Prof Datuk Dr Hanafiah Harunarashid
Pro-Vice Chancellor, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (KL Campus)
THE LAST two years have tested the public healthcare system to its maximum. However, the healthcare workforce has remained steadfast in their dedication and service excellence in facing the challenges the Covid-19 pandemic brought and continue to do so.
Looking ahead into 2022, Prof Datuk Dr Hanafiah Harunarashid, Pro-Vice Chancellor of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (KL Campus), said: “With a capable and enlightened leadership, the Malaysian public healthcare infrastructure should see further improvements in all areas, especially in the way analytics and data-driven decision-making is spreading across all layers of the organisation.
“I hope this momentum is maintained even after what should be a very lively general election. Regardless of the politics, we must ensure the continued investments of the appropriate magnitude and clarity of focus to survive the coming challenges.”
He also noted that as the borders were slowly opening to regional markets, Malaysia provided the best value for money in high-end clinical services for healthcare travel. The private healthcare sector should see a further pick-up in demand.
Improving the healthcare system
There are always plenty of important things to be done when it comes to healthcare as a sector. Prioritisation would be a challenging endeavour.
“Perhaps a better way of looking at it is which perspective the priority should be for the next two years or so,” said Dr Hanafiah.
Firstly, he noted focus must be given to the ageing consumer.
“The pandemic has revealed significant problems of access to primary healthcare and health literacy, especially those who may have been left behind by advances in popular consumer technologies.
“As digitalisation becomes more ubiquitous in every part of daily living, it is crucial that digital literacy should be ensured amongst all layers of society, including the ageing population.
“Merely assuming that these new-fangled techs are accessible for any user may prove to be disenfranchising large segments of the community.”
Secondly is the health social security or lack of it, thereof.
While the public healthcare setup here is one of the best in the world, he said much is needed to ensure sustainable health financing and service accessibility guaranteed for all, especially in the light of depleting retirement reserves following the devastating effects of the pandemic on lives and livelihoods.
“Out of pocket spending for healthcare is still significant, with many public services struggling to meet increasing demand over time. As the government tries to rein in its debt, the public healthcare infrastructure should not be the victim of budget cuts and staff curtailing.”
Lastly is the local health market ecosystem. As with many other parts of the economy, the private healthcare sector, which goes beyond facilities and the support industries, was also affected by the slowdown of commercial activity and declining household incomes.
“We have come a long way with the dual system as our model of healthcare for the rakyat. Much like the public sector, the private sector has much to offer, especially with a growing middle class and the ever-present threat of an ageing Malaysia.
“Investments in public infrastructure should also come with bringing in more capital and funding opportunities for incumbent and start-ups alike.”
Leading amidst the pandemic
Dr Hanafiah, who was appointed UKM Pro-Vice-Chancellor (KL Campus) earlier this March during the pandemic, acknowledged that the pandemic issue took centre stage.
He shared that the teaching hospital remained operational throughout the pandemic, with a significant workforce comprising trainees from the Ministry of Health (MoH).
“Of course, this comes at a cost, whereby these trainees were exposed to a substantial risk of Covid-19 infection. Therefore, heightened safety procedures and related SOPs were implemented to ensure a risk-managed environment.
“I am thankful no severe complications have arisen amongst the MoH doctors attending speciality training from the start of the outbreak until now.”
He disclosed that as the hospitals had to take in more and more Covid-19 patients during the pandemic’s peak, many surgical procedures had to be postponed. Hence, there was less exposure for trainees.
“However, they were not left idle as many willingly served in the ICU and other places needing doctors throughout the hospital.”
He also shared undergraduates from medical and other healthcare degree programs had to stay away from the premises during the outbreak’s height due to safety concerns.
“Thankfully, we had the means and expertise to migrate to the virtual setting of higher education so that training could still proceed with the most minimum of interruptions.”
He added the most significant task was setting up and implementing the MOHE Vaccine Outreach programme on campus and nine missions to various places in West Peninsular Malaysia.
“I am happy to report we had successfully delivered more than 45,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines within the five months from various rural settings in Johor, Negeri Sembilan, Perak and Penang.
“We have a great team here, and I am forever impressed by their perseverance, ingenuity and dedication in running the programme.”
He shared the hospital itself also catered for a drive-through vaccination service and a drive-through Covid-19 screening, which is no small feat given the limited resources available to design, test, and implement all the SOPs demanded by the national Covid-19 Immunisation Task Force (CITF).
Current and future projects
According to Dr Hanafiah, the idea of a unified UKM Health Campus has been in the works since the 11th Malaysia Plan to set up a Health Technopolis (HT) in Bandar Tun Razak.
“The winds of political change swept forth, leaving this initiative in the doldrums until recently.
“There is a window of opportunity to reintroduce the HT to the current government, as part of a much longer-term plan to reinvigorate urban socioeconomic growth in the mould of Sustainable Development Goals and Smart Green Technology.”
The proposal he shared had been presented to the Ministry of Higher Education and required further refinement and adjustment before official review by the Minister of Higher Education Datuk Seri Noraini Ahmad.
“The proposed change includes the redevelopment of the Jalan Raja Muda and Jalan Temerloh campuses and subsequent temporary relocation of the students currently staying there.
“Overall, the new additions will further enhance the academic medical centre concept, emphasising niche areas, ambulatory care and healthy lifestyle.”
As for plans and projects, he shared that under the new UKM narrative framework, TERAS (Talent, Ethics, Revitalise, Agile and Soul), the UKM Health Campus specifically will drive the SIHAT initiative (Sustainable Inclusive Healthcare that is Affordable and Trustworthy).
“To enhance the value of service provision and patient experience, the TERAS umbrella includes initiatives for greater inclusion for persons with special needs and disability. It will be a campus-wide effort to identify, refurbish and renovate existing facilities and transit spaces to be disabled-friendly.
“Digitalisation of the work environment is also in the works, with plans to improve connectivity that would allow for an enhanced virtual learning experience at all levels, undergraduate and postgraduate; as well as better care and patient experience.”
“Long overdue is revamping the current medical records into a complete electronic solution in the form of the Total Hospital Information System (THIS).
“New digital work culture will need to be introduced, which hopefully would lead to big data real-world applications that ultimately would translate into benefits in research, service and policy.”
Dr Hanafiah stressed these improvements were for nought if the impact of meaningful change did not translate to benefits for the greater community surrounding the campus and society.
Goals in the future
He aims to bring a sense of social inclusion into daily practice, which he noted is challenging but worthwhile.
“Inclusiveness is about creating targeted support for the most vulnerable and removing barriers to access, hence costly and have a higher risk of failure.
“It is pertinent that solutions are planned to be sustainable in the long run, yet affordable and trustworthy for all. “
The goal, he explained, was to create a dual ecosystem of academic healthcare services and medical innovation within the campus; the sum of all the parts in this microcosm of public higher education in healthcare- infrastructure, talent, community, knowledge bringing meaningful change in urban growth.
“For this to happen, we need to work on reintegrating the separate entities within the KL campus itself which were traditionally physically apart, also with different identities and established inner work cultures.
“All the faculties and the two hospitals must find a way to work together closely as a single unit in a meaningful and collaborative manner.
“The first thing is to concentrate on building capacity, particularly the talent pool.
“It is in the organisation’s interest to retain the best talents while continuing to attract new highly skilled and motivated personnel.
“And we need to secure the necessary funds for training to be available for all levels of the workforce.
“Infrastructure also must be improved to modern standards, made safe and secure, as well as sustainable and green.”
Whilst a core social institution such as the UKM KL Campus must have deep solid roots in tradition and credibility, it cannot avoid branching out and connecting with other international partners.
They will soon engage with an established institution of long tradition in the medical sciences and attract foreign faculties who are top in their game in the world of medicine to share their experience and expertise here.
“There is no turning back. The health campus’s only option is to grow and compete in a far more chaotic and uncertain world than before. The pandemic is just one of many global challenges to come, with inequality widening further.”
“While the UKM KL Campus may be the future heart of medical advances in Malaysia, patients shall always be the heart of what we do – a promise we maintain to the people of this great nation.” KHIRTINI K KUMARAN — The Health