The False ‘No’

By Dr. Fazilah Shaik Allaudin, Malaysia, May 2020

Across the globe, we are all living through an unprecedented experience of our lifetimes, namely the immense anxiety and uncertainty caused by the fear of a new virus. Experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic unfold daily these last 16 weeks has got me reflecting.

I have been in my medical and healthcare career for almost 30 years now, but this COVID-19 episode overshadows it all. My new occupational experiences are flowing at warp-speed. All the management concepts we’ve spoken about for decades are now being implemented in a matter of days, no longer months or years.

Whole-of-Government and Whole-of-Society have been mentioned in recent years, but today, the COVID-19 response is witnessing almost seamlessly inter-ministry and inter-agency collaboration. The national COVID-19 response front liners are not only healthcare staff and workers, but also include others like the Royal Malaysian Police, Malaysian Armed Forces, Civil Defence Force, various other agencies and volunteers. The amount of CSR and volunteerism was amazing during this period. In the early phase during significant supply chain disruption, the coming together of volunteers to produce PPEs for the front liners was overwhelming. Government’s effort will not be effective without the support and cooperation from the private sector, industry leaders, academia, civil society, community, families and individuals. It is possible, after all.

With the pandemic having such a vast social and economic impact, it now seems the right time to drive Health in All Policies, HiAP, the drive to put health at the heart of government. HiAP is an approach to include health considerations across all sectors to improve population health and health equity. COVID-19 has proven that health and wellbeing are influenced by many non-health factors including housing, water and sanitation, living and working conditions, employment, education, agriculture and food production. Just how would the post-pandemic socio-economic policies be like? Loaded with health agendas, I should hope so. The window of opportunity is wide open.

The term VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) was introduced in early 2000 and was alien then. This trendy acronym later became popular in explaining the 4th industrial revolution. But we have never seen as VUCA a world as what we are witnessing today. Post-COVID, can we build a VUCA-ready business architecture for our organizations?

This crisis offers a unique opportunity to accelerate digital transformation, although it actually feels more like a digital- tsunami flooding into our work and lives.  Virtual engagement and virtual work-space have become the norm. Systems implementation and solutions are going live at record speed. Work from Home is practically possible after all with a little technology. Service beyond walls is not a myth. A virtual clinic is completely acceptable today. Digital connectivity has become apparent in almost every aspect of life. COVID-19 has accelerated our adapting and adoption of attitude and policies to enable the business of work. All roadblocks can be removed. It’s a function of how strongly we want to. Let’s ride this wave to reimagine and redesign healthcare delivery.

With rapidly expanding knowledge and emerging scientific data, policies and guidelines are being revised and updated regularly. Within five months, we have come to the 6th version of our national Management Guideline for COVID-19. We are living the playbook on agile policymaking. Aside from Divine scripture, nothing is ever really cast in stone.  Rigidity is no more an option.

Every day we hear the phrase stay at home as it is the safest place. A man’s home is his castle is so true for many of us. While we lockdown at home, there are many without one. Some of us are also trapped in cycles of violence, abuse or neglect in unhappy homes. They are tested the most.

In the past, the thick wall of the castle was the shield against the enemy. The moat surrounding the castle was the first line of defence, the physical distancing. Today, we must replace that wall with a mask and the moat, with a distancing radius. The metaphor of the castle carries on.

COVID-19 brought unity and solidarity amongst public health, medical and scientific communities from across the world to fight the spread of the pandemic. No war or famine or even another disease had brought all of us together in the past like this. The phrase Leaving No One Behind seems to characterize this pandemic; everyone has been touched- rich to poor, old and young, rural and urban, all races, all religions, all nations.

The lockdowns have made me realize how precious freedom is. Freedom is no longer a right, nor a privilege but a huge responsibility. I have come to discover most things in government are possible. It has been a false no all this while. It took a little virus to expose this truth.