Salute to Covid-19 frontliners on World Health Day

  • Letters
  • Tuesday, 07 Apr 2020

THIS year, World Health Day (April 7) falls during a particularly solemn time as we grapple with the worst pandemic in 100 years. Each day brings sobering news of tragedy and heartache. At the same time, the crisis has demonstrated the compassion and perseverance of our health professionals and their heroic willingness to make personnel sacrifices to protect our communities.

In 2020, World Health Day specifically honors and celebrates those on the front lines of keeping us healthy and safe, and I join in paying tribute to them.

During a recent visit to the United States, I spent a week in a hospital caring for a loved one (fortunately not afflicted with Covid-19). The hospital staff were compassionate, hardworking and knowledgeable. They brought a professional touch to their work despite also having to care for a rising number of Covid-19 patients and recognising that the situation was growing more dire by the day.

I was in awe of their commitment and also feared for their health and safety. These incredible women and men reminded me of the wonderful and caring nurses I have met throughout my time in Malaysia.

The US Embassy has a long tradition of providing support, training and supplies to local hospitals, especially in Sabah and Sarawak. As ambassador, I have visited medical facilities all over the country and have always come away impressed with the dedication and commitment of Malaysia’s medical professionals. Now, more than ever, I am thinking of them and their families, and the enormous burden we have placed on them in this time of crisis.

Early in my assignment, I visited the Sibu Hospital at Segi University, where the US Naval Medical Research Center-Asia funded a respiratory virus surveillance study. This joint project ran in collaboration with Duke University and Segi’s sister campuses in Singapore and China.

By working with Malaysian partners, the programme trained local public health professionals to detect novel zoonotic viruses and reduce the impact of pneumonia.

In June 2018, I met Saraswathy Subramanian who had recently culminated her 24-year nursing career when she became the matron at Kuala Lipis General Hospital in Pahang, overseeing a team of about 1,000 nurses. Equally impressively, she raised three wonderful young women, one of whom is currently serving as a medical officer working on the Covid-19 team at Segamat General Hospital, another is studying medicine at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, and the third is the first Malaysian woman to attend a US military academy.

Each year, Pacific Partnership is the largest multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster preparedness exercise held in the region. In 2018, the exercise featured the USNS Mercy, a US Navy hospital ship that arrived in Port Klang to host medical exchanges and disaster relief training between the US and Malaysian emergency preparedness personnel.

Today, the Mercy is pier side in Los Angeles, and the ship’s crew is now treating non-Covid-19 patients, freeing up LA hospitals to focus on addressing the pandemic.

When Pacific Partnership returned in 2019, the exercise involved more than 300 Malaysian and US personnel and featured more than two dozen medical engagements. I visited the Sarawak General Hospital to observe a subject matter expert exchange between the US Navy and Malaysian healthcare providers who were working together to share insights on critical care and emergency screening.

We have been preparing for these challenges together for years, and we should be thankful that our longstanding efforts have helped build both Malaysian and American capacity to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The current pandemic is an important reminder of the critical importance of collaboration not only within our communities but also around the world. We are truly all in this together.

Our response to the challenges we face is strengthened by our close ties both in these past exercises and in our active cooperation today to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. Our nurses, doctors and other health professionals are the heroes of this crisis. So are all those who are supporting their effort, especially their families and loved ones.

So around the globe on this World Health Day, we salute their commitment and honour their courage.


US Ambassador to Malaysia

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