We refer to the statement released by the Malaysian Paediatric Association (MPA) on May 23 (“Segregating the children of frontliners sends the wrong message”, The Star). The Academy of Medicine of Malaysia stands with the MPA in urging the government to revise the standard operating procedures (SOP) for childcare centres set by the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry dated May 22.
It is deeply regrettable that the children of healthcare workers are encouraged to stay home when daycare centres and nurseries reopen. Childcare for healthcare workers should be prioritised, as reflected in the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. The CDC states that if childcare centres cannot fulfil necessary physical distancing measures for all children, childcare centres should “consider serving only the children of healthcare workers and first responders”. This is in stark contrast to the SOP by the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry which states that the best arrangement for children of healthcare workers is at-home care.
The government must fulfil its responsibility to support frontline healthcare workers who have served the country during the Covid-19 crisis. This includes providing solutions for childcare. The reopening of childcare centres must prioritise the admission of the children of healthcare workers who need to continue to work on the frontlines.
If the necessary precautionary measures cannot be met and at-home care is the only option, the government must provide additional support, as not everyone has a family caregiver at home. If a caregiver has to be hired, frontline healthcare workers should be given a childcare allowance, as hiring a private caregiver can be costly. Besides financial support, there must also be a resource for healthcare workers to access qualified caregivers who are available for hire.
Finally, based on the Health Ministry’s last mention of Covid-19 infections among healthcare workers on April 23, such workers made up only 5.8% of total infections in the country, and of that small percentage, a vast majority (70%) did not get infected at work. Frontline healthcare workers take great care to fulfil precautionary measures such as wearing full personal protective equipment and face shields and maintaining good hygiene, as determined by the Health Ministry. So while it is irrefutable that frontline healthcare workers work in high-risk conditions, the government must take greater care in addressing the risk status of such workers and their families to avoid stigmatisation.
We therefore reiterate the MPA’s call for the government to revise the SOP on childcare centres. The government must prioritise childcare for healthcare workers and lead the rakyat in firmly condemning stigmatisation of frontliners who have helped save lives during this pandemic.
ACADEMY OF MEDICINE MALAYSIA
PROF DR ROSMAWATI MOHAMED, Master, Academy of Medicine of Malaysia
DATUK DR JAHIZAH HASSAN, President, College of Anaesthesiologists
PROF DATUK DR LIAN CHIN BOON, President, College of Dental Specialists
DR RIDZUAN DATUK MOHD ISA, President, College of Emergency Physicians
DR MICHAEL SAMY, President, College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
DR NUR FARIZA NGAH, President, College of Ophthalmologists
PROF DR THONG MEOW KEONG, President, College of Paediatrics
PROF DR CHEONG SOON KENG, President, College of Pathologists
DR LETCHUMAN RAMANATHAN, President, College of Physicians
DATUK DR SHA’ARI NGADIMAN, President, College of Public Health Medicine
DR AMIR FUAD HUSSAIN, President, College of Radiology
PROF DR APRIL CAMILLA ROSLANI, President, College of Surgeons
Note: The Academy of Medicine of Malaysia, embracing 11 Colleges and 15 Chapters, is a registered body representing all medical specialists in Malaysia