Will we pass the Covid-19 test? — Adeeba Kamarulzaman

MAY 26 — I cannot imagine the heat and discomfort of being in the full protective attire, doing the testing and contact tracing in particular, during Ramadan.

For many of us who observe Ramadan it is always our hope and desire that we are able to observe this special month in the Islamic calendar as meaningfully as possible and that our good deeds are accepted and our sins forgiven. 

Ramadan was of course not just a time for fasting but also a time for sacrifice, which we saw plenty of from many of my colleagues, and other so called front-liners who stepped up to be part of the nation’s Covid response whether directly or indirectly.

It made me especially proud to belong to the public health sector as everybody rallied and worked tirelessly to ensure that we provided the best and safest care to all of our patients, whilst also ensuring that we remained safe ourselves.

The spectre of getting infected ourselves was real, as we learned of the thousands of healthcare workers who had become infected with SARS-CoV-2 and the hundreds who have died from it around the world. But for most of us this is our duty, this was what we had signed up to when we gained the right to call ourselves Dr 

Without a doubt we can be proud of Malaysia’s timely actions and achievements in the Covid-19 response.

Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah and his entire team deserve all the accolades they have received for keeping the level of infection under control, albeit at not an inconsiderable cost.

Despite the intense international effort in search of an effective vaccine, it will still be at least a good 18 months away before we get a vaccine that is widely used.

Given that the pandemic is not going to be going away anytime soon, for us front-liners the challenge will be to maintain these highest standards of care and service delivery whilst adhering to physical distancing and infection control procedures moving forward and into the long foreseeable future. 

Ramadan was also a time for self-reflection, a time and opportunity to reflect on what the Covid pandemic has meant to us as individuals and what it means to our society as a whole.

Beyond the inconvenience of the lock-down and the fear and anxiety of getting infected, I am sure Covid -19 has meant different things to different people.

It has certainly taught me a lot of lessons and made me reflect deeply on what is important and what matters less so. It is a humbling experience to live through this pandemic and see how a 125 nm particle has literally brought the whole world to its knees.

From the original epicentre in Wuhan, to the wealthy region of Lombardy to bustling New York City, no country has been spared as these little particles found its way across the world and infected more than 5 million people and caused death to over 300 000 people in just five short months. The tragedy of this pandemic will one day not only be counted in the number infected and the lives lost, but also in how quickly and effectively respective governments and leaders responded as the epidemic unfolded.

The pandemic will also be counted in hope: nature seems to be reclaiming its rightful place in this world, once again, from the destruction brought about by years of so called progress. Chat groups are full of examples of sightings of wildlife making a return; an elephant in the compounds of Kluang hospital, owls and woodpeckers in the gardens of Petaling Jaya and even a tiger in Mersing.

The skies in Kuala Lumpur are bluer and brighter and the air that we breathe seems lighter and fresher. It has been said that the waters of the Venetian canals are now a clear blue green instead of a murky brown.

Pollution and greenhouse emission indices have been recorded to have fallen across continents as countries instituted lockdown measures. The question is, can this be sustained so as to address that other crisis that the world faces, namely the climate change crisis. 

Much has been said about the Covid-19 pandemic bringing to the fore inequalities and cracks and divides in society. It is encouraging that the previously deafening, inter-racial divisive rhetoric in our country has been somewhat muted throughout this epidemic, but unfortunately that has been replaced by the demonisation of foreign workers and undocumented migrants.

Just like the HIV epidemic before it, the Covid-19 pandemic hits especially hard those already vulnerable and marginalised by society.

Whilst some of us moan the restrictions brought forth by the movement control order, to many it meant a loss of income and to some, even a loss of basic dignity.

The oft quoted phrase: “we may be in the same storm, but not all of us are in the same boat”, vividly captures the inequality that has deepened through this crisis.

We still have many more months of the pandemic to live through and the report card is still out.

At this stage we seem to have passed the epidemic control test but as we move forward, the question is will we pass the bigger test? Will we take stock and learn from the devastation of Covid-19 and move towards a more compassionate, mutually respectful, inclusive, equal and just society? Will we continue to close a blind eye to the destruction of the environment in the name of profit and greed? Will we permit science and evidence to inform and guide our policies or will we continue to allow ideology and self-interest to rule? Will we begin to understand and accept that this earth belongs to all of us?

As a woman of science I try and keep pace with the unprecedented speed and volume of the scientific knowledge on the SARS-CoV-2 and use it to inform and improve patient care as well as public health policies.

As a woman of faith, I cannot help but feel that Allah SWT has unleashed these 125 nm particles upon us to make us stop, reflect, learn and find ways in which we can make ourselves and this world a better place, for ourselves and the people we will one day leave it to, our children and their children after them. As a Muslim, there could not have been a better time to do so than the Ramadan just passed. 

* Professor Datuk Adeeba Kamarulzaman is dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Malaya.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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