Education, awareness key to preparing Malaysia for endemic Covid-19, health experts say

People are seen wearing protective masks as they walk along the Bukit Bintang shopping area in Kuala Lumpur, on Oct 28, 2021. — Photo by Firdaus Latif/Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR (Feb 3): Malaysia needs more education and awareness about living alongside Covid-19 to prepare the country for the endemic phase of the disease, said health experts.

When contacted, digital health practitioner Dr Helmi Zakaria told Malay Mail that understanding the differences between a pandemic and endemic disease would help Malaysians understand the steps and risks involved.

“Declaration of a pandemic is made by the UN global health coordination agency the World Health Organisation (WHO), and what it means is that the said disease poses risk of transmission, morbidity and mortality across the whole world. It also means ‘coordinated global actions’ — like vaccination access, shipments, border safety practice, and cross border quarantine.

“Endemic, on the other hand, refers to when the said disease is ‘continuously present, without disruption’. Which means in an endemic stage we do not need intense coordinated global actions. It means a national or local level intervention is sufficient to control the disease from causing excessive morbidity or mortality,” he said.

Dr Helmi cited dengue fever as an example of an endemic disease that was still a deadly threat but no longer required international cooperation to manage locally.

He noted that while Covid-19 cases have plateaued locally, it could not yet be considered endemic as other countries were still experiencing surges.

Coupled with the possibility of new variants in the future, he said it was not yet possible for Malaysia to treat Covid-19 as endemic.

“There cannot be a case where there is a global pandemic, and country X decides ‘its endemic here’. The problem is not gone just because we decide it so.”

Globally, Covid-19 cases have blown past previous records due to the highly infectious Omicron variant of concern, overwhelming the healthcare systems of countries affected.

In Malaysia, Omicron has been present for nearly three months but the country has not yet seen an acute infection wave similar to those happening elsewhere.

Senior Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein previously said a briefing on possibly transitioning Malaysia to the endemic phase would be discussed at a ministerial meeting soon.

Dr Koh Kar Chai

According to Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) president Dr Koh Kar Chai, the country should begin educating itself on living alongside Covid-19 even before the disease could be considered endemic.

“It is immaterial whether we are in a pandemic or in an endemic state as the situation is still rather labile at the moment.

“There is a need to understand more about the virus and it’s possible variants. We just need to get our vaccines and maintain the prescribed SOPs as much as we can whilst we carry on with our lives,” he told Malay Mail.

Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society President, Amrahi Buang speaks to Malay Mail during an interview in Shah Alam February 15, 2018. – Malay Mail photo

Malaysian Pharmacists Society (MPS) president Amrahi Buang said improving education about Covid-19 could accelerate the country’s shift towards the endemic stage by reducing the likelihood of infections.

He said this included regular reinforcement on the importance of maintaining the standard operating procedures (SOP) to reduce the risk of infection.

It would also reduce the resistance to these SOPs, which he said was critical to prevent Malaysia from being overwhelmed by the surges sweeping countries like Australia and the US where there was strong local objection to measures such as masking and distancing.

“If we want to move into the endemic stage we need more education on how to act, what it is like and most of all continue to get vaccinated and boosted. Educate first then transition to the next stage,” he added.

The WHO has said the pandemic will not end even as the Omicron variant subsides in some countries, warning the high levels of infection around the world will likely lead to new variants as the virus mutates. – Malay Mail

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