Coronavirus: Academics group shocked at PPE shortage

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The Malaysian Academic Movement (Gerak) is shocked that we have only two weeks’ worth of personal protective equipment in stock for frontline staff.

This unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic has stretched humanity and resources globally and in Malaysia.

All our healthcare professionals (doctors, nurses, laboratory technicians, pharmacists, medical and nursing assistants, janitors, cleaners, ambulance drivers, etc) – our “front liners” – have put their lives on the line and have been pushed to their limits in efforts to control the transmission of the deadly virus.

On 13 April, our health director general, Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, pointed out that we have only two weeks’ worth of personal protective equipment (PPE) in stock for the frontline staff (Bernama, 13 April 2020).

Gerak is shocked at this revelation and the stunning call for assistance.

Gerak members have also received anecdotal reports of PPE not being supplied in a timely manner to smaller hospitals and rural healthcare centres in various parts of the country. Overcoming this dire PPE shortage is paramount in ensuring the safety of our frontline healthcare workers.

This PPE shortage notwithstanding, Gerak has heard insider talk of a shortage of reagents (ie nucleic acid extraction and real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) used in the testing of patient samples.

Disinfectant reagents (ie alcohol and chlorine-based disinfectants) needed by frontliners in all the essential services as outlined by the movement control order (MCO) are also allegedly in short supply.

Thus far many NGOs, institutions of higher learning, individuals and some companies have generously donated food, cash and PPE to various hospitals and clinics. Some have even resorted to innovative and creative efforts to produce PPE.

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However, volunteers have also voiced out that they lack raw materials to produce enough PPE to cater for the desperate needs of frontline staff.

Gerak lauds this generous and noble move by various parties in donating and producing essential items for our frontline worekrs.

But, there needs to be a more timely, coordinated and thus sustainable solution to ensure the continuous production, supply and distribution of PPE, reagents, disinfectants and other essentials needed to respond to and control this Covid-19 outbreak.

In the wake of Dr Noor Hisham’s desperate statement, Gerak calls upon this government and policymakers to stop dilly-dallying and do what they should have done at the onset of this pandemic.

This government must immediately engage with the relevant industry parties and direct them at this time of national crisis and in the name of national security to produce and supply all such essential materials as needed by our healthcare frontline staff throughout the country.

This is not the time to keep closed companies capable of producing PPE and other essential items. All must be approached by the relevant ministries and convinced to adjust their production lines to meet the safety needs of our health frontline staff.

Industries that produce raw materials needed for the production of PPE, reagents and disinfectants must be similarly engaged in a coordinated manner by the government.

And, of course, these companies must be paid by the government for their products so that production will be sustained. Volunteerism and charity have their limits.

Notwithstanding other good proposals as may have been outlined by other groups, Gerak also strongly urges the government to:

  • frequently consult grassroots-level frontline workers to identify their needs to ensure their safety, efficiency and effectiveness at work
  • ensure an adequate supply of PPE and other essential items to all frontline staff involved in the Covid-19 crisis
  • ensure the transport and distribution of PPE to all healthcare and laboratory facilities in a timely, systematic and coordinated manner to meet local needs
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Key to all of these is collaboration and coordination.

Gerak believes that improved coordination between various ministries and better collaboration between government and industry at this time of national crisis will go a long way towards ensuring a sustainable supply of PPE and other essential items to all our healthcare professionals.

We owe it to our healthcare providers and to our fellow Malaysians to support their selfless efforts.

They need more than daily public relations exercises by politicians to get their work done efficiently, effectively and safely.

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