Cover Tengku Zatashah Idris, Dr Noor Hisham and Dato’ Dr Ahmad Faizal Perdaus

Throughout our communities, powerful voices are using their influence to bring hope through their actions, their ideas and their examples

A Calming Presence

As the Health director-general, Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah has been leading the charge in trying to contain the Covid-19 outbreak in Malaysia, which announced its first cases on January 25. In his daily briefings to update the nation, as well as prompt updates via his Facebook and Twitter accounts, the doctor displays transparency, clear communication and uses facts as his main tools to allay the public’s fear and panic. It is for this very reason that he has been named one of the “top doctors” in the world by China Global TV Network, alongside America’s Dr Anthony Fauci and New Zealand’s Ashley Bloomfield, for being a trusted and reliable sources of information during this trying time.

Holding a master’s degree in surgery from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Dr Noor Hisham is the head and senior consultant breast and endocrine surgeon in Putrajaya Hospital and has published numerous articles in both local and international journals.

He has been called a “national hero” online, but he brushes this aside by responding: “It is not about me. What is important at the moment is what we can do together as one for the nation to break the chain of the Covid-19 transmission.” Going by the approach of “expecting the worst, hoping for the best”, the call to have the Movement Control Order (MCO) starting from March 18 was done to help “flatten the curve”. After more than four weeks of the MCO, the number of new cases finally dipped down to two digits, after seeing an average daily number of 100-200 new cases over the past weeks.

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The Health Ministry is presently working with the World Health Organisation on researching a viable vaccine against Covid-19. However, Dr Noor Hisham said that it will take a year or more before the vaccine is made available. “What is important is that Malaysia is included as part of a global research effort launched by WHO to start drug trials for Covid-19,” he said during a press conference. The trial he was referring to is called ‘Solidarity’, and Malaysia was among the selected countries as it fulfilled all the criteria such as having a good medical system, well-trained local researchers and a suitable platform to conduct the tests. - by Elizabeth Soong

Small Mercies

Kosovo war, 1999. Pakistan earthquake, 2005. Taal volcano eruption, 2018. Kelantan flood disaster, 2014. For 20 years, Mercy Malaysia has been in the thick of these crises, plus many more. Naturally, it gave its aid to the Covid-19 pandemic crisis by deploying an emergency response team, setting up mobile clinics, distributing hygiene kits as well as provision of essentials such as food, face masks, hand sanitisers and PPE suits.

“We know for a fact that the Covid-19 will go down in history as one of the biggest medical crises affecting mankind. The country, in fact the whole world, is facing unprecedented changes and challenges that require massive resources,” states Dato’ Dr Ahmad Faizal Perdaus, president of Mercy Malaysia who also heads the Pandemic Preparedness Cluster in the National Disaster Management Agency.

With the virus’s contagious nature, it was not certain that volunteers were willing to risk their safety to lend their aid. However, Said Alhuzairi, general manager of Programme Development & Operations, shares that many were eager to volunteer. “Some have been at the forefront of the response and seeing patients for the past three weeks yet they still offered to continue. Our volunteers come from all walks of life including those I know that may be losing their business or job due to the MCO and pandemic, but that never came into our discussion; it’s always ‘what’s next for the operations’. That inspires me to always be on top of things and to always be one step ahead.”

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One of the volunteers happens to be Faisal Ariff, founder-CEO of BorderPass and also a Gen.T honouree. When asked how many pieces of PPE does he sew in a day, he responds: “We try to break down the process into bite-size pieces. Unfurling 2ft thick material and cutting it into 15m sheets might take a day for three people. The next day we cut those sheets based on a head cover cardboard shape. While those things get stitched up we use the leftover to make shoe covers. The batch we make at the Klang District Health Centre will probably be used in the local area.

“We’re still collating the figures but being first-timers and cutting materials by hand, we know we are slow. District Health Centres and prisons have started doing this because costs have been spiralling. Since the crisis started face sheets have gone up from RM3 to RM16.80. The District Health Centre can make them for RM1.80 each if they made it themselves. Shoe covers have gone from RM1.20 to RM11. Insulation gowns RM6.70 to RM43 now. Tyvek suits have increased from RM24 to RM135. All these items are single-use. Malaysia is competing with the rest of the world for the same supply. Cost is one issue, speed and volume are also a challenge.”

With the MCO being extended, Mercy Malaysia also recognises the need for mental health support. Therefore Mercy’s Mental Health & Psychosocial Support team has been mobilised to provide emotional assistance or simply a listening ear through a Covid-19 hotline. They also have Facebook live-streaming every night at 9pm discussing diverse related topics.

See also: Mental Health & Reducing Anxiety From Social Distancing

“There are various reasons for people to call. We even received calls from Malaysians residing overseas who are worried about what to expect upon their return home,”  says consultant psychologist Dr Hariyati Shahrima Abdul Majid who heads the Mental Health and Psychosocial team at Mercy Malaysia. “The hotline makes people feel that they have a safe space for them to share their worries and fears, about a wide range of issues, from Covid-19-related symptoms to losing their livelihoods to having lost loved ones to the disease. If our callers need extra support in terms of food, medication and other services, the team will link with the relevant government agencies and also NGOs.”

Said Alhuzairi shares his outlook: “The pandemic begins with us, and will be ended by us as well. The crisis has brought out the best in any of us as a community. This should not just stop here as there is more work to be done. It is not just about Malaysia because as long as the virus exists anywhere in the world, there is still potential that it can affect our nation again.” - by Elizabeth Soong

Related: These Big-Hearted Individuals & Organisations In Malaysia Are Doing Their Part To Help Fight Covid-19

Feeding The Hungry

Truly a princess who cares for her people, Tengku Zatashah Idris is a regular volunteer at Kechara Soup Kitchen, on top of being on the board of trustees at the Food Bank Malaysia Foundation. She is also renowned for her social initiatives, having founded #zerofoodwastage.

“Our main goal was to continue getting food to vulnerable communities during the MCO,” she states. “It has proven tough, as the restrictions meant putting a halt in distributing food and supplies for some time." Understanding the extra care needed to be taken now, Kechara Soup Kitchen revised their operations to incorporate distancing, protective gear and sanitisers.

“I’ve been helping from afar by getting funding and approvals from the relevant parties,” says Tengku Zatashah, adding that she managed to get the approval of the Federal Territories ministry to ensure that Kechara Soup Kitchen could carry on its noble duty. Food Bank Malaysia then does its part by providing food for students in higher learning institutions across the nation.

“Despite the challenges, there's a silver lining,” she remarks. “I was touched as several corporate sponsors and individuals reached out to help.” The donors contributed monetarily and provided health equipment.

“Touch 'n Go eWallet has even created a QR code which makes donating to Kechara Soup Kitchen easier, and the city council, DBKL, gathered the homeless and tested them for Covid-19 before placing them in shelters with basic necessities,” she shares. - by Aaron Pereira

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