28 May 2021
COVID-19 and our frontliners
The article discusses the definition of frontline workers and their mental, psychological, and physical state during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis situation in Malaysia. The Ministry of Health was allocated RM31.9 billion under the budget 2021 and a total of 385,126 frontliners have received their first dose of vaccine as of 18 March 2021. The Malaysian Health Coalition formed by 49 societies of doctors, pharmacists, specialists, nurses, and related health professionals in March 2020 sought the government’s assistance in providing job security to frontliners, as well as boosting their mental health and psychological support.
From healthcare personnel and delivery riders to security men and teachers, frontliners in the world over are considered as the true saviours of mankind during this unique crisis. When the COVID-19 pandemic started to make countries reel under its impact, these frontline workers came forward and began to serve those in need, at the risk of their own well-being and safety. Let’s have a closer look at who exactly the frontliners are and what their present state of being is.
Who are our frontliners?
On March 1 2021 The Star reported that the national COVID-19 immunization programme has rolled out guidelines defining who the frontliners are and the basis for vaccination provisions. Going by these guidelines, frontliners consist of two categories. The first includes doctors, nurses, paramedics, matrons, environmental health officers, healthcare treatment assistants, X-ray technicians, science officers, medical laboratory technicians, and pharmaceutical officers. The second includes those who cater not only to the healthcare sector but also to essential services, defense, and security sectors. Teachers with comorbidities, security personnel, Cabinet ministers, the Malaysian Armed Forces, private dentists, Members of Parliament, registered private lab staff, and the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency are just some of the examples of frontliners who come under this second category.
Guidelines were chalked out to advance the vaccination pace for frontliners and to eliminate queue jumping. Generally, individuals who have to be physically present at their work places throughout the global pandemic are considered as a frontline worker. For instance, the delivery personnel who ferries essential commodities to people’s doorstep are frontline workers. Likewise, grocery store personnel, cleaners, social workers and activists are equally at the forefront each and every single day contributing significantly towards mitigating the impact of the pandemic. Even journalists who are risking their lives by reporting from the field to ensure a credible flow of news to thousands of people around the country and the world, are frontliners too.
Present state of our frontliners
The Phase I target of Malaysia’s National COVID-19 Immunization Programme is to vaccinate 500,000 frontliners. As of 18 March 2021, a total of 385,126 frontliners have received their first dose of vaccine. The country had its first COVID-19 case on 24 January 2020. Since then, Malaysia has recorded 1,400 fatalities and 381,813 confirmed cases as of 22 April 2021.
As the cases began to surge, healthcare practitioners were overloaded by the medical emergencies throughout the country. Physical exhaustion, emotional stress, and psychological fatigue became some of the prominent factors affecting frontliners’ health. Yet, they didn’t step back to take respite from the uncertainties looming over their environment. By December 18th 2020, 1,359 medical frontliners had been infected by the COVID-19 virus.
While frontline workers from all walks of life have been praised globally, many of them also faced stigmatization and unfair treatment in some countries. Malaysia is one of them. An op-ed published in Shapesea highlighted how children of healthcare workers were discriminated against and had been directed to be kept separately in childcare centres to prevent the possible spread of infection due to their parents’ profession.
The Ministry of Health was allocated RM31.9 billion under the 2021 budget. Yet there is a visible shortage of nurseries and childcare facilities in the country, which puts mental pressure on the frontline workers who have to leave their kids behind at home while they work. In a report published in the Malay Mail, Segambut MP Hannah Yeoh expressed concern over the lack of adequate nurseries for frontline workers’ children and how this might have a negative impact on the frontliners’ fight against COVID-19.
A study conducted in Sarawak General Hospital in March 2021 stated that 57.1% medical frontliners have mild stress and anxiety while 41% are suffering from mild depression. The Malaysian Health Coalition (MHC) formed in March 2020 emphasized the government’s assistance in three primary areas, namely providing job security to frontliners, boosting mental health and psychological support and paying heed to the frontline workers’ pleas. The coalition comprises 49 societies of doctors, pharmacists, specialists, nurses, and related health professionals. MHC said in a statement that healthcare providers need proper nutrition, rest, and protective equipment and emphasized that their pleas on social media should be heard and urgently acted upon by the government.
Frontline workers have risked everything at hand to alleviate the misery imposed by the pandemic. If we do not pay attention to their pain points now and support them with available resources, the fight against COVID-19 won’t be considered as an equitable one. Frontliners need our support more than ever at this hour of unimaginable crisis. Channelizing the required funds and allied resources towards our frontliners’ all-round betterment will come as a beacon of hope for this fundamental defense line against COVD-19.