3 June 2020
We, the Academy of Medicine of Malaysia, are deeply saddened and concerned by the findings of the 2019 National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS). There are little to no recorded improvements in the prevalence and risk factors of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). The only notable progress is the prevalence of hypercholesterolemia, i.e. 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, heart disease and chronic respiratory disease.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported on 1 June 2020 that prevention and treatment services for NCDs all over the world have been severely disrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Malaysia is no exception. As Malaysia continues to make progress in our fight against the pandemic, we must refocus our resources to address NCD prevention and treatment. The government must develop and implement a long-term plan for our health system to efficiently manage both COVID-19 and NCD care services until a COVID-19 vaccine is discovered. 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. The Rakyat have proven throughout the COVID-19 crisis that given the proper guidance and tools, they will abide by necessary preventative measures to protect their health and the health of their 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 in treating NCDs. The Enhanced Primary Health Care (EnPHC) 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 2019 NHMS report is a wake-up call for Malaysians to take urgent action for our own future health. As such, the government must refocus our health system and develop health policies to address both COVID-19 and NCD care in the immediate future.
We, the under-signed:
(The Academy of Medicine of Malaysia, embracing 11 Colleges and 15 Chapters, is a registered body representing medical specialists in Malaysia)