect of treating other diseases with the standard of quality care available in Malaysia.

We ask that either the government exclude patients requiring specialised and life-extending treatment for their illnesses from the 10km prohibition or remove the restriction on healthcare access entirely.

With the MCO, we recognise and appreciate the government’s efforts to protect all Malaysians from being infected by Covid-19. These are difficult times requiring tough decisions.

We hope that the government will consider this appeal as part of its duty of care to all, especially those who are more vulnerable and at risk.

This letter has been endorsed by 319 signatories from across the country.

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