LETTER | The military should be given a shot at Covid-19 management

Andrea Wong


LETTER | With full support and agreement to the letter “Covid-19: The army has spoken” published by Malaysiakini, it is important that we the rakyat realise that we are indeed in a war. We are at war against this pandemic, at war against death tolls, at war against the basic need to survive, not just the present but also the future.

Quoting Brigadier General Dr Mohd Arshil Moideen, the management chief of the Malaysian Armed Forces Health Service Division: “In a war, like the war on Covid-19, we need a single standardised strategy line of command that everyone can abide by”. How many of us know of someone who is not abiding by the commands given? We do not know just one person, there are many who are taking this too lightly until it hits them close to home.

The UK is aiming to end their restrictive movements on July 19, whereby they would eliminate formal limits on social contact, the instructions to work from home, and mandates to wear masks. After imposing the most onerous constraints on behaviour in Britain’s peacetime history to battle the novel coronavirus, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was reported by Reuters as betting that the vaccination programme, which has weakened the link between infections and hospital admissions, can prevent the health service being overwhelmed by a new wave of Covid-19.

How long do we need to remain in this position at war? How can we execute this “single standardised strategy line”? How many more versions of lockdown do we want? The drastic rise of cases recently has clearly proved how this mandate has failed to save the rakyat and Malaysia. The latest plea from our healthcare workers pulled on our heart strings, but what can we truly do to help them? We need a system that will work, someone who can walk to talk.

Arshil is not just a military medical doctor and epidemiologist in the Malaysian Armed Forces Health Services, but also a public health specialist and healthcare administrator with 17 extensive years of local and international experience in delivering measurable results and facilitating quality healthcare, preventive medicine actions and epidemiological measures in civilian and military communities, various clinical and medical facilities as well as to underprivileged communities in the international arena.

He was deployed in disaster-stricken areas in Western Sahara, Lebanon, East Timor, Tacloban, Afghanistan and Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. In Cox’s Bazar, he planned and executed the deployment of Malaysian Field Hospital Mission and has helped in managing multiple outbreaks of diseases affecting 1.2 million Rohingya refugees. In Afghanistan, he led a team of 19 countries and international agencies to successfully control the Brucellosis outbreak there in 2011 using innovative methods.

He has also helped to control the outbreak of water-borne diseases in many countries by leading a team responsible in the designing and building of two different field water treatment systems in collaboration with Puncak Niaga Holdings and NGO Imaret. With his robust background in health regulations, personnel management logistics, risk management and health planning, Arshil’s experience should not be put to waste, but instead be given a chance to lead us in this time of war.

Similarly, the Malaysian Armed Forces Health Services (MAFHS) is no stranger to outbreaks and disaster management, both locally and internationally. They played a huge role in the management of the outbreak of Nipah virus when Malaysia was the first country in the world to encounter the virus in 1998. The MAFHS has good track records in outbreak management internationally by actively leading and participating in Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Bangladesh, just to name a few. With their vast experience in managing not just outbreaks but disaster management, the MAFHS will only serve as a light at the end of this long tunnel that we have been journeying on together.

Going back to the article published, “The Health Ministry is overloaded, exhausted, and lost.” Maybe it’s time to practise the third step of our basic life support (BLS): “Shout for help”. Now is not the time for ego. It’s time to work together and it seems that the army is ready to help.

They are ready, and we, the rakyat, should see it as a positive step towards national recovery. All we need is for the military to take over the pandemic control action command from the Health Ministry, whereby they can establish a pandemic control operational command centre to execute the plan from top down at all levels. In other words, “a single standardised strategy line of command that everyone can abide by”.

The MAFHS practices military health appreciation process, whereby they are well trained to perform a deliberate planning process by carefully assessing for the suitability, sustainability, feasibility, practicality, flexibility, and acceptability factors in executing any health related missions.

Epidemiologist Dr Lokman Hakim Sulaiman said recently “It is proposed that the military Medical Corps take over the leadership. All hospitals and critical care facilities in the Klang Valley and Seremban, including public, private and university health care facilities, should be placed under one authoritative order.”

“If there is a need, create or invoke emergency ordinance,” he added.

The military can act as the strategic planner and command centre to execute, standardise, and support all MOH Hospitals or machineries, in a response to our healthcare system’s cry for help. Full support should be given by relevant healthcare experts from the government, private, and educational sectors in executing the pandemic action plan alongside the military health team.

The rakyat can support by complying to and having faith in trusting that the military pandemic control operational command centre will ensure a practical, flexible, efficient, standardised, and speedy implementation of required actions in winning this war. Amongst it, we can foresee public health actions by all national uniformed bodies, aid in running 24/7 vaccination movements and innovations, and the improvement of overall efficiency of the patient management system by standardised approaches, innovative strategies, and deliberate planning. With these, we can expect reduced fatalities, a strengthened healthcare team, a unified rakyat and the speeding up of the transition from a pandemic control to an endemic control.

With the military taking charge of the strategic leadership and management of this pandemic, we can also see order and command being placed in a “single line of command” that could be the solution to what seems to be a leadership crisis within the MOH.

Afterall, what else do we have to lose? It’s time Malaysia made headlines for the right reasons.

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