Lessons Learnt for Pandemic Preparedness in Malaysia

By:

Chan Chee Khoon

Affiliations:

People's Health Forum

Policy Code:

3i Health

Problem Statement:

• as the principal federal body empowered to coordinate pandemic response, the Majlis Keselamatan Negara (MKN) unfortunately has a narrowly security and policing mindset (crime prevention & deterrence), instead of a public health (disease control) sensibility
• Malaysia’s large population of undocumented migrants poses a distinctive challenge when responding to novel infectious outbreaks. Already fearful of detection, arrest, and deportation in pre-pandemic times, undocumented migrants became more hesitant about Covid testing, contact tracing, isolation & treatment, and vaccination after the Malaysian govt backtracked on a previously announced temporary amnesty
• our dependency on foreign vaccine suppliers (lack of local manufacturing capacity) was a major weakness
• respective roles of public and private healthcare sectors in coping with novel infectious outbreaks need to be better integrated with more equitable sharing of burden of pandemic patient care

Value(s) and Belief(s):

In a novel infectious outbreak, no one is safe until everyone is safe (citizens and non-citizens alike). PHF re-affirms a policy of healthcare for all. The state has the responsibility to create the enabling environment for “the highest attainable standard of health as a fundamental right of every human being.”

Proposal of Solution:

• in coping with pandemics, MKN’s security and policing mindset should be replaced by a public health-led approach which seeks a balance between disease control, and economic and social wellbeing in often fluid circumstances. Coordinated responses on multiple fronts - health, economic, financial, essential goods & services, public order & security, social support – are key elements.
• Malaysia is reaping the consequences of decades of corrupt mismanagement of the ‘supply chain’ for foreign labor, viz. a persistently large pool of undocumented migrant workers who have strong incentives to avoid contact with government agencies. This is a deep-rooted problem which requires a separate submission to do it justice. Inaction on this front will repeat our costly experience in future pandemics.
• public/private burden sharing in pandemic response (a separate submission likewise needed to map out respective roles in various contingent scenarios)
• local manufacture of vaccines: Pharmaniaga’s RM 3 million investment for fill-and-finish of CoronaVac is a first step, but local capabilities in research and product development need to be strengthened. Offers by Cuba, Russia, and China for collaboration and JVs to position Malaysia as an Asean manufacturing and distribution platform for vaccines and essential medicines, should be pursued and expanded (bilaterally, and potentially within a BRICS context).

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