KUALA LUMPUR, May 30 – The Ministry of Health (MOH) plans to expand use of the scandal-tainted MySejahtera Covid-19 app to manage chronic disease and childhood vaccinations.
Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, when speaking at a strategic roundtable on behavioural science at the 75th World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland last Friday, talked about pivoting the mobile app to now tackle the non-communicable disease (NCD) crisis in Malaysia.
“I understand the complete fatigue with the Covid app, as minister as well, but you won’t get the same once in a generational population wide enrolment onto an app as this,” Khairy told delegates at the decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO), pointing out that MySejahtera has been downloaded by 30 million people in the 32-million Malaysian population.
“I thought to myself – how do we pivot this app now, with its credibility largely tainted because of Covid check-ins and things like that, and turn that into an app that we can use for NCD screening?
“Booking your appointments, carrying around not huge electronic health records, but a light record so that you can share this with whichever physician you go to.”
Khairy did not explain what data would be included in a “light” electronic health record on MySejahtera. Health apps like Apple’s Health allow users to enter their blood sugar levels, blood pressure readings, and steps taken, among a host of other personal health information.
The health minister cited Malaysia’s National Immunisation Programme (NIP) for infants and children as “low-hanging fruit” that could be used for pivoting of the MySejahtera app.
The NIP provides various vaccines for free at public health care facilities to protect against 13 major childhood diseases, including measles, mumps and rubella through the MMR jab; diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, Hepatitis B, and Haemophilus influenzae Type B through the hexavalent combination vaccine; tuberculosis through the BCG jab; HPV through the HPV vaccine; and pneumococcal disease with the pneumococcal jab.
“Now we’re saying, no more physical [vaccination] cards, bring your app, we’ll put it in there,” Khairy said.
The health minister did not specify if parents would be given the option of receiving vaccination cards for their child if they refuse to use MySejahtera, amid controversy surrounding data security and ownership of the app that has been directly awarded to MySJ Sdn Bhd.
A recent CodeBlue survey with 806 respondents showed that only 27 per cent and 21 per cent trust MySejahtera or feel that their personal data on the app is safe, respectively. Nearly six in 10 respondents, or 57 per cent, said they wouldn’t store personal health information on MySejahtera like their blood pressure or blood sugar readings, weight, or menstrual cycle.
Khairy has yet to announce if the government has signed a contract with MySJ that’s currently embroiled in two lawsuits by shareholders. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) plans to table its report in the next Parliament meeting in July on the development and procurement of the MySejahtera app.
Recasting Personal Health Into The Family Context
Khairy also told the World Health Assembly that the Malaysian government would launch a national health screening initiative in July, targeting medical check-ups in public and private clinics for 1.5 million people aged above 40 who have never done a health screening.
The free health screening programme will include not just basic screenings, but also faecal occult blood tests (FOBT) for men to check for colorectal cancer and breast exams for women.
MOH’s ongoing Peka B40 health screening programme, run by ProtectHealth Corporation, provides free health screenings to low-income earners, including clinical breast exams for women and clinical prostate exams for at-risk men. FOBTs are not included in Peka B40.
The Covid-19 pandemic hit Peka B40 hard, as health screenings dropped 54 per cent last year from 2020. As of March 31 this year, fewer than 600,000 people have gotten screened under Peka B40 since the programme’s inception in 2019, just 10 per cent of 5.9 million eligible Malaysians.
The Selangor state government also recently launched a health screening programme called Selangor Saring for state residents across income levels that provides free check-ups for NCDs like heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and kidney disease; cancers (colorectal, prostate, cervical, and breast); and eye-related conditions (myopia, glaucoma, and retinal disorders).
Khairy told the World Health Assembly that the national health screening initiative is aimed at establishing a new baseline of Malaysians’ health status post-pandemic.
He acknowledged problems in getting Malaysians to come forward for medical check-ups, as he suggested using lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic, when the government touted vaccination to protect not just oneself, but others around them.
At the time, Covid-19 vaccines were thought to be able to cut transmission of the virus, but the jabs turned out to be more effective in preventing severe disease and death.
“So why don’t we recast individual personal health screening in the context of family? Get screened, love your family, because our incidence of NCDs is tremendously high.
“Once somebody has a debilitating stroke, he is going to, or she, will need caregivers. There’s economic consequences to this, and of course to children and dependents.”
According to the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019, about 8.1 per cent of the adult population in Malaysia, or 1.7 million people, have all three risk factors for diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol. Half of Malaysian adults are overweight or obese.
Malaysians may have gotten unhealthier or gained weight after lockdown measures during the Covid-19 pandemic for the past two years. Based on Peka B40’s 2021 report, about 58 per cent of Peka B40 beneficiaries are overweight or obese. Some 37 per cent of Peka B40 beneficiaries were diagnosed last year with at least one NCD.