LETTERS: Despite an unusually heavy and tiring Sunday schedule, it was simply impossible to hit the sack.
We were inundated with multiple and repeated messages from doctor friends serving in Ministry of Health (MOH) hospitals across the country appealing for personal protective equipment (PPE). These are MOH doctors working in the frontline of the Covid-19 outbreak.
While bigger hospitals like Sungai Buloh Hospital may have sufficient supply of PPEs, the same cannot be said of many other hospitals, including private hospitals.
Even the earlier suggestion that the Sungai Buloh Hospital was immune from this PPE deficiency syndrome was not entirely true because in the midst of writing this piece, we received an SOS message for N95 masks, face shields, power air purifying respirators, hood covers, boot covers, etc from a colleague serving in a Covid-19 dedicated hospital.
Videos of MOH staff making their own PPEs using plastic bags, dustbin liners and other paraphernalia do not augur well for the reputation of the ministry. There have also been offers from individuals who have volunteered to make face shields for our MOH healthcare providers (HCPs).
A team of doctors who were doing needs assessment of our HCPs managing the Covid-19 patients in MOH hospitals concluded that the lack of PPEs was paramount.
Ninety-nine per cent of GPs are having difficulty getting PPEs, even the surgical masks. The prices for face masks have soared from 80 sen to RM3.50 per piece.
In their efforts to redress this deficiency, they discovered that 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.
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 in anticipation of a supply shortage? Presumably, the middlemen, the agents and distributors are similarly cashing in on the Covid-19 pandemic.
At the height of the SARS-CoV2 infection in China, apart from the disciplined mobilisation of their healthcare workers, the PPE factories ramped up production and provided these to the frontliners and the infectious disease specialists. Where are our PPE manufacturers when our MOH frontliners needed them most?
The gravest sin to be committed during this outbreak is for unscrupulous individuals, politicians and companies to profit from the sufferings of our healthcare providers who are risking their own lives to care and nurse the critically sick Covid-19 patients in the intensive care units.
If they are infected as encountered among our HCPs, or worse still if they lose their lives to the infection because the National Security Council (Majlis Keselamatan Negara or MKN), MOH and the companies cannot provide adequate PPEs, the blood of our healthcare providers will be on their hands.
The failure to produce and ramp up production by manufacturers and to provide basic PPEs to HCPs who care for a patient with a potentially fatal disease is undoubtedly irresponsible, negligent and criminal.
The government has appealed to the people for their cooperation, to the private hospitals to sacrifice for the nation, and to the frontliners to nurse and care for the sick among us ravaged by the disease.
The MKN must take the initiative to immediately mitigate the PPE shortages. It must secure urgently the supply chain, eliminate the middlemen and undertake bulk purchasing, which would ensure fair pricing. It must distribute equitably to all Covid-19 designated hospitals and not just in the Klang Valley.
It 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.
It is utterly shameful that our healthcare providers have to appeal to the public to provide them with PPEs which should be the primary responsibility of the MOH and by extension the MKN which is taking the lead in the war against Covid-19. These are our young men and women who have young families and who need the protection. They do not need to make PPEs from old plastic and garbage bags, the videos of which are a shame to show to the world.
Our frontline healthcare providers must wear their PPEs before they care for the sick. The manufacturers should be able to supply them. The government of the day must ensure and, if need be, enforce this as much as they are enforcing the Movement Control Order.
Have a heart for our young doctors, nurses and allied health professionals. Step up and be counted.
DATUK DR ZULKIFLI ISMAIL
Paediatrician, Kuala Lumpur
DATUK DR MUSA MOHD NORDIN
Paediatrician, Kuala Lumpur