Opinion Piece: Reflections on the role of pharmacists during COVID-19 and beyond in Malaysia
As Nancy Ho stands down as our regional representative in Malaysia, we share her closing reflections around the important role pharmacists played in her country during COVID-19 and why it is important to continue leveraging their expertise to tackle other critical health issues.
Malaysia’s Response to COVID-19 and the Role of Pharmacists
Because of COVID-19, it was essential to focus on and find solutions to help curb the effects of the pandemic and improve prevention measures and safety for everybody in Malaysia. Two and a half year’s span has seen many initiatives to curb the COVID-19 pandemic in Malaysia which started to spread after a religious gathering of 11,000 people in Kuala Lumpur in February 2020.
The next major outbreak took place after the state elections in Sabah in September 2020. Pharmacists are required more than ever to be catalysts in the fight to tackle COVID-19. In our region of the Commonwealth, there are three professional bodies: The Malaysian Pharmacists Society (MPS), Sabah Pharmaceutical Society (SPS) and Sarawak Pharmaceutical Society (SPS). Further to this, there are an estimated 16 000 pharmacists per 32 million patients of which 4800 are community pharmacists and members of the Malaysian Community Pharmacists Guild (MCPG).
The Movement Control Order (MCO) and Its Impact
One of the initial ways to tackle the pandemic was to execute a preventive measure known as the Movement Control Order (MCO). The 18th of March 2021 will mark the anniversary of the MCO, but what is it? The MCO is an order that focuses on using a lockdown method to prevent the spread of the virus by ensuring that contact between the masses is reduced.
The Malaysian Government implemented this measure after consultation with a COVID-19 task force headed by the Health Director-General and Internal Security Minister. Daily media reports further kept the public informed on clusters of the outbreak and number of active cases and daily deaths. If there were locations that had a larger cluster of cases detected, then the MCO measures were strengthened further, with stricter lockdown rules enforced through COVID-19 testing.
Although there were initial relaxations of the MCO later in 2020 as cases declined, there was a reintroduction of restrictions in more states during January to February 2021. After March that same year the restrictions were reduced again. The MCO then was being referred to as a Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO), meaning it was conditional, or in other words more relaxed.
Pharmacists as Frontline Responders and Educators
What was important to see in the Malaysian response to COVID-19 was that pharmacists were very much at the forefront. Community pharmacies kept their doors open to sell facemasks, sanitisers, gloves, and protective personal equipment (PPEs) among other products and services.
Many pharmacist videos from the likes of social media, the web and other channels have further educated and trained the public and fellow colleagues on the proper use of face masks, sanitisers, gloves and similarly for PPEs. Multiple initiatives have been created by professional bodies to donate PPEs and educate on COVID-19 safety measures. A healthy lifestyle to boost immunity was also promoted.
Immunisation Advocacy and the Role of Pharmacists
An initiative in March 2021 was a nationwide campaign for immunisation advocacy to promote understanding of the use of vaccines administered by health personnel but unfortunately not yet by pharmacists and this remains the case to this day. On the other hand, advocating to promote pharmacists as front-line workers to receive vaccination in the first phase of our rollout campaign was successful and in doing so helped to reduce vaccination fears among the public.
The Importance of Pharmacists in Post-Pandemic Malaysia
The pandemic which we are now grateful is over offered an opportunity for pharmacists in Malaysia to come to the forefront as public educators that promote vaccinations. Many people were relieved to return to “normal life” and equally grateful our numbers kept reducing.
Pharmacists’ involvement in numerous media reports and public webinars have been regarded as significant in campaigns against COVID-19. As we still overcome hardships caused by this devastating global pandemic, we hope to see our Malaysian pharmacists continue to be valued assets at the frontline of our health system so that we are always ready for any new challenges that we might face tomorrow.
The CPA would like to thank Nancy for her undying dedication to advance the role of pharmacists in Malaysia and the Commonwealth as well as for her commitment to advocating around the importance of the profession in medical teams.
After graduating in Pharmacy at Otago University in New Zealand, Nancy Ho went to Sabah, Malaysia, to serve at Hospital Pharmacy and Government Procurement and Distribution Centre for Medical Supplies. She started her own Community Pharmacy chain of three pharmacies, has been President of the Sabah and Malaysian Pharmaceutical Societies, engaged in several Governmental and Non-Governmental Organisations and is recognised for her service to the Community. She now serves as CPA Vice-President.