Note: facts and figures are correct at time of broadcast. Please refer to the Ministry of Health Malaysia website for the latest information.
Agenda Awani in collaboration with the Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM) engaged ASM Fellows to show how science and technology plays a role in Malaysia’s fight against COVID-19.
Hosted by Mr Kamarul Bahrin Haron, the show featured ASM Fellows Professor Dato’ Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman FASc, Professor Datuk Dr Awg Bulgiba Bin Awg Mahmud FASc and Professor Dr Mahendhiran Nair FASc.
Professor Dato’ Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman FASc
ASM Fellow and Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya
Prefacing the session, Prof Adeeba noted that Pusat Perubatan Universiti Malaya (PPUM) is among the 26 front-liner hospitals that are dealing with COVID-19. PPUM is currently treating 40 COVID-19 patients, five of which are placed in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).
Prof Adeeba stated that COVID-19 is very different from other diseases that she has faced before, such as the Nipah virus, HIV-AIDS, and H1N1. She noted that the SARS-CoV-2 virus (the virus that causes COVID-19) is highly contagious and easily transmitted to other patients as well as medical personnel.
Prof Adeeba provided a brief introduction to polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, a common method of diagnosing COVID-19 in patients. A PCR test is carried out with throat swabs that will identify the presence of virus throat and nasopharyngeal area. Another test thatcan be used is the antibody test which tests for the presence of antibodies against SARS-CoV-2. This test will identify whether that person carries the virus but will not identify when the person is infected.
Prof Adeeba elaborated on how South Korea and Singapore succeeded in containing the COVID-19 outbreak. One reason is the active use of technology in contact tracing and surveillance. These countries require existing patients in quarantine to report to the central government to ensure that they are complying to their quarantine period. In Malaysia, manual contact tracing is still the main method of contact tracing, which could be difficult and time-consuming. That said, she applauded the personnel in district health centres who are carrying out this difficult and time-consuming procedure.
Prof Adeeba clarified that most infected patients are not always asymptomatic; they may have fever, sore throat, dry cough, and also fatigue. But within the 1-2 days before their symptoms appear, they are very contagious. Having said symptoms does not make detection easier; the similarities between COVID-19 symptoms and symptoms of the common cold makes it harder to identify people affected by COVID-19.
Viewing the highly contagious nature of COVID-19, Prof Adeeba stressed on the importance of swit testing and isolation procedure. However, this is almost impossible to carry out manually. With technology, specific hotspots of the COVID-19 outbreak can be identified so that the necessary interventions can be carried out.
Prof Adeeba confirmed that the Ministry of Health Malaysia (KKM) has accepted the recommendations of Director Tedros (World Health Organisation) by carrying out more tests in the weeks to come, to continue controlling the spread of the disease.
Professor Datuk Dr Awg Bulgiba Bin Awg Mahmud FASc
ASM Secretary General, Council Member for the Academy of Medicine Malaysia, and President of Asia-Pacific Academic Consortium for Public Health-Kuala Lumpur (APACPH-KL)
According to Prof Awg Bulgiba, COVID-19 cases are increasing exponentially. It must be noted that some COVID-19 patients are asymptomatic, making epidemiological control measures much more difficult compared to during the SARS outbreak. Patients may have already transmitted the disease to others before showing symptoms, making controlling the disease difficult.
The number of positive cases that were reported were those whose samples have been taken and sent for laboratory testing; more worrying is the possible number of people who have not shown any symptoms but have already transmitted the disease. This is why social distancing and the movement control order (MCO) is put in place to limit the spread of the disease.
Prof Awg Bulgiba stated that Malaysia has the opportunity to flatten the curve to ensure the disease’s transmission rate is lowered, hence enabling the Malaysian healthcare facilities to cope with the patient load and improving the chances of treating patients.