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LETTER | In dire need of will, compassion in managing Covid-19

LETTER | Politicians are busy politicking, front-liners are battling the Covid-19 pandemic with all their might and more, while the number of Covid-19 cases has been rising at an alarming rate, logging 9,180 cases as this piece is being written.

Apart from the news on the very fatigued front-liners managing the overwhelming number of Covid-19 patients at various critical levels of infection, everything else that is related to Covid-19 management appears to be slow, poorly handled and is in dire need of attention, both at hospitals and quarantine centres.

Pictures and videos circulating via social media can’t be all fake, can they? Most depict the pathetic state of wanting; wanting of beds, wanting of space for waiting, treatment, resting, wanting of sufficient hygiene and sanitation facilities and most of all, wanting of manpower to manage the ever-increasing number of patients and potential patients, and the continuous shrinking of the capacity to effectively bring the crisis under control.

Hospitals and quarantine centres coming apart at the seams have been in the news for a few weeks now and only today we hear of the setting up of a field hospital to accommodate the patient increase in Tengku Ampuan Rahimah Hospital (HTAR) in Klang, Selangor and that too after canvas beds were set up at the porch of its Emergency Department.

If a porch can be transformed into a temporary ward for patients awaiting low-risk treatment, why aren’t other vacant premises such as nearby community halls be utilised for the same purpose? 

I am referring specifically to such premises available within close reach to the hospitals currently struggling to cope with the rapidly increasing number of cases, HTAR and Shah Alam Hospital, based on the document on quarantine management that can be found here, community halls are suitable for the quarantine of non-critical, asymptomatic covid patients and there are a few within the vicinity of HTAR and Shah Alam Hospital. 

Community halls are spacious, well ventilated and there is a power supply, but sanitation facilities may be insufficient, which can be solved with mobile toilet units.

Aside from the lack of space, shortage of manpower appears to be another reason that prevents the establishment of temporary, makeshift medical facilities. Only a week ago we were made aware of the number of medical colleges and universities, both government and private-owned institutions that are churning out medical and health science graduates.

Based on the course structure detailed here, the students begin their practical work in year 3 and what better way and opportunity for them to practice their knowledge and skills than in assisting in covid management at hospitals and quarantine centres?

The experts and experienced medical staff will lead and monitor while the students can assist with the work. Primary medical care to be provided by the experienced, knowledgeable, and skilled medical staff while the students are trained on their feet to handle the patients. The word “trained” is used repeatedly in the quarantine guidelines and can’t the medical and health science students be trained to support the front-liners as second and third-level medical teams.

In September 2017, the Higher Education Ministry introduced the Gap Year programme which allowed undergraduate students to take a year or two semesters off their studies to involve in voluntary work. This programme has successfully produced young men and women who are confident and possess the skills gained through experiential learning.

Students in their gap year can be roped in to serve as volunteers in managing the Covid-19 crisis. While the students with medical background can assist the front-liners, those without can manage the administrative work such as registering patients, filling up forms and writing reports, food distribution, supervising patients in matters concerning hygiene and keeping track of technical and other needs and addressing them.

Members of the Malaysian Army can be trained to assist in non-medical matters. Why should patients be transported to hospitals out of the district or state when equipment from hospitals managing a small number of cases can be transported to the hospitals serving as main treatment facilities?

Army trucks can be used for the purpose of transporting equipment. Wouldn’t it be more sensible to move objects than ill people? And why should medical staff be moved from one facility to another when all they need is extra hands to assist with the overwhelming amount of work? 

The army personnel can offer their support to manage the crowd and the hygiene and sanitation issues. Even Joe and Jane Public may be trained to handle non-medical duties since Malaysians have proven time and time again their abilities to assist fellow Malaysians in need.

We have untapped manpower in abundance, and we are in dire need of the compassion and will of the men and women in power to steer it to service.

Is it too much to hope for the senior civil servants from the Health Ministry, the National Security Council, Higher Education Ministry and the Human Resources Ministry to sit together and identify which groups of people from their ministries can serve as volunteers?

I humbly request that these ministries liaise with one another, immediately, to devise a plan that works, to help save Malaysians who depend on their wisdom and empathy. How do we bring down the number to 4,000 and less without the effort at reducing the infectivity rate?

How do we manage this crisis when the treatment facilities themselves may turn out to be epicentres of clusters with overcrowding and understaffing? How do we place our trust in our leaders when all that we hear in their voices is apathy and absence of urgency? How do we return to normalcy when all that we witness is the service to self, above service to the people, that has driven the Covid-19 pandemic to the level it is today?

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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