PETALING JAYA: From ramping up the vaccination rate to reviewing the workload of health workers, public expectations of the Health Ministry under the new government are very high.
For advocates in the health sector, they expect the Health Minister to be inclusive in managing the Covid-19 pandemic.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob appointed Khairy Jamaluddin as the new Health Minister, replacing Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba.
Khairy previously headed the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry and coordinated the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme, which earned him praises for his performance.
The new Health Minister needs to work with people both inside and outside the ministry in our fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, said Dr Khor Swee Kheng, an independent health policy specialist.
He said this is because the Covid-19 pandemic has shown that managing public health cannot be left to the ministry alone.
“He should be able to mobilise more resources and advocate for the ministry with other ministries, notably the Finance Ministry and Treasury, for more resources and also the Public Service Department for more permanent posts and better terms of service for doctors,” he said yesterday.
Urging the new minister to be inclusive in managing the crisis, Dr Khor said it is important to acknowledge the problems at hand, be transparent and share data with the people in order to gain public trust.
“One cannot work in silos and expect the health, security, economic and welfare agencies to know what the others are doing.
“Coordination matters,” he said, adding that such efforts need to be centralised.
Dr Khor also called on the new Cabinet to make evidence-based decisions in relation to public health.
Malaysian Public Health Physicians’ Association president Datuk Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar agreed, saying that the new Cabinet needs to get everyone on board to help and manage the pandemic in terms of data analysis, strategising and risk communication.
“This is very important in the short term because so far, there is very minimal involvement from outside of the government and the community.
“Also, look into the brought-in-dead (BID) trend and whether or not the health facilities are sufficient.
“Vaccination must continue to be ramped up to cover everyone, only then should we think about giving booster shots,” he said.
Dr Zainal Ariffin said ground support is essential for frontliners in primary care and district health offices to do contact tracing and provide care.
“Other health services are also important, as there have been cases of cancer and diabetic patients not getting treatment because hospitals are choked with Covid-19 patients,” he said.
For the mid-term, Dr Zainal Ariffin said, the government needs to settle the Hartal Doktor Kontrak issue, which has been simmering for over 20 years, before embarking on the necessary healthcare system reform for the long-term.
Reforms are needed because the current system is not sustainable, he said.
With Khairy as minister, said public health expert Datuk Dr Lokman Hakim Sulaiman, management of the Covid-19 Immunisation Task Force (CITF) should be reverted to the Health Ministry.
“Vaccine procurement, distribution and storage have always been under the MOH, so it is only right for the CITF to be placed under the MOH,” said Dr Lokman, who is also a former deputy Health director-general.
A public healthcare advocate who only wants to be known as Apai called for a review of the workload of all health frontliners and support staff to prevent burnout.
“These heroes have been working tirelessly, pushing themselves above and beyond to keep Malaysians safe since last year.
“We are all tired but still fighting. We wouldn’t have gone so far without them. They deserve much more from the government,” he said.
Lecturer KB Tang, 51, said he hopes to see more synergistic cooperation between the government and opposition leaders with calibre to bring the country out of this health crisis soon.
“We keep hearing this, but everyone is still working on his own, singing to different tunes,” he said.
Online trader Juliana Bustaman, 45, said she looks forward to seeing what the Cabinet ministers will achieve in 100 days.
“The people want a government that really has their welfare and benefits at heart. So, ministers, the stage is yours now,” she said.