COVID-19 Pandemic Presidency
Dear Esteemed Friends and Colleagues,
Greetings and hope all are in good health!
The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic hit us in early 2020, soon after my presidency began. The early phases of the pandemic were periods of much uncertainty and fear, with multiple rounds of movement control orders and lockdowns, travel restrictions and social/physical distancing. Almost all activities came to a halt except for a few essential services such as healthcare.
Learning to organise and conduct digital or virtual meetings became essential skills. All EXCO meetings were conducted virtually except for the initial few.
In the first quarter of 2020, MPA donated PPEs worth a total of RM100,000 to the Paediatric Departments in public hospitals nationwide. During the 4th quarter of 2020 when the COVID-19 cases were ravaging through the state of Sabah, MPA donated 10 syringe pumps and 5 infusion pumps to the Paediatric Departments in the major hospitals in the state. MPA intended to donate another RM100,000-worth of PPEs in the first half of 2021 when the number of COVID-19 cases were rising in the Peninsula. Unfortunately, this could not be executed due to delays and logistic issues.
Continuous professional development
Provision of Continuous Medical Education (CME) has been an integral part of MPA, and is even more crucial during the pandemic. During the early stage of the pandemic, we were uncertain how to proceed with our activities as we do not know how long the pandemic would go on. To keep in-touch with our members, guidelines, flyers and opinions were uploaded onto our MPA website and e-blasted to members.
Since July 2020, there were 2 regular webinar series conducted monthly. The first was the `IMFeD Webinars 2020’. The second was the `IJN-MPA-MPCS Paediatric & Congenital Heart Disease Webinar series’ which were scheduled on the second Friday of each month.
The 11th Asia Pacific Paediatric Endocrine Society (APPES) Biennial Scientific Meeting in conjunction with the 42nd MPA Annual Congress, which was initially scheduled to be held at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre from 17-21 November 2020, had to be postponed and converted to a hybrid meeting to be held on 25-28 November 2021. With the postponement of the annual congress, the 42nd annual general meeting (AGM) of MPA was held on the 20 September 2020 at Hospital Tunku Azizah, preceded by an update on adolescent health. It was our first experience in conducting a hybrid meeting. Thank goodness there was no election in 2020. It was also a new milestone as the first MPA AGM conducted as a hybrid meeting – a new norm. As a result, the MPA annual congress becomes one less in number compared to AGM from 2021 onwards. The 3 constitutional amendments proposed and passed during the 42nd MPA AGM were forwarded to the ROS but were not approved.
To adapt to the new norm, MPA purchased 2 virtual packages; one virtual meeting package and a virtual conference package in an effort to communicate better and to assist MPA subcommittees and Technical Advisory Groups (TAGs) to organise CME programmes and activities.
To improve communications with the chairpersons of the various MPA subcommittees and Technical Advisory Groups (TAGs), all chairpersons were invited to join the MPA EXCO virtual meeting in May 2021. It was a fruitful meeting, and two subcommittees organised 4 webinars subsequently using the virtual conference package. My apologies for all the shortcomings during these webinars since we were still at the learning stages of this new norm. Chairpersons of the various subcommittees and Technical Advisory Groups (TAGs) shall be invited to join the EXCO meeting at least twice a year in future.
Over the last 2 years, paediatricians and members have been more active on TV or radio broadcasts and social media in sharing our knowledge and promoting advocacy works, especially on COVID-19 and vaccination.
COVID-19 pandemic is a wake-up call of the intersection between human and planetary health. In response, Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) SEA officially launched “RISE – the Southeast Asia Alliance for Health and Climate” in November 2020. RISE aims to build the prominence of the healthcare sector in rising to the climate and COVID-19 challenges and building a healthy, just and resilient Asia. MPA has joined RISE and is now a partner in this crucial journey. Learning from COP26, a lot more actions are needed to safe planet Earth.
Another aspect is the advocacy of clean air and safe environment. MPA received a mini-grant from AAP in Jun 2021 to embark on a Tobacco Advocacy Programme for secondary school children. This programme also includes vaping and e-cigarette use which is on the rise in Malaysia. Our mission is to create awareness amongst adolescents and make them champions in influencing the adults, and eventually to ban vaping and e-cigarette before more children get addicted to it.
20 November is World Children’s Day. It is an important date when the United Nation General Assembly (UNGA) adopted the `Declaration of the Rights of the Child’ in 1959 and the `Convention on the Rights of
the Child’ in 1989. MPA organised a Tobacco Awareness Day with a public webinar on “Smoke-Free Environment for Children and Adolescents” on 20 November 2021 at 4-5.30 pm to advocate for no tobacco/vaping/e- cigarette and to promote clean air.
Other advocacy works included school re-opening policy statement in September 2021 forwarded to the government; public donation to provide nutritious food to the poor children in PPR in the Klang Valley; being a member of the Malaysian Health Coalition (MHC) since the early days of its inception, and a signatory in many of MHC’s joint statements.
Research & publication
The Malaysian Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health (MJPCH) achieved are imperative to eradicate poverty, as exemplified by the many programmes in China, which have lifted millions out of poverty.
Good health and accessible healthcare
It is laudable that our Malaysian government provides meals in schools for poor children. As the stunting rates of children amongst the urban poor and in the rural areas remain high, the program should be reviewed and widened to include more children, and implemented to ensure these underserved children receive the safe and nutritious food intended. Inequitable access to healthcare and incomplete immunisation according to age amongst the underserved communities need to be addressed. Prevention is the best medicine.
In our fight against the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, all adults should act responsibly, follow SOPs, and get the COVID-19 vaccine jabs if there is no contraindication. Parents should ensure that eligible children receive their COVID-19 vaccines, in addition to all the other childhood vaccines in a timely manner. The paediatric formulation of the COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5-11 years old had just received the approval from US FDA and CDC, as well as MOH Malaysia. We urge parents to get their 5-11 year- old children vaccinated.
All children should be provided with free good quality education till 18 years old. The `Under Five Deaths in Malaysia Year 2016’ study found that children had higher risk of dying before their fifth birthday if their parents were students, unemployed or with low/no education.
Good quality and higher levels of education will ensure that there is no child marriage; parents are equipped with the knowledge and skills in bringing up their children in a safe and healthy manner, and can afford to provide their children’s needs adequately with no financial constraints. Besides formal education in schools and quality family time, education also includes all adults, especially public figures and celebrities, acting as good role models.
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in closures of schools and studying online. It has also hastened the digital transformation and advancement, widened the digital divide, and amplified the deprivation of education due to lack of digital connectivity or devices. As such, digital connectivity has become a fundamental human right, in addition to basic education and healthcare, clean air and water.
Safe and healthy environment
Together with eradication of poverty, basic amenities such as proper sanitation, provision of safe and clean water, and constant power supply should be universally available. On a broader perspective, we need to ensure that there is no air or water pollution and our food chain is protected.
Parents should ensure that the air in their home is clean and not polluted. Smoking of cigarettes in the house and in public areas is not allowed, and second-hand and third-hand smoking should be avoided at all costs. Vaping or e-cigarette should be banned. The Malaysian Paediatric Association & Positive Parenting has conducted a public webinar titled `Smoke-Free Environment for Children and Adolescents’ on World Children’s Day, 20 November 2021 at 4.00-5.30 pm to advocate for no tobacco and e-cigarette and to promote clean and safe air.
Proper disposal of toxic wastes is imperative even if the cost is high. Failure to do so will cause numerous immediate and long-term harmful effects on health, which will cost us even more, not only in monetary terms, but in life destroyed or lost too. The many children who fell ill, some with permanent organ and brain damage, as a result of noxious fumes or polluted river water in Johor are painful lessons that should never recur. More insidious and serious toxic industrial wastes, such as ionising radiation from radioactive materials or waste generated by rare earths processing plants, are invisible and odourless but extremely harmful to living things. Ionising radiation exposure is cumulative and is associated with an increase in lifetime risk of cancer, especially in children.
The more we spend on nurturing, educating and developing our children, the more likely they are going to be successful citizens for Malaysia and the world. We need all-of-government determination and efforts in the successful planning and implementation to achieve these goals.
Stay healthy, stay safe. Thank you.