MOH Official: MySejahtera A Great Opportunity From Crisis

Dr Mahesh Appannan says lots of people put in work to build MySejahtera into where the app is right now with 38 million users and there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.

KUALA LUMPUR, April 28 – A Ministry of Health (MOH) official has described MySejahtera as a digital solution in public health that MOH had been envisioning for a long time.

Dr Mahesh Appannan, head of data at the Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre (CPRC) who manages the MySejahtera mobile app, said the Covid-19 app’s new hotspot tracker that will detect hotspots for other communicable diseases like dengue, rabies, measles, and hand-foot-and-mouth disease (HFMD) will be launched today.

“As a public health practitioner, we have created one solution which is what we have been envisioning for a very long time. As the saying goes, in every crisis, you have a great opportunity. We have this right now,” Dr Mahesh told Astro Awani’s Consider This show last night.

“If you look into every single module in MySejahtera, it’s replicable,” he said. “I go back for Raya, I have to ensure I have to be vigilant enough on happenings around me, what kind of infectious diseases are around me.”

Dr Mahesh added that MySejahtera could also be used as a vaccination registry. The Covid-19 app is currently used to host Malaysians’ digital Covid-19 vaccination certificates.

Although Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin announced yesterday that MySejahtera check-ins at public premises would no longer be mandatory from May 1, Dr Mahesh said Malaysians should still keep the app, noting that Singapore is also maintaining its TraceTogether contact tracing app despite abolishing compulsory check-ins.

“Contact tracing is integral in managing any outbreak. At one point, we sent notifications to 300,000 people that you’ve been exposed to a Covid case.”

However, MOH’s decision to drop compulsory MySejahtera check-ins and mandatory quarantine for all close contacts regardless of symptoms or vaccination status effectively means an end to digital contact tracing for now.

When Consider This host Melisa Idris asked if MOH should junk MySejahtera and build a new app from scratch after taking into account issues of data privacy, security, and ownership, Dr Mahesh did not address data privacy concerns about MySejahtera amid ongoing controversy, but simply said that the government can’t abandon the 15 modules on the app.

“What I’m saying is the MySejahtera check-in was just one module. We have repeatedly said, the minister, Ministry of Health, the government of Malaysia said whatever we have right now, so much work was put in by lots of people to where it is right now, with almost 38 million users.

“With not just check-ins, [there are] so many other modules, we have to use our current MySejahtera. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel, we have everything needed for us to sustain.”

In a joint op-ed, consultant paediatrician Dr Musa Mohd Nordin and Selangor Task Force Operations director Dr Mohammad Farhan Rusli recently urged the federal government to cancel MySejahtera in light of public distrust and to migrate the MySejahtera database to another local app without any ties to foreign entities.

The MySejahtera app developer, Entomo Malaysia Sdn Bhd (formerly KPISoft Malaysia Sdn Bhd), is fully owned by Singapore-based Entomo Pte Ltd. A licence agreement disclosed in a lawsuit by a shareholder of MySJ Sdn Bhd, the company currently negotiating with MOH for a directly awarded MySejahtera contract, revealed that Entomo Malaysia sold MySJ MySejahtera’s intellectual property (IP) and a software licence to use its proprietary KPISoft software to develop the app for RM338.6 million in an agreement until end 2025.

The Selangor state government had developed its own contact tracing app called SELangkah.

“Of course we want to have in-built systems, but we already have this,” Dr Mahesh told Consider This.

“We own MySejahtera, the IP belongs to us, the data belongs to the government, everything is us. After the contract expires, at any point of time, we can hop on to a new system, may it be us procuring another ready system, or we can build from scratch.”

Although Khairy told the Dewan Negara last March 31 that the government owns the MySejahtera app and its IP, he has modified his language since and told a press conference last April 5 that MOH owns the MySejahtera data, modules, and brand – omitting mention of IP ownership.

Dr Mahesh said MySejahtera’s algorithm for contact tracing via QR code scans got “perfected” over the past two years of the pandemic to send casual contact notifications from check-in times.

“Once a person checks in, we log the time the person has gone in, based on whatever premises that have been registered on MySejahtera. We’ve got a basic demographic, details of that particular premise, how big, grocery store, supermarket, mall.

“So we built an algorithm. A person who checks into 99 Speedmart, we somewhat eventually could assume how many people at that particular time could be at that same location.

“We take backward and forward, how many people checked in at the same time, few seconds before and after. This goes into our machine, we train the machine, and the algorithm gets perfected.”

Former Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad told an ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute webinar yesterday, however, that MySejahtera has not really served its contact tracing purpose.

Dr Mahesh described MySejahtera as a digital end-to-end solution that was especially helpful to health authorities at the height of the Delta wave in the middle of last year that saw Covid-19 assessment centres overwhelmed with mostly asymptomatic and mild Covid-19 cases that could have been managed virtually from their homes.

“Now, we have empowered individuals to assess, report, and discharge themselves from Covid-19 – end-to-end managed digitally.”

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