Media statement by Member of Parliament of Batu Kawan and International Secretary for Wanita DAP Kasthuri Patto on Monday 17th May 2021 in Penang:
The Minister of Women, Family and Community Development must take the closure of old folks’ homes in Penang due to COVID-19 seriously and tell us what the contingency plan is for vaccinating senior citizens in old folks homes.
A viral video message by Muntoh Fong, Secretary of the Association for Residential Aged Care Operators of Malaysia on the need to expedite vaccination for senior citizens in old folks homes is a cry for help and of answers after 3 senior citizen homes were forced to close due to 39 COVID-19 positive cases, affecting more than 200 – amongst residents and staff.
While there is great pressure on answers from the Minister of Health on efforts to speed up vaccination drives, the Minister for Women, Family and Community Development must not be let off the hook as all matters concerning homes for senior citizens are under this ministry.
Two days that the subject of the aged folks in old folks homes and the delay in vaccination, and not a statement by the Minister nor her Deputy yet.
In March 2021, Rina Harun made a statement to encourage homes for senior citizens to register residents and their caretakers to be vaccinated. However, according to Muntoh Fong, this has already been done but there has been no update yet.
Rina Harun must step up and perform her duties in this extraordinary time where COVID-19 is ravaging our society and take heed of increasing numbers of positive cases and deaths amongst the aging community and not take the easy way out and portray herself as a caring person delivering Aidilfitri goodies as a Food Panda rider.
Early last year, as the virus raged in Europe, countries like Italy, France, Spain and Britain had to endure a painstaking, arduous task in managing the piling numbers of deceased senior folks in these homes. Deceased senior citizens lay in body bags for days before they were removed. Lack of protective equipment for caregivers, lack of communication between the hospital authorities and the nursing homes, lack of transparency with actual data of infected persons and deaths, lack of logistics to transport senior citizens to healthcare facilities to be quarantined and treated and the list goes on.
Dark, morbid and full of pain of losing a loved one to this virus – but we had a chance to look at what happened in our sister nations and had the time to immediately strategise, plan and work on preventive measures so Malaysia does not suffer the same fate. Did we not learn anything from them? Did the Government not strategise on the likelihood of old folks homes being the next casualty of the virus?
The Wall Street Journal report in November 2020, stated that people over the age of 60 make up more than 9 in 10 deaths, more men than women – an observation that was made on cases in August 2020. These numbers appear very similar to the mortality rates amongst the senior folks in the first disastrous wave sweeping over Europe.
The World Economic Forum also reported last year that according to Worldometers data, Italy had registered 65,011 COVID-19 fatalities since February 2020, against 64,170 in Britain, 57,911 in France and 47,624 in Spain – three other European nations badly battered by the disease. On a per capita basis, Italy lied 37th in the world for number of cases, but 4th when it comes to deaths, and most of them were over the age of 60.
The onus is not only on the Ministry of Health or the Director General for Health but on collective responsibilities of all ministries involved when isolated cases crop up, like in this case, in old folks homes which would need more than one ministry to manage.
As the Minister and Deputy helming one of the biggest ministries in the country, Rina Harun and Siri Zailah must take the closure of the old folks homes in Penang due to COVID-19 seriously and they must provide Malaysians who have parents or loved ones in old folks homes as well as the operators, on the next plan to vaccinate them, being the most vulnerable in our society.
Malaysia must never have to experience the pain and anguish faced by Italy, France, Spain, Britain or even India now with deaths amongst the aging community, and especially in retirement homes. We offer our heartfelt condolences to them, our aging folks who perished from the virus, but we must vow to do better, to rise above ourselves and to utilize all resources so we can move in the right direction together, and leave no one behind as we speed up our vaccination drives.
Malaysians must know what the vaccination contingency for nursing homes or old folks homes is and when will it kick-off.
Member of Parliament for Batu Kawan
International Secretary for Wanita DAP