Invest in healthcare surveillance system to prepare for next pandemic, former health minister urges Putrajaya

Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad speaks to reporters during a press conference at Tamu Hotel in Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur May 5, 2021. — Picture by Hari
Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad speaks to reporters during a press conference at Tamu Hotel in Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur May 5, 2021. — Picture by Hari

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KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 13 — Datuk Seri Dzulkefly Ahmad has urged Putrajaya today to invest in a healthcare surveillance system to ensure the Covid-19 pandemic can be managed, as well as to prepare the nation for the next pandemic or endemic.

In his keynote address at the Malaysian Healthcare Conference 2021, the former health minister said the failure to manage the current pandemic is due to the country’s surveillance system operating in silos and not being data-driven.

“There’s a great need to invest in surveillance systems, this is how we can get our healthcare resilient and drive our position based on data.

“Data is ubiquitous, we could only manage this pandemic and future pandemic or endemic only when we have an assemblance of a functional surveillance system,” he said.

Dzulkefly said the actions taken can go a long way to rebuild and reinstate the public’s trust which has been eroded due to ongoing politicisation which has, in turn, undermined the pandemic response.  

He said a simple action that the government can take is to clarify the role of experts in providing advice that is then used by political leaders to develop policies as opposed to being used as “scapegoats” by some quarters.

“The media can also play an important role by clarifying the role of experts in advising governments and in educating themselves on the range of different disciplines involved in the Covid-19 response,” he said.

Dzulkefly also joined other panellists for the session “What do healthcare systems have to do to prepare for the next pandemic?” during the conference today, who mulled over the lack of data integration between government agencies, as well as health transformation being hampered by politicians.

Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) president Datuk Dr Subramaniam  Muniandy gave an example of health records not being stored and integrated, making it more expensive as people have to undergo the same test they already did as their records are not stored and made accessible to healthcare providers.

He said that the MyKad that was introduced in 2001 had the capability to store the health records of individuals in their chips but it was not done.

“Once it is made expensive, the public will be very apprehensive of the healthcare system and services transformation,” he said, referring to healthcare service.

Another panellist, independent health policies specialist Dr Khor Swee Kheng said depoliticisation is the key towards healthcare transformation as it is important to the whole population regardless of who is in charge.

He said that Malaysia should learn from the multiple pandemics as they shaped the healthcare policies that are being used to fight for a better future for the country.

He gave an examples of the SARS pandemic in the early 2000s as well as the Ebola outbreak in 2014 which created the need for border control, prevention and detention pandemic at the source and creating a surge of healthcare capacity in the country.

“After Covid-19, we need a healthier population to fight future pandemics,” he said.

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