National self-sufficiency and health beyond Covid-19

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Photograph by Tumisu/Pixabay

Healthcare budget allocations may have to be increased substantially in the future to make sure that Malaysians get proper and prompt treatment, Mustafa K Anuar writes.

It is disconcerting to learn from director general of health Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah that the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers is fast depleting in the face of an increasing number of Covid-19 cases since the scourge emerged in Malaysia.

While thanking various groups and philanthropists for their contributions of PPE, including an offer from the fashion industry to sew medical gowns, he also rightly suggested that local industries venture into the manufacture of the items as a long-term step to make the country self-sufficient in this aspect of healthcare.

If there’s one lesson to be learnt from the pandemic, it is that we need ready and adequate supply of healthcare equipment to protect the doctors, nurses and others discharging their duties on the frontlines. Stories of healthcare personnel having to make do with plastic waste bins as protective gear and others sewing their own gowns in their off-duty time are heart-wrenching.

Malaysia’s glove industry, as pointed out by Noor Hisham, has shown that it can and has become the world’s leading maker of surgical gloves, producing about 63% of the global supply. In other words, the manufacture of PPE has great potential for the local industries to exploit not only for local but also global consumption, especially as it looks like the world is in for the long haul in the fight against Covid-19. Besides, such industries may help stimulate the economy battered by the coronavirus.

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This is also to overcome the issues of import restrictions and short supply of healthcare equipment that are prevalent when a pandemic strikes the world.

The pandemic has also shown that a public healthcare system such as ours,plays a crucial and effective role in providing the necessary and vital medical treatment to the general public even when it is overstretched at times in various places.

In normal times, public hospitals are well patronised, especially by those who cannot afford to seek treatment in private healthcare facilities, which, incidentally, also targets clientele through a scheme called medical tourism prior to the arrival of the Covid-19 menace. The long queues in public hospitals attest to their popularity and the ordinary Malaysian’s acute dependency on them.

It is, therefore, worth every ringgit of the taxpayers’ money that is invested in the healthcare system, which showcases dedicated doctors, nurses and others who work tirelessly in an institution that has limited resources.

The 2020 national budget allocated RM30.6bn to healthcare, which is a mere 7% of the total spending, considering that healthcare is for the common good. Such allocation may have to be increased substantially in the future to make sure that Malaysians get proper and prompt treatment. It is also to ensure sustainability of the healthcare system.

The Covid-19 pestilence also tells us that public healthcare personnel deserve better recognition by the government, particularly when it comes to remunerations and other financial incentives. In this way, the government can in some way stem the migration of doctors and healthcare professionals from public to lucrative private hospitals.

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Bigger budget allocations are also needed since the rate of the aged population is expected to climb substantially – along with their illnesses – over the next few years.

Furthermore, more money should also be poured into health-related research and research centres for the purposes of addressing future onslaughts of deadly viruses and other infectious diseases. This would also go a long way towards enhancing medical scholarship in the country.

The pandemic should remind us that our health is not to be taken for granted anymore.

Source: themalaysianinsight.com

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