KUALA LUMPUR, March 23 — Doctors, nurses and other medical staff at Malaysian hospitals are treating Covid-19 patients in DIY protection gear made from everyday items like dustbin liners because there is a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE).
Such self-made gear is clearly inadequate and puts medical frontliners in danger of becoming infected with Covid-19 themselves.
At present, 19 medical frontliners have come down with Covid-19, of which 11 are now warded in intensive care.
Videos of medical staff making protective suits from dustbin liners, cling wrap and plastic bags have been shared on social media.
PPE includes surgical caps, face shields, gloves, gowns, boot covers and N95 masks. All of which are now hard to come by in Malaysia.
According to doctors and nurses that Malay Mail spoke to, they have no choice but to resort to DIY gear because supplies at their hospitals have run out, but patients keep coming in.
“Each time we treat a patient or even carry out a test for Covid-19, we have to suit up, which in itself takes 30 minutes or more.
“We then dispose of the suits after that. We go through four or five suits each day. It is very tiring.
“The most important thing is that it does not offer much protection, but we have no choice,” said one doctor from a government hospital in East Malaysia.
A senior management staff, whose hospital is badly affected by the Covid-19 outbreak, said the entire medical service is stretched to the limit and she fears for her doctors and nurses.
Two senior doctors have written an open letter appealing to the authorities to speed up their supplies.
Datuk Dr Musa Mohd Nordin and Datuk Dr Zulkifli Ismail, both paediatricians at private hospitals, revealed that larger hospitals like Sungai Buloh Hospital may have a sufficient supply of PPEs, but the same cannot be said of the many other hospitals, including private ones.
They urged the National Security Council to immediately mitigate the PPE shortage.
“They must secure urgently the supply chain, eliminate the middlemen and undertake bulk purchasing, which would ensure fair pricing,” they said.
“And they must distribute equitably to all Covid-19 designated hospitals and not just in the Klang Valley. They must also keep reserve supplies to secure surge capacity.
“It is high time for the government to demand the PPE manufacturers to step up without fanfare and ramp up production, accept reduced profit margins and supply the critically needed PPEs to our healthcare workers.”
Dr Musa, who was a member of the now-defunct advisory panel to the Health Ministry, and Dr Zulkifli revealed that there are three companies in Malaysia that manufacture PPEs.
“There are at least three plants manufacturing PPEs in Selangor alone. According to them, there were long queues of trucks of agents and distributors to buy PPE supplies from the three plants,” he said.
“Why have we not heard from these companies? Are they expecting to increase their price at a time of national crisis or are they ‘stockpiling’ to force the demand and reap from a supply shortage? Presumably, the middlemen, agents and distributors are similarly cashing in on the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The situation is expected to get worse as more people head to hospitals for tests after which they might even be admitted.
The same hospital manager warned that besides the shortage of PPEs, the country also does not have enough ventilators or Intensive Care Unit beds to treat Covid-19 patients.