‘Country may also see rise in other health problems’

PETALING JAYA: Even as Malaysia battles with the Covid-19 pandemic, health experts warn the country may also see a rise in other health problems, notably vaccine-preventable diseases (VPDs).

Consultant paediatrician Datuk Dr Zulkifli Ismail said statistics show that vaccine uptake has reduced following the Covid-19 pandemic due to movement control order (MCO).

He said for instance, uptake for the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine dropped by about 60% to 70% from March to May this year.

Usually, he said, there would be about 7,000 doses administered every month.

He said vaccine uptake for varicella, also known as chickenpox, has also dropped by about 41% to 83% from March to May.

He said some parents could have deferred their vaccination being unaware that immunisation services were still ongoing, or that they feared exposing themselves to Covid-19 cases in clinics.

Some parents, he added, might have changed priorities during the MCO as they juggled between managing their household and children while also working from home.

“With poor immunisation uptake, VPD outbreaks are not unexpected. We won’t see a pandemic (of these diseases), but we will see smaller outbreaks, ” he said.

Health experts also cautioned that certain segments in society – such as women and lower-income groups – would be more vulnerable to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Universiti Malaya professor of epidemiology and public health Prof Dr Sanjay Rampal said those who are financially disadvantaged may be disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and the policies designed to counter it.

“A community’s socioeconomic capital determines its disaster resilience. We can see in Malaysia that certain segments in the community (tend to) lack access to the outside world and lose their earnings.

“Those from a lower economic stratum may be in smaller houses with higher (population) density and thus see a disproportionate rise in stress and violence, compared to those who are well-to-do, ” he said.

As such, he said the standard operating procedure (SOP) that is in place must be localised even to the level of district or village.

“The SOP should not be fixed but should be dynamic and reactive. It should not be applied (the same) throughout Malaysia, but to smaller geospatial levels like villages or districts.

“We also need to have civic engagement in Covid-19. Currently, we have a top-down approach which is good, but if we do not have civic engagement, compliance could be low, ” he said.

United Nations Population Fund country head for Malaysia and Thailand Marcela Suazo (pic) said women were disproportionately affected by public health crises.

She said among the issues faced by women were spike in cases of gender-based violence and financial woes experienced by women-headed households.

Women, she added, might also experience a lack of access to contraceptives or reproductive and sexual services.

“We need to ensure women’s representation in all Covid-19 response planning and we must maintain maternal healthcare services and access to contraceptives as essential services, ” she said.

She added that a dedicated cash transfer programme was also needed for women-headed households, such as single mothers or widows.

The experts weighed in at a “The Social, Health and Economic Impact of Covid-19 in Malaysia” webinar that was organised by the National Population and Family Development Board yesterday.

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