While 2021 has turned out to be worse than expected, there is cautious optimism that 2022 will be better
SINCE THE detection of the first Covid-19 case in Malaysia on Jan 25, 2020, no one could have imagined that by Nov 16, 2021, it would infect 2.5 million people and claim a staggering 30,000 lives in the country.
The healthcare sector’s workforce, capacity, infrastructure, and supply chain have been placed under immense strain, not to mention the social and economic impact.
The pandemic has exposed the critical gaps in the healthcare system and exacerbated preexisting gaps even before the pandemic.
Malaysia continues to forge ahead with its mass Covid-19 vaccination programme, including giving a third dose and is looking to transit to the endemic phase with the continued existence of the virus. Hopefully, Merck’s availability of a new anti-viral drug by the end of the year could be a game-changer.
The Health spoke to several industry heads for their take on varied topics on what they expect for Malaysian healthcare in 2022. Many were cautiously optimistic that while the worst might be over, we cannot deny that it would be another challenging year. Many issues need to be resolved.
The Covid-19 virus is very infectious, warned Dr Suresh Kumar, Senior Consultant, Infectious Disease Physician and Head of Medical Department at Hospital Sungai Buloh.
“While vaccination is very effective to decrease the transmission, it cannot stop transmission.”
And as Covid-19 is an unknown territory, he believed the healthcare sector would be under severe stress in 2022.
Much needs to be done for the nation’s healthcare sector, not just for the preparedness for current and possible future health crises, but for other health issues, such as communicable diseases (CDs) and non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
Health facilities must function efficiently
Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) President Dr Koh Kar Chai highlighted the importance of addressing the outdated healthcare infrastructures and facilities and the uneven distribution of the workforce within the healthcare services.
“Much needs to be done. But looking at these gaps, an extensive audit is
required on existing health facilities throughout the country.
He emphasised that health facilities must function efficiently with the safety of the patients in mind, and healthcare personnel should be allotted accordingly based on requirement and necessity.
Meanwhile, the 12th Malaysian Plan highlighted consolidating the resources and responsibilities between the public and private healthcare services.
President of the Association of Private Hospitals in Malaysia (APHM), Dr Kuljit Singh, agreed with the strategy.
“This is what we are also proposing. Whenever public hospitals cannot cope with an outbreak or any other health crisis, private hospitals are willing to help.
“However, the government must come up with a reasonable reimbursement to the private services.”
As the pandemic has also exposed the gaps and equity issues, especially in Sabah, Sarawak, and remote areas, Malaysian Pharmacists Society (MPS) President Amrahi Buang said: “The way towards a National Healthcare Financing mechanism should start soon and it should be accessible to the whole population in Malaysia.”
Malaysia is also fast approaching an ageing population, and Amrahi commented that the government should focus on health literacy and health promotion.
While we work towards revitalising the healthcare sector, addressing the neglected health services is also imperative.
Non-Covid-19 health issues and cases were put on hold for the past two years, delaying screening and treatment services. Patients who have delayed medical care will need treatment, and some of these delays may mean increased severity of illness on presentation.
Health literacy and promotion important
Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) President Dr Michael Jeyakumar said 2022 would be difficult as a large backlog of non-Covid-19 medical cases must be cleared.
Sharing the same sentiment, the President of Lung Cancer Network Malaysia (LCNM), Dr Anand Sachithanandan, expects to see more late-stage cancer presentation and diagnosis cases due to the various disruptions and delays in providing cancer services.
“The MCO or lockdowns has negatively impacted cancer services and increased the backlog of cases awaiting definitive diagnosis and appropriate treatment.”
Mental health is another pressing issue that needs attention in the endemic stage. The enormous pressure that healthcare staff and frontline workers have been under for the past two years cannot be overlooked, especially given the psychological toll of the Covid-19 crisis. At the same time, there is also a rise in mental health distress among the public.
President of the Malaysian Wellness Society (MWS), Dr Rajbans Singh, said while the pandemic has brought lots of awareness on mental health and people are taking it more seriously, the stigma surrounding therapy and counselling needs to be addressed.
“We need to educate the public that going to seek therapy and counselling is as important as going to see a doctor for a physical illness.”
Prof Datuk Dr Hanafiah Harunarashid, Pro-Vice Chancellor of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (KL Campus), said: “The pandemic has revealed significant problems of access to basic healthcare and health literacy, especially those who may have been left behind by popular consumer technological advancement.”
Technological and digital advancement
It is crucial to ensure digital literacy amongst all layers of society, including the ageing population, as digitalisation is becoming more prevalent, including in the healthcare sector.
Even before the disruption of Covid-19, the landscape of technological and digital advancement in healthcare was evolving.
However, the vital need to contain the spread of the virus has resulted in the accelerated development of a range of technological breakthroughs in vaccines, diagnostics and digital health.
Duopharma Biotech Berhad Group Managing Director Leonard Ariff Abdul Shatar shared: “Technology and innovation disruption are here to stay. Duopharma Biotech identifies it as the core focus area to be relevant for now and in the future.”
He said it was vital to ensure universal vaccine access to reduce the risk of new variants arising. The need to administer ‘booster’ shots is also essential to maintain the protection of those vaccinated.
Amidst all the gloom and doom, there is still a prospect for the recovery of healthcare tourism as Malaysia enters the endemic phase.
“With sensible but measured precautions in place, hopefully, we can ‘open up’ and regain our standing as a top regional healthcare provider for both locals and tourists,” added Dr Anand.
Dr Kuljit shared the private sector was ready to accept medical tourists but cautioned about bringing in Covid-19 variants when opening the borders for medical tourists.
“We just have to be very careful and follow the SOP and the guidelines given by the government,” he said, adding that as long travellers are from countries with the same endemic level as Malaysia, then it should not be a problem. — The Health