2020•07•24 Kuala Lumpur
20 July 2020
by Vivek Jason Jayaraj (DrPH candidate on academic attachment at UNU-IIGH)
Dr Lo Ying-Ru (Head of Mission and WHO Representative to Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam and ingapore), Professor Datuk Dr A Rahman A Jamal (Head of Taskforce for MOSTI-MOHE COVID-19 Testing Laboratories, Malaysia) and Professor Michael Baker (Department of Public Health, University of Ottago, New Zealand) were the panellists of the session ‘Lessons Learnt from Successful Models in Controlling the Spread of COVID-19 Pandemic’, moderated by Dr Claudia Abreu Lopes (Research Fellow, UNU-IGH).
The objective of this session was to reflect on the important lessons from the pandemic containment with a focus on Southeast Asia and Australasia. Below are the main lessons framed by the questions asked to the panellists:
The impact of trace, test and treat strategy has been crucial and it was described as the backbone of the global response. Critical to this has been fortification of laboratory capacity and reagent supply chains. However, the most successful models have also exhibited great synergism between trace, test and treat coupled with timely distancing measures, the use of masks and respiratory hygiene. Imbibing these lessons into the control models that already existed in the region, have allowed more rapid control of COVID-19 within the Eastern hemisphere. The degree and timeliness of implementation of these measures have been a deciding factor to contain COVID-19 spread.
The shared narrative underlines the importance of traditional control mechanisms implemented effectively. Digital solutions are also an important element of successful strategies. Leveraging technologies such as mobile phones for contact tracing and patient monitoring bring gains in terms of the coverage and rapid feedback. Nevertheless, in the present these solutions remain restricted to certain countries or populations due to concerns of data privacy and responsible sharing.
The panellists have also highlighted equity as a central consideration within pandemic control. Ensuring marginalised communities are not left out, following the example of New Zealand using ethnicity data, and the focus on migrant communities in Singapore and Malaysia, is a key component in ensuring homogenous low community transmission.
The panel also raised the importance of community cohesion, particularly of building social trust utilising highly effective narratives of national cohesion in battling the epidemic. These include catchphrases such as “a team of 5-million people” in New Zealand or calls to action such as “together we will win this” in Malaysia. These are further enhanced using effective risk communications such as the alert levels system used in New Zealand or the area-based geographic classification of risk by colours in Malaysia. These simple modalities proved to be effective in communicating the level of risk and in doing so enhancing compliance within different areas.
Leading from the importance of community engagement, as the panel provided a reconnoiter of the global models of control, it became increasingly clear that success shared a common denominator, that is the role of effective leadership coupled with good governance. Despite differing approaches, regional success stories underscore effective leadership, high levels of political will and inter-agency collaboration. Messaging surrounding these leaders are coherent, transparent and inspire confidence and this has proven to be crucial.
The successful models being discussed, especially those within the region appear to suggest high alignment between scientific evidence and political leadership. Unsurprisingly, the line between effective control and its ineffective alternative is drawn on following good scientific advice.
As devastating as COVID-19 has been globally, the pandemic has shown as an opportunity to build a different world. These lessons have shown that we can work together to create a cleaner and greener future without forgetting economic growth. The need for global leadership is more critical than ever, and the World Health Organisation must ensure the acceleration of progress to achieve shared global objectives.
The views expressed in this post are those of the author and may not reflect those of UNU-IIGH.