Peer Support For Covid-19 Patients In The Community — Prof Dr Moy Foong Ming

When both peer supporters and patients have had the same experiences, the sharing of knowledge or providing emotional support, social interaction or practical help may be better received.

As of June 15, 2021, the accumulated number of Covid-19 cases is 667,876, moving towards a million cases. Health care workers have been working tirelessly caring for patients while they are in the hospitals or quarantine centres. 

However, once they are declared recovered and discharged, they are left on their own, except those with medical conditions that need to be followed up.

Based on a study by the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Stage Four and Five patients followed up in the hospitals post-discharge, 66 per cent of them reported to have post-Covid conditions or long Covid up to 12 weeks or more after infection.

Studies conducted in the UK and US among Covid-19 patients (with mild and serious symptoms) have shown that approximately 10 to 30 per cent of them suffer from long Covid.

What about Malaysian patients who have been declared free from Covid-19 and back in the community? They might still be suffering from some of these symptoms, but may not be aware or when to ask for medical assistance. 

On the other hand, there are also patients with mild symptoms allowed to be home quarantined. Although there are systems in place for these patients to report their symptoms, patients and caregivers might not be well informed on what to observe or when to seek medical attention when their condition deteriorates.

Consequently, we note that as at the end of May, Malaysia has recorded 10 per cent (n=293) of the 2,796 Covid-19 deaths were brought-in-dead (BID).

Other factors contributing to the increase of BID may be attitude of patients and carers who were ignorant or thought lightly of their symptoms, patients were not aware that they were infected with Covid-19 as they were not tested, the virus variant may be more virulent resulting rapid deterioration in the patient’s condition, and medical facilities not readily accessible in remote areas such as in Sabah and Sarawak.

Health care workers are the most qualified personnel to care for the above two groups.  However, health care workers are overwhelmed with the treatment of acute patients and in contact tracing, surveillance, isolation of close contacts, etc. 

They might be unable to cope with these large number of patients in the community. Therefore, support from the community, especially from patients who have recovered fully will be very useful. 

We are aware that there are one or two private groups formed by recovered Covid-19 patients. One of them is the Facebook group “Covid-19 Malaysian Stories”, set up for members to share their stories.

These support groups can play a more active role in offering assistance to support patients who are undergoing home quarantine and those suffering from long Covid. 

The MOH can set up a formal group with clinicians involved as resource persons and to provide formal training to these volunteers. They may need to be registered with the MOH before being allowed to offer their services.

With the training and registration system in place, they can help prevent more cases of BID if deterioration of condition is picked up early and medical treatment started earlier.

The support group can also provide advice to those suffering from long Covid when medical treatment is needed.  

Recovered Covid-19 patients acting as peer supporters also solve the issue of stigmatism. 

The patients may be reluctant to open up to volunteers who have not shared their experience and stressful conditions.

When both peer supporters and patients have had the same experiences, the sharing of knowledge or providing emotional support, social interaction or practical help may be better received.

Prof Dr Moy Foong Ming is from the Department of Social & Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur.

  • This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.

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