Pandemic preparedness is top priority in management of public health

By Abdul Mannan Mohd Zamri, Research Analyst (Intern), Institut Masa Depan Malaysia

THE Covid-19 pandemic has yet to end but the world is already facing another global health emergency — monkeypox.

Although the symptoms of this rare zoonotic infection usually clear up within a few weeks, one can pass the virus to others during the period.

The Mississippi State Department of Health reported the first case of monkeypox. Up to Aug 11, 10,768 cases had been reported in the United States, making it the country with the most confirmed cases in a non-endemic state.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared a global health emergency amid rising monkeypox cases in Southeast Asia.

More than 17,000 people were infected in 74 countries, including in India, Thailand and Singapore.

Our Health Ministry confirmed one case involving a Malaysian residing in Singapore.

Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said the 45-year-old man was in Johor Baru before he travelled to Penang in June. In early July, he travelled to Johor Baru and started showing symptoms of the infection.

Is Malaysia prepared to handle future global pandemics?

According to WHO, Malaysia possesses strong capacity and self-sufficiency in outbreak preparedness and responses. This is evidenced by its experiences with a range of infectious disease outbreaks.

Malaysia’s response to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus, coupled with the implementation of the Malaysian Strategy for Emerging Diseases and Public Health Emergencies (MySED), has strengthened its ability in prevention, rapid response to public health emergencies and recovery.

WHO said Malaysia had complied with the International Health Regulations (2005) core- capacity requirements since they entered into force and established monitoring and surveillance activities for the detection of influenza and emerging infectious diseases.

All of these were reinforced by Malaysia’s strong health security system, combined with preparedness for multisectoral health emergencies with surveillance capacity to detect and respond to emergencies promptly.

At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the then prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin had implemented measures and initiatives to bring the infections under control.

These included an 86 per cent increase in diagnostic laboratory capacity, 89 per cent increase in critical care bed capacity and a 49 per cent increase in ventilators.

Malaysia succeeded in taming the first wave of the coronavirus in less than two months.

in his report, Andrea Passeri, adjunct professor of International Relations of East Asia, University of Bologna, lauded Muhyiddin for successfully implementing multifaceted strategies to break the chain of infections at the very start of the health crisis, notably via the Covid-19 National Vaccination Programme.

At the Asean special summit in 2020, Muhyiddin championed the idea of a recovery plan designed to support economic cooperation among member states and to strengthen connectivity of supply chains through the establishment of an Asean Regional Reserve of Medical Supplies for Public Health Emergencies and the Asean Response Fund.

This fund was launched at the 36th Asean Summit in June 2020.

In dealing with pandemics, we must consider all the preventive measures to ensure people’s wellbeing.

The Economic Planning Unit (EPU) of the Prime Minister’s Department has recommended that a blueprint for Malaysia’s healthcare system reform be introduced.

EPU said a study was being carried out to strengthen the healthcare sector, which included the transformation of the public healthcare sector, private healthcare sector regulatory reforms and sustainable health financing.

Specific policies targeted at healthcare needs should be introduced in stages such as oral healthcare, mental health, immunisation policies and food safety to protect the public against health hazards and illnesses.

We have much to learn from the pandemics of the 20th century — the Spanish Flu that resulted in 20 million to 50 million deaths in 1918 and 1919, the flu pandemic in 1957 that caused one million deaths and the Hong Kong Flu in 1968 that killed four million people.

In any outbreak, all-round preparedness will enable the government to envisage a “soft landing” that could save people’s lives.

The top priority of all governments in the management of public health is to strengthen the healthcare system’s preparedness by detecting gaps in dealing with new viruses.


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