Be transparent on COVID-19 data, doctors tell Health Ministry

BE transparent on COVID-19 data and share it with all levels of the government to safeguard Malaysians, said Malaysian Public Health Physicians Association (PPPKAM).

“State governments need the data so they can come up with their own precautions for the public. The details must include location, number of cases, geography, clusters, infected age group and ethnicity.

“This will allow the public to make well informed decisions and take necessary precautions as well,” its president Datuk Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar told FocusM.

Earlier this week, the Selangor Taskforce for COVID-19 complained that the Health Ministry had stopped sharing granular data on the outbreak in the state, leaving them with little data to tackle the matter.

Health Ministry director general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah defended the move, saying he would only share processed data for better coordination.

Yesterday, Noor Hisham announced that his ministry would also stop naming the establishments where COVID-19 had been detected.

He said the decision was made so the people would not stigmatise the said establishments and cause panic.

However, Zainal disagreed with Noor Hisham’s reasoning, saying states need raw data so they could do modelling and trace where the infection started.

‘Right now, we don’t have a clear picture on where the cases are concentrated. Each state has different level of cases.

“So, it is important to share all the data so our epidemiologists can start doing prospective contact tracing,” he stressed.

 Data sharing builds trust

On why the health ministry was not sharing full information, Zainal said it could be due to ‘political pressure’.

“Maybe they don’t want us to have a clear picture fearing its effects on our economy. I agree with the Selangor taskforce team’s call for transparency.

“And I know the members of the taskforce as well. They are well experienced people,” he remarked.

On related matter, the Malaysian Health Coalition (MHC) echoed Zainal’s views and urged the health ministry to be transparent in sharing COVID-19 data.

“During the first two waves of the pandemic, the rate of infection remained relatively low due to close intragovernmental collaboration and data sharing.

“We urge the government to resume this close cooperation to protect Malaysians,” it noted.

While acknowledging the fact that some information should remain confidential to protect patients’ privacy, MHC said demographic information could be useful for understanding the virus spread and allow broader public health research in the country.

“Controlling the spread of COVID-19 involves sustained cooperation at all levels of government. With data-sharing, we can build community trust, which is necessary to beat the virus,” it explained.

The MHC is a coalition of over 40 organisations and individuals, representing health professionals in Malaysia. – Oct 23, 2020


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