The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) agrees that amendments to the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act (Act 342) are indeed needed, as it is an old Act which has been in existence for three decades.
However, the proposed amendments, with the absence of clear guidelines, are seemingly rushed, indicating a lack of engagement with stakeholders.
While urgency is needed in passing these amendments, clarity with clear guidelines in implementation should be insisted upon. There is worry among stakeholders over its implementation and enforcement, while valid questions are being asked by experts and the general public.
Members of Parliament, who are representatives of the people, should not be pressured by the deadline to pass the amendments without important details being provided.
As the amendments to Act 342 will have an impact on all levels of society, as well as the nation’s economy, MMA proposes that a special parliamentary sitting be held to retable and debate the amendments after sufficient stakeholder engagements have taken place.
There is even worry among health care professionals over the impact on their management of health care services, with the prospect of the sword hanging over their necks with the proposed amendments.
The Act is intended to assist in the control and prevention of infectious diseases. Therefore, ethics should be stressed upon, but what we are seeing is an emphasis on penalties.
We would need further clarification on its guidelines, as the need for the notification of infectious diseases is in the Act. It is unclear how the new amendments to the Act on the notification process, as well as penalties to be imposed for failure to adhere to this process, will affect health care practitioners.
Though the courts will have the final say in any judgement to be passed, a transparent appeal process should be in place, preferably before the case goes to the courts, for those handed with compounds, so that we see fairness in the enforcement of Act 342.
There should not be a repetition of the early days of the pandemic, whereby there were complaints of high-handedness by officials from various enforcement agencies.
Giving powers to officers from other enforcement agencies, in addition to the officers from the Ministry of Health (MOH) will relieve the burden of enforcement, but there is the worry that having too many different authorities in the enforcement of Act 342 may lead to confusion, and may also lead to inappropriate enforcement, as seen in the initial phases of the pandemic.
As far as individuals and small businesses are concerned, further education and awareness campaigns need to be carried out on the need for adherence to SOPs.
However, of utmost importance is the need to ensure there are no double standards in the enforcement of the Act. Otherwise, its implementation is bound to fail.
Dr Koh Kar Chai is president of the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA).
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