Malaysian Medical Association: Govt must be clear on Covid-19 screening guidelines for workforce

Health personnel assisting foreign workers during a Covid-19 screening in Kuala Lumpur May 8, 2020. ― Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Health personnel assisting foreign workers during a Covid-19 screening in Kuala Lumpur May 8, 2020. ― Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

KUALA LUMPUR, May 10 — Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) president Dr N. Ganabaskaran today urged respective ministries to clarify policies and guidelines with regards to Covid-19 testing for the Malaysian workforce.

Following the announcement of the conditional movement control order (CMCO), Dr Ganabaskaran said there have been flip-flops in policies with no clear guidelines on the testing of the workforce before businesses resumed operations.

“This has left business owners, employees and even the general practitioners (GPs) confused and frustrated.

“Since the announcement on using antibody rapid test kits (RTK) for screening employees, employers have been calling clinics to arrange for screening of their employees, but GPs are unable to conduct the screening without the necessary guidelines.

“Proper guidelines for GPs are a safety requirement to conduct the tests or else GPs and their staff can be at risk of infection,” he said in a statement today.

However, it was recently reported that the Social Security Organisation (Socso) would discontinue the use of RTK for the mandatory screening of workers for Covid-19.

Dr Ganabaskaran said MMA had three weeks ago received a call from the Health Ministry informing that Socso would be launching the antibody RTK tests for employees with the participation of GPs.

In fact four days ago, the medical association during a meeting with Socso’s top management was told that the screening of workers would be initiated through the GP clinics who are on their HSP (health screening programme) panel.

“Now we have been informed that under the Socso screening programme, only the Reverse Transcriptase — Polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) method of screening will be used,” he said.

Dr Ganabaskaran explained that the test results using this method should typically take 24 hours but depending on the volume of test samples and other logistics, it may take longer.

“It must also be noted that the RT-PCR test results received after three days will not have any clinical value.

“Results must be received between 48 to 72 hours after testing or the results may not reflect the current health status of the person tested,” he said.

Apart from this, since the Health Ministry (MOH) has established that the RT-PCR remains as “gold standard” for Covid-19 detection, the ministry must make clear the purpose of RTK antibody (still used in some applications).

“What will RTK be used for now?” Dr Ganabaskaran asked.

As such, MMA has advised respective GPs not to perform RTK test without clear guidelines on its usage, as infection prevention and control protocols, interpretation guidelines and quarantine criteria have yet to be received from MOH.

On the screening of foreign workers, MMA urged the government to clarify how this can be done systematically.  

While MMA supports the government’s targeted approach in screening foreign workers, it said, the sectors that will be targeted and who will be screening them must be made clear.

“We wish to appeal to the government for more clarity and proper guidelines for the smooth implementation of standard operating procedures (SOPs) as many are in the dark over the next steps to be taken. Proper coordination between ministries are also needed.

“We believe this confusion concerning the testing of workers would not have happened if guidelines were received from MOH.

“Guidelines must be in place before the announcement of such an extensive programme,” he said. 

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