Dr Siti Mariah, state exco of Selangor in charge of health care, told me during the Covid-19 pandemic that Selangor was begging for the Covid vaccines.
Without her permission, I have to tell my side of the story so that the Sultan of Selangor understands that the Selangor state exco, whom I respect a lot, worked very hard during the pandemic to deserve at least a credit mention.
She will pass on her state seat to her successor in the upcoming state election, but I hope more clones of Dr Siti can be produced.
If His Royal Highness Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah would like a candidate who he can bestow honours upon, it is Dr Siti. Although we have not met in person, I can see that we have an altruistic politician who cares for the people.
Over the phone, we discussed how to solve the problem in Selangor so that people could be better protected against Covid-19. I was, at that point in time, helping an NGO to get approval to set up a Covid quarantine centre, which I will also elaborate here in this piece because they are related.
I told Dr Siti that the better solution is to get clinics to carry out the vaccination, instead of having mass vaccination done in an enclosed air-conditioned environment, where the same air is recycled.
The network of clinics that we have has a wider reach compared to the centralised vaccination centres. We also discussed the use of mobile clinics, which was suggested by a former cabinet minister.
Dr Siti told me that the state was unable to get enough vaccines. It is not the infrastructure, but the number of vaccines given to the state. Sultan Sharafuddin, I believe, has also touched on the same issue. We now know that some three million doses may be discarded.
I would like to ask health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah a few questions in public, since he has said that “the shelf life of Covid-19 vaccines used in Malaysia has been extended after the manufacturing company submitted new data on the stability of the vaccine”.
I am sure these are some of the questions that the public would like an answer to as well. I believe there are others with a high level of integrity and more knowledgeable, such as Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman among others, who would volunteer their expertise to get to the bottom of things.
The Covid-19 pandemic, along with the propaganda that we have been bombarded from both ends of the spectrum, has already raised the doubts about the integrity of the sources of data we are provided.
Before the disclosure by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, everything was kept under wraps. As the health director-general, should Dr Noor Hisham not be the one to raise the red flag when the wastage was of such a big quantum? Why the delay?
We certainly do not expect his job as merely “a highly paid reporter on Covid statistics”, to borrow a friend’s description.
Was Dr Noor Hisham unaware of the expiry of these vaccines all along? What if Anwar did not raise the red flag? Should these vaccines be disposed of when they could have been used, or at least sent to other countries which needed them badly?
Over the past six months, was there any major campaign carried out to take up booster shots? Or were we waiting for another pandemic scare before a campaign is organised to utilise these vaccines before the expiry date?
This has to do with the issue of procurement. I would like to know if an audit has been set up by the Auditor-General’s office, because I remember every year, the reports seem to tell us that there is a lot of wastage, but little effort undertaken to address these issues highlighted by the auditors, or at least, we do not read about follow-up actions after that.
I am not familiar with the vaccines but been told that, based on some “new data on the stability of the vaccine submitted by the manufacturing company”, the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA) has given conditional approval for the vaccines to be extended by another six months, which makes me ask more questions.
May I suggest a task force be set up with the help of independent medical researchers to assess the data as claimed? I am sure without some form of assurance, many of us would still have qualms about having the jabs.
I wish all other perishables could have their expiry dates extended, but I just discarded half a bottle of oyster sauce yesterday because it was already going bad.
Back To Covid Quarantine Centre
Allow me to go back to the Covid quarantine centre which the NGO wanted to set up. At a time when the country was in a state of emergency due to the virulence of the Delta variant, those belonging to the B40 category had no place they could go to.
The NGO went through three months of being stonewalled. To my horror, I was told that there were seven or eight agencies checking on the suitability of hotels to be set up as a quarantine centre.
Under business-as-usual circumstances, such inspections are supposed to ensure the safety of the building before it can be used for a specific purpose. However, this is a state of emergency, and three months was far too long to wait.
The NGO claimed that they wanted to set it up in Kuala Lumpur, because Selangor did not give them the green light earlier. Of course, with direct access to Dr Siti, I only had to message her to ask, and she immediately said she did not know about it.
After all, the NGO could not produce a letter that showed they had applied to the state government for permission to set up the centre. I am inclined to trust Dr Siti.
After nearly two weeks of helping Dr Siti and the NGO to shift the centre’s location to Selangor, I found a hotel and another row of shoplots offered by two different Tan Sris. Everyone was willing to assist in their own capacities.
It was then that two health officers dropped a bombshell, asking the two private hospitals to provide letters of indemnity. I was told by the NGO coordinator that the hospitals immediately withdrew their support. They were already on the verge of dropping the whole project.
When this was told to Dr Noor Hisham, he would not help to solve the problem at the ministry level. I do not want to argue with him, but he should know what he could have done to resolve the issue.
After all, even public hospitals would not offer any indemnity, as we were experiencing the Delta wave. Why should a private hospital be asked to provide a letter of indemnity?
My last resort was to appeal to the Yang diPertuan Agong via a YouTube video (my first public appearance), urging His Majesty to look into the plight of the B40 who had no place to go.
Here was an NGO already with its sponsors, financial, and manpower support, but they were faced with bureaucratic problems just to set up a Covid quarantine centre for those in the B40 category.
This, of course, caught the attention of a minister who communicated with the Minister of Federal Territories, Annuar Musa, who asked the minister to give me his personal contact.
The rest is history. The next day, I was told that Annuar had called for a meeting with all the agencies, including the Health Department and the NGO. Within just a few hours, everything was approved.
The next day I read that a specific hotel was included in the list of quarantine centres that was set up by the Ministry of Federal Territories. Yet, when I requested that a positive case in Selangor be placed there temporarily so that his mother, wife and sister can feel safe in the same apartment, the NGO claimed that they cannot take anyone from Selangor. Why?
My friends and I ended up sponsoring a hotel room in Bandar Sunway for the family, and only after a team sent by Subang Jaya state assemblywoman Michelle Ng sanitised the apartment did we allow them to return.
Did Dr Noor Hisham know all this? Of course he did. I have chosen not to engage with him privately to solve issues these days, when it could have been done privately.
Instead, I have to bring this to the forefront. This is not done to bring him down, but to ask him to do some self-reflection as someone who is in public service.
Meanwhile, I will hold back my frustrations, and let others tell of their experiences of hospital bullying and other related issues affecting the management of our public health system.
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