Lack of leadership to blame for Covid-19 mess, says ex-health DG

PETALING JAYA: Former health director-general Dr Abu Bakar Suleiman has outlined a list of shortcomings by the government and health authorities that caused the Covid-19 situation to worsen in the country.

Abu Bakar said the core issue was largely down to the lack of leadership “from the top right down to the ground level”, adding they were not open to ideas from their subordinates.

“And mind you, the people on the ground who we spoke to, they were very committed and had given ideas,” he said, during the online launch of a book titled “Malaysian Healthcare: Remedies And Maladies”, by the Federation of Private Medical Practitioners’ Association Malaysia (FPMPAM) today (Aug 28).

“And these are people in the health centres and in the states. But much of it was not taken seriously.”

He said despite Malaysia having a stable, robust and proven public health system, there was a failure to adapt to rapidly developing challenges in the last 18 months, with the leaders and those managing the pandemic not flexible enough to change.

With the nation’s leaders still stuck on Covid-19 policies initiated in early 2020, the pandemic situation in the country has become worse, says Dr Abu Bakar Suleiman. (Bernama pic)

According to Abu Bakar, these leaders were stuck with the policies that they initiated in early 2020 and they did not engage with experts in the country, as well as others who could contribute towards the pandemic response.

He said that the second issue in the Covid-19 response was the collapse of the healthcare system, such as the hospitals and government clinics, among others.

“These facilities have been completely overwhelmed, to the extent that patients were placed on the streets or in corridors and in tents.

“There were inadequacies in getting data to identify, test, isolate and contact trace the patients. These were all done manually and the data took days to be collated.

“We need to automate the process, manage and analyse the data and go into predictive mode, which we are capable of doing,” he said.

Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) past president Dr Milton Lum, who also spoke at the book launch, said the biggest reason for the nation’s failure to contain the surge in cases was the lack of testing and consequential contact tracing.

“We are not able and have not made an effort to have a target which the World Health Organization (WHO) set at 5% or less.

“Our positive rate yesterday was 15%, so for everyone that is tested positive, there are two fellows out there spreading the condition maybe unknowingly,” he said.

He added that health authorities have also placed a lot of reliance on vaccination, which was not the answer.

“The failure in communication between policymakers, healthcare professionals in the ivory towers and the general public, as well as the flip-flop in government policies, has all led to these issues we are now facing.”

Touching on the lack of leadership, Lum said the health ministry needed to embrace an open culture where dissenting alternative views are welcomed instead of being frowned upon by the top management.

Academy of Medicine of Malaysia past master Dr Yeoh Poh Hong, who joined the event,  pointed out that it was a case of overconfidence by health authorities when things were going well initially.

“We thought we could conquer it and we were a bit premature on patting ourselves on the back but when the variant strains came in, we saw how devastating it was to our healthcare system.

“Our numbers are so frightening now that most people are worried about leaving their houses,” he said.

By : Durie Rainer Fong – FMT

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