(This article was first published last week, in Malaysiakini.)
For decades, Malaysians have been conditioned not to question politicians, and this failure to criticise and force them to be accountable, has led to our current predicament in which unscrupulous leaders take advantage of the rakyat.
Few people like to cause dissent, but asking awkward questions is necessary. It generates new lines of thought, promotes constructive growth, and discourages mistakes.
When doctors disagree, all views should be considered
Our fight against the Coronavirus pandemic should be subject to similar scrutiny. Everyone is united in fighting the pandemic and when doctors disagree on a course of action, all views should be considered.
One unexpected television star to emerge from this Coronavirus crisis, is Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, the Director-General of the Ministry of Health (MoH)
The pensive DG, whose deadpan delivery about the severity of the pandemic, is the perfect prescription to calm worried Malaysians, and drive home the message, that we are in unprecedented times, and must listen to the advice of the MoH.
His matter-of-fact bulletins on the latest developments, presented in a calm and reassuring manner, are in striking contrast to the excited, false jollity of his boss, the Minister of Health, Dr Adham Baba.
Malaysians are more inclined to listen to Dr Noor, than the exaggerated claim of Dr Adham, that drinking warm water will “flush” the virus into the stomach, to be killed by digestive acids.
On 7 April, during his daily Coronavirus briefing, Dr Noor said that 150 of the total of 4,000 nation’s healthcare workers, had been infected with Coronavirus. Thirty had contracted the virus in the line of duty.
The following day, Dr Musa Nordin, from the KPJ Damansara Specialist Centre, alleged that the MOH had failed to protect medical frontliners and that bureaucracy was hampering the distribution of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
Dr Musa urged the DG and his top officers, to “come down from their ivory tower in Putrajaya, and visit Coronavirus hospitals, Pusat Kesihatan Daerah & Klinik Kesihatan” and check the level of protection given to the medical staff on duty and seek their views, about their safety whilst treating Coronavirus patients.
Dr Musa and his team had carried out a “meticulous needs assessment” at 34 government hospitals treating Coronavirus patients and had distributed 6,000 PPEs to ICUs, with a further 20,000 sets to follow.
He sought to discover when the government would distribute the PPEs which had been purchased from China and warned that the delay reflected badly on the MoH. He advised them to act swiftly, before a doctor, nurse, or allied health professional were to die from Coronavirus.
Other doctors claim to share Dr Musa’s views. Their main concern is that the police, nurses and other front runners should have more protection.
Cost of quarantine versus cost of testing
One doctor said “The cost of the quarantine of returning Malaysians from overseas for 14 days, to see if they have Coronavirus will be around RM4,000. This includes the hotel at RM150 per day for a fortnight, the transport logistics, the medical staff who visit those in quarantine and other necessary logistics associated with their care. In addition, the tests will cost another RM390.
“The alternative is to test at the entry point. The cost is around USD10 (RM45). The rapid test kit by Wondfo, is 90% accurate and is certified by CE (the product conforms to European standards for health, safety and environment protection standards).
“The cost for testing can be passed to the returnee, as it is not too expensive and at the same time, the government can reduce their costs.
“The government and MoH should allow this test kit to be imported and sponsors can help finance its purchase and import, if the test is made freely available.
“The Wondfo test takes 15 minutes. Returnees should undergo the full test and be quarantined if the results are doubtful.
“If the Wondfo gives a negative result, the returnee should self-quarantine at home.”
Hours after Dr Musa’s claims, the DG, Dr Noor, dismissed his allegations about failing the frontliners and said that the majority of healthworkers were not infected in the line of duty and that most of the victims, had been infected at private hospitals.
He said that frontliners were periodically screened for Coronavirus and that the death of two healthcare workers were not from exposure to Coronavirus patients. He has also met representatives from private hospitals to discuss the measures they used to curb the threat posed by the Coronavirus.
The DG said that there was a sufficient supply of PPEs and that poor logistics had prevented the distribution of PPEs to other states, but this matter has been resolved.
So, why would Dr Musa go public with his criticism and why are other doctors voicing similar concerns? He is right to highlight the issues, because staff at the hospitals in the outlying districts may not be adequately equipped with PPEs, and he demands better protection for all frontliners.
Is the Minister of Health going to resolve the problems and allegations about the PPEs?
Are Little Napoleons in the MOH delaying the distribution of the PPEs? Are they waiting for the Health Minister, to cut a ribbon to herald the distribution of the PPEs?
Is the minister waiting to generate his own publicity stunt, as have other politicians who plaster their faces on food parcels, for maximum political mileage?
Is the DG parroting the statements prepared by the incompetent ministers of Muhyiddin Yassin’s administration?
If Dr Musa has addressed the wrong person (the DG) to resolve the PPE distribution problem, then the Minister should realise that the distribution of the PPEs is as important as their acquisition, and ensure that his officers expedite the distribution, and order more tests for Coronavirus, to be conducted.
As worrying is the allegation that the contract to supply PPEs, has also been awarded to Pharmaniaga and Jakel, companies which are mired in controversy.
The DG must listen and do more tests to protect frontline workers.
More importantly, the Minister of Health must investigate the allegations that the distribution of PPEs to frontline health workers has been delayed. There are also allegations that the delays have been caused by excessive red-tape, insufficient stock of PPEs (despite donations by various benefactors), profiteering, stockpiling, hoarding, leakages, out-of-date PPEs and if that was not bad enough, by the lackadaisical attitude of incompetent civil servants in delivering the PPEs.
My biggest worry is that our figures are exaggerated. We have not tested a wider scope of our population especially the foreign manual workers. Only recently Singapore realized this, that is why their figures took a sudden jump. Even the foreign workers that are tested do not give true particulars so when they are tested positive they cannot be contacted. I hope we know what we are doing.