WE are all vulnerable to the coronavirus, but some are more so than others. Although older persons make up about 11% of the Malaysian total population in 2020, six out of every 10 confirmed Covid-19 deaths are aged 60 years or older, the majority with underlying chronic conditions.
As the number of cases and fatalities is still growing, we will only know the true extent of the Covid-19 outbreak in our country many months later.
As the death toll from Covid-19 continues to climb, our government, business and civil society leaders must recognise that whatever solutions they come up with, both short- and long-term, must fully consider the facts and situation on the ground. This public health emergency can and will lead to economic collapse and humanitarian disaster if not handled comprehensively.
That said, there are tremendous opportunities in every crisis if we are willing to adapt and learn. During this pandemic, our healthcare, economic and social welfare systems are under severe strain and duress. As cracks begin to appear, the government must rapidly acknowledge these gaps or weaknesses and devise measures to overcome them.
The already precarious situation of vulnerable groups such as high-risk older populations in institutions and in the community, especially the elderly living alone, has received insufficient consideration. A common example in the early days of the movement control order (MCO) is the omission of care centres as an essential service under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Regulations 2020, thus affecting the operation of orphanages, old folks homes and mental health facilities.
With clarity provided by the Women and Family Development Ministry, many NGOs are now adhering to standard operating procedures (SOP) in delivering aid and assistance to the needy. These smart partnerships must be recognised, encouraged and supported.
At present, there is an urgent need to consider the many barriers faced by older people in obtaining food and other essential supplies during a lockdown, including replenishing medication and other routine care services such as wound management, dialysis or rehab treatments. We must bear in mind that a significant number of the elderly are illiterate, financially insecure and less tech-savvy.
With the closure of offices and workplaces, many older persons are now required to manage some transactions online or via self-service kiosks. While the procedures might be initially daunting, the elderly and members of the general public would benefit in the long run.
In the meantime, all efforts must be made to ensure that older persons and other disadvantaged groups are not left behind in these social distancing measures. Alternatives must be found for the less digitally connected segments of the population, and lockdown conditions must specifically address the concerns of marginalised communities such as the poor and the disabled.
The livelihood of daily wagers, petty traders, labourers and many others in the informal sector has to be given proper attention. We must not overlook the burden of family caregivers and strains of caring for the elderly with multiple morbidities under this unusual and disruptive environment.
We have an opportunity to lay down the foundations for a stronger social protection system that is more accessible, transparent and accountable. All parties, be it researchers, policymakers, physicians, social workers and volunteers, including the police and armed forces, must work together to contain the negative impacts of this Covid-19 pandemic.
Prudent use of power by the authorities must serve the ideal of fidelity to law. The undersigned parties hope to actively contribute to the capacity of the aged care sector in preventing and mitigating the impact of Covid-19 by improving the detection, prevention, response and control of the disease among older persons living in institutions and in the community.
While there are a lot of national and international resources available in the form of guidance and guidelines, none will implement itself without quick action and direct engagement with the relevant stakeholders. We need to cooperate with each other and put in place coherent health and social care responses that are evidence-based to balance rights against risks to older persons during this outbreak period and beyond.
Where necessary and needed, experts on gerontology and geriatrics should be included to translate knowledge into action, as well as to deliberate on strategies for the future of ageing in a post Covid-19 world.
The WHO Regional Director for Europe, Dr. Hans Henri Kluge, issued a statement on April 2 emphasising that “while older people are at highest risk from Covid-19, all of us, at all ages, need to act in solidarity to prevent the further community spread of the virus.” There is a need to “support all health and social care workers equally and giving special attention to those who provide nursing and social care services for older people”, and he reiterated that “supporting and protecting older people living alone in the community is everyone’s business”.
We hope that everyone can come together and focus on actions as well as reforms to keep our Sustainable Development Goal promises on ageing, older persons and the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. There is so much yet to be done collectively and we need to be inclusive for all in this fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Together, we will emerge from this crisis stronger.
This article was published by The Star on 8 April 2020
MALAYSIAN RESEARCH INSTITUTE ON AGEING (MyAgeing),
GERONTOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION OF MALAYSIA (GEM)
MALAYSIAN AGEING RESEARCH NETWORK (MARN)
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Date of Input: 08/04/2020 | Updated: 09/04/2020 | lizamdnor
Universiti Putra Malaysia
43400 UPM Serdang
Selangor Darul Ehsan