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We need to invest more in primary healthcare

03 Jun 2020 / 20:14 H.

    THE Academy of Medicine of Malaysia is concerned by the 2019 National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) findings. There are little recorded improvements in the prevalence and risk factors of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). The only notable progress is the prevalence of hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol) which has been reduced from 47.7% in 2015 to 38.1% in 2019.

    If preventative and corrective measures are not urgently put in place, many Malaysians are on track to contract chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.

    The World Health Organisation reported that prevention and treatment services for NCDs all over the world have been disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. As Malaysia makes progress against the pandemic, we must refocus resources to address NCD prevention and treatment.

    The government must implement a long-term plan to efficiently manage Covid-19 and NCD care services. This is important because people living with NCDs who are also infected with Covid-19 are more prone to severe symptoms and have a higher mortality risk. We cannot tackle one issue without addressing the other.

    Preventative care must be prioritised in the reorganisation of our health system. People have shown that given the proper guidance and tools, they will abide by preventative measures to protect their health and the health of loved ones.

    Innovative solutions must be introduced to drastically improve the risk factors for NCDs displayed in the 2019 NHMS findings. These measures should also offset the potential negative impacts of extended movement control, such as reduced physical activity and mental health, which can result in poor eating habits.

    Finally, the government must invest more in primary care services as early and regular screening is vital. The Enhanced Primary Health Care Initiative launched in 2017 was a move in the right direction in increasing access to health care for all Malaysians, especially those from lower-income groups. The revival of this initiative, along with others under the National Strategic Plan for NCDs 2016-2025, must be incorporated into the government’s long-term health plan for managing Covid-19.

    The full extent of Covid-19’s impact on our health system and people with NCDs remains to be seen. However, there is clear evidence of its disruption to other areas of healthcare as well as its disproportionately harmful effects on people with NCDs. The NHMS report is a wake-up call to take urgent action. The government must refocus our health system and develop health policies to address both Covid-19 and NCD care.

    Academy of Medicine of Malaysia

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