By Dr. Sean Thum
Fast and furious! Within his first week in office, newly minted health minister Khairy Jamaluddin announced three things.
Firstly, the health ministry will make public all granular information on the country’s COVID-19 cases. Secondly, the ministry will set a ceiling price for self test kit and thirdly, a new version of MySejahtera app that will clearly display the user’s health risk and vaccination status will be released. A new COVID-19 information website which provides all the details will also go online soon.
Such measures have indeed been very encouraging. At least in the end the health ministry really takes the views of health experts seriously and adopts prompt actions.
The minister subsequently proposed the 100-day KPIs for his ministry. These KPIs will serve as a goal in our ongoing fight against the coronavirus.
However, we need to bear in mind that we are still very much in the midst of the pandemic and it is yet to be seen whether the next 100 days will reverse the current uptrend of the pandemic. As such, other than 100-day KPIs, perhaps we should also institute near-term evaluations by inspecting the progress of the said KPIs at day 40 and day 70, for instance, and modifying the action plans wherever necessary.
Khairy has said his ministry will continue to fight the pandemic towards two major goals: to reduce the the ICU bed occupancy rate and the number of BID (brought in dead) cases. These are the two major indicators in our anti-virus strategy from this moment on.
First and foremost, let’s analyze the importance of ICU bed occupancy rate. We all know that ICU patients are normally those who are very ill, at fourth or fifth stages, and this warrants a lot of manpower, equipment as well as resources. Fortunately the health ministry has now made public the data of hospitalization cases so that we can get a better picture of the situation. We can now access the ICU occupancy rates in individual states.
Based on the figures for September 5, the ICU bed occupancy rates in more than half of the states were above 80%, and dangerously high at more than 100% in Kedah, Kelantan and Perak. Notably in Labuan which has achieved the herd immunity goal, the ICU bed occupancy rate was 0%, showing that the vaccines administered are indeed effective in preventing serious illness from the viral infection.
This brings us to the fact that the “Keluarga Malaysia” government must expedite the rate of vaccination for the pubilc. Although Khairy has said his ministry is targeting more than 80% of the country’s adult population to be fully vaccinated, I hope that this will also include the large numbers of migrant workers, refugees and asylum seekers in the country.
Studies show that COVID-19 vaccines are safe for young people aged between 12 and 17. And with schools reopening for physical classes soon, it is imperative that these youngsters be vaccinated soon.
Fortunately this is one of the KPIs set by the health ministry. Sarawak has started inoculating people in this age bracket beginning this month, and I have a lot of anticipation for it.
Next, let’s take a look at the rising BID cases. Take the figures for Sept 5 for instance, of the 336 Covid-related deaths reported, 107 were BIDs. In other words, almost a third of the cases died before they even reached the hospital.
If these people had been sent to the hospital earlier, their lives could have been saved and our mortality rate wold have been lower.
I mentioned in my last article that we need to improve our FTTIS (find, test, trace, isolate, support) system so that we can trace the close contacts of a confirmed COVID-19 case as early as possible, test and isolate them, and provide medical support if warranted. In view of this, I’m totally pleased with the health ministry’s effort in drawing up the country’s testing and contact tracing policy. Additionally, the government is also considering regular screenings for service personnel, say once a week. We need to speed up our action, as there are an average of three reported BID cases every hour in this country.
Now let’s take a look at the MySejahtera app. We now have a check-in and check-out function. In the past, while we could tell that a positive case did visit a place, we could not tell whether we were at the same place with the case at the same time. With the newly added function, we know when an individual checked in and checked out the place. This will help narrow down the scope of contact tracing.
Meanwhile, the setting of a ceiling price for self test kit will effectively boost the number of screenings. How convenient it is if anyone named a close contact by MySejahtera can conduct the self-assessment at home. That said, the RM19.90 ceiling price is by no means very affordable, at least to some families. It is hoped that the price can be reduced further so that more people can afford it. This could be achieved through enhanced communication with the relevant parties.
Khairy predicts that the virus will enter the endemic phase next month, meaning we have to open up more economic sectors and be prepared to live with the virus.
We can draw some valuable lessons from the mistakes we made during the past one year. We all know that highly complicated SOPs and frequent policy reversals will only make things worse. As such, all relevant parties must work together and clearly explain to the public, for example, through coordination between the communications and multimedia ministry and the health ministry to present government policies and SOPs to the people in a very simple and interesting manner.
Due to our indecision, we have missed the best timing to bring the virus under full containment over the past one year such that we now have near to two million confirmed cases and 20,000 deaths.
It is nevertheless not too late now to make amends. We must adopt the right measures instantly to put an end to the tragedy.