Uniting for better health after Covid-19 has passed


  • Vital Signs
  • Wednesday, 08 Apr 2020

My friends, I hope that you are well and healthy.

This is my last Vital Signs column for some time, as I’m taking a temporary break from writing to attend to other matters.

We won’t break routine though, so we’ll do (the usual) three things: talk about the temporary Covid-19 outbreak, the permanence of health, and the future for Malaysia.

Covid-19 will pass

For many of us, Covid-19 will be the defining experience of our lives.

We’ll remember how deeply we were affected by it on a medical, psychological and emotional level.

We’ll remember that not only was Malaysia’s public health tested, but also our politics, economy and food security, as well as our community's resilience, kindness and selflessness.

This outbreak that we are in now will eventually end.

Until it does, we must remember that we are all Malaysia’s first line of defence, while our doctors, nurses and paramedics are Malaysia’s last line of defence.

We’re all frontliners now,and we must all do our part as there is still a lot to be done.

We must improve Government coordination, protect the marginalised and preserve the resilience of the health system.

Society, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), communities and individuals must map the needs of the vulnerable, then meet those needs.

The Prihatin Tambahan economic stimulus package must be followed-up with additional packages.

We must trust science, public health and health experts.

All of us must fight fake news of magic cures for Covid-19, disinformation, rumours and useless negative emotions. Truth and mental health should not be casualties of this outbreak.

I’ve written extensively about the need for an all-of-science response, an all-of-society mobilisation and specific health policies needed to respond to Covid-19.

These remain timeless and true, and Malaysians need to trust that they will work.

This movement control order (MCO) could continue past April 14 (2020). Any extensions will be made based on science and facts.

We will have to balance the new norms of social distancing with the need for a phased restart of our economy and the need of human beings for contact and community.

It could get harder before it gets better, but my friends, it will get better if we all play our part.

Health is a permanent goal

Covid-19 is a war between species, not between individuals or between countries.

We’ve seen up close how important our health system is. We’ve seen the heroism of doctors, nurses, paramedics, health inspectors, police officers and food delivery friends.

They are our neighbours, our parents and children, or our brothers and sisters. To protect us, they went straight into a battle against an invisible enemy.

Health is more than just hospitals and medicines. Health is actually a political choice and a consequence of economic decisions.

Malaysia’s health system shapes our relationship with one another, and between the rich and the poor, urban dwellers and rural folk, the healthy and the sick, and the old and the young.

You see, we can never be happy if our neighbours are sick.

We cannot truly be rich if there is poverty in our community, because their poverty affects us.

We cannot be truly healthy ourselves if there is no health justice for the poor or the homeless.

Once we finish this Covid-19 fight, Malaysia must make choices for our own health system.

Uniting around health

In the post-Covid-19 world, we need to invest more into our health system and treat the health professionals inside that system better.

We must also consider how we treat the poor and how we must address the inequalities in our society.

Malaysians can unite our nation if we focus on health – it’s not easy for politicians to politicise health.

Health is a right that doesn’t care about race, religion, education levels or socioeconomic status.

Health is not as politically controversial as decisions about freedom of speech or language instruction in primary schools.

If we want to unite our country, then let’s do health. Let’s not waste the crisis of Covid-19.

Let’s use it as a wake-up call to increase investments in health, to have Health in All Policies, and to strengthen our health system.

Let’s use health to unite Malaysia.

A temporary goodbye

This Vital Signs column about Malaysia’s health system and policies has been one of the highlights of my life.

Here’s the back story that I’ve never told.

Last year (2019) in April, I left my healthcare anti-corruption role in Paris, France, for a sabbatical.

The plan was to read, think and write about health systems and policies.

The plan was also to start and finish a Masters of Public Policy programme in the University of Oxford, United Kingdom, (which I’ll finish remotely from Malaysia as the course has shifted online).

There’s been a lot of writing in the last twelve months. After more than 80 articles, essays, op-eds, monographs and academic papers in more than twelve publications in six countries, I’ve gained a better understanding of our health system.

Looking at Malaysia’s health system has shown me the beautiful tapestry of our country.

I am always in awe of the enduring patience, courage and strength of frontline health professionals and how they care so much for so many people with so little.

Our nation owes a lot to you, my friends and colleagues. I dedicate all my writings to you.

Dr Khor Swee Kheng has postgraduate degrees in internal medicine and public health. He has worked in five health sectors across three continents, including in Malaysia during the H1N1 epidemic and in Nepal for post-earthquake relief. He recently founded the Malaysian Health Coalition and hopes to continue writing this column in the future. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

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