Dr Lo Ying-Ru Jacqueline

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s strong capacities in outbreak preparedness and response have helped establish a stable foundation in its outbreak response to Covid-19 pandemic so far, said World Health Organisation (WHO).

WHO Representative in Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore Dr Ying-Ru Jacqueline Lo said the country’s infrastructure and a well-trained workforce to provide high-quality healthcare have also contributed towards this end.

In a commentary section in WHO website entitled ‘A country united in the face of the pandemic’, she said in the years prior to the pandemic, the government and the health authorities took great steps to bolster Malaysia’s health security and multi-sectoral response capacity for health emergencies and disaster preparedness.

“These measures included preparation for and participation in a Joint External Evaluation of the International Health Regulations core capacities with the WHO in late 2019 to help identify the most critical gaps within human and animal health systems and the containment of environmental hazards.

“Identification of gaps enabled the prioritisation of needs and opportunities for enhanced preparedness and response. All of these components have played a crucial role in Malaysia’s initial response to the pandemic,” she said.

Dr Lo said in the early stages of the outbreak, in February 2020, Malaysia invested in increasing access to quality testing, the number of critical care beds and available ventilators.

Health services were swiftly enhanced to meet both anticipated and emerging demands, as the government operationalized the Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre (CPRC) at the national and state levels, and mobilised recruitment and redistribution of health-care personnel according to high workload areas.

She added that Malaysia also took immediate steps to curtail transmission of the virus, including the implementation of the movement control order and its various phases and iterations, which succeeded in helping reduce the number of Covid-19 cases by half over the month of April.

“Following key WHO recommendations to ‘test, treat and track’ the population for the virus, Malaysia enforced the ‘search, test, isolate, treat and quarantine’ strategy to uncover cases in the community. It also took stringent measures regarding quarantine and isolation of confirmed and suspected cases.

She said the WHO Representative Office also works closely with the Ministry of Health (MoH) and partners to provide critical support in the areas of partner coordination, information and planning, technical expertise, operational support and logistics, in which WHO supplied initial test kits before it became commercially available and provided testing protocols for diagnosis in March 2020.

Dr Lo said significant measures were taken by the Malaysian government to communicate with the public proactively.

“The Malaysian government went to great lengths to ensure a comprehensive approach to risk communication and community engagement and working to establish trust with the population.

“From the early days, the government promoted trusted sources of information to ensure the public had access to timely and accurate information on the latest Covid-19 developments and to offset the risk of an infodemic, as well as focusing on mass media campaigns and media monitoring,” she said.

WHO, Dr Lo said, also supports the efforts of MoH to visualise and determine a longer-term goal for response and sustainability, guiding to facilitate the planning, implementation and evaluation of activities.

She added that the use of mathematical models to simulate the transmission dynamics of the virus in Malaysia helped to project scenarios of future transmission based on expected changes in the implementation of non-pharmaceutical interventions.

“These projections allowed the modellers to anticipate requirements for the nation’s health system, such as hospitals and ICU beds, should there be a resurgence of infections,” Dr Lo said.

Way forward, she said national efforts should continue to encourage people to maintain their recommended precautionary practices as ongoing vigilance and prevention are the only ways to stop virus transmission until a safe and effective vaccine is available.

Dr Lo said Malaysia needs to build on its success to date by adopting a long-term approach, this includes being prepared to respond to any new clusters with targeted, localised measures.

“WHO and its partners will continue their work on developing safe and effective Covid-19 treatments and vaccines, as well as coordinating the equal distribution and deployment of these options worldwide once available,” she said.

She also said while working to mitigate the spread of Covid-19, Malaysia was also responding to a poliovirus outbreak that was confirmed in Dec 2019 and it was the country’s first outbreak since being declared polio-free in 1992.

“WHO, Unicef and other partners worked in collaboration with MoH to control the outbreak, through enhanced surveillance, case detection, risk communication and the resumption of the immunisation response… the country was one of the first to resume its immunisation campaigns,” she said. – Bernama