Covid-19 shutdown: Health expert says ‘plan B’ needed for people with chronic conditions

Milad Hassandarvish
People are seen wearing face masks to protect themselves against the new coronavirus in Kuala Lumpur. A large number of Malaysians live with various chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, who need regular medical attention at healthcare facilities. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

KUALA LUMPUR, March 27 — As the country heads into an extended shutdown, a public health physician has suggested that the Health Ministry should begin making contingency plans to ensure delivery of optimum quality care to people living with non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

Dr Feisul Idzwan Mustapha asserted that because of the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak, things will never be the same again and the ministry must consider how NCDs can be better managed if the country is hit with a similar occurrence in the future.

It was recently announced that the movement control order to halt Covid-19 in the country had been extended until April 14. 

Dr Feisul, who is also the ministry’s disease control division (non-communicable disease section) deputy director, said the world was currently in the dark about how long the Covid-19 situation would persist and evolve.

“Other countries that have imposed population movement restrictions have started to extend beyond two weeks and have made stricter restrictions than originally implemented.

“Therefore, we have to prepare how we can continue to deliver quality care to our NCD patients [since the movement control order has been extended],” he added.

Dr Feisul added that Malaysia has a high prevalence of people living with NCDs, and an estimated 80 per cent of patients with diabetes and hypertension seek treatment at ministry healthcare facilities.

“As the Government ramps up its capacity to cater for an increasing number of Covid-19 cases requiring hospital and intensive care unit admissions, let us not forget that a lot of people living with NCDs may require similar care.

“Even during non-Covid-19 times, many patients with chronic conditions would require special medical care due to many serious NCD-related complications such as severe infections like pneumonia or sepsis, heart attacks and strokes,” he added.

Consultant public health physician Dr Feisul Idzwan Mustapha raises concern for people living with chronic conditions if the movement control order extends. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

Based on latest statistics, some 3.6 million Malaysians live with diabetes while about 6.1 million have hypertension.

Last year, it was reported that coronary heart disease is the number one killer in Malaysia, with 50 people dying from the health condition daily.

Although the country’s healthcare services were still running as usual for patients with NCDs, Dr Feisul said he was concerned that patients were not keeping to their appointments as they may be worried about possible exposure while at the clinics.

“That alone would be a valid concern looking at the current situation with people withholding their history of travelling overseas and close contacts of Covid-19 cases while seeking treatment.”

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