Tuesday, August 11

Are front-liners serving the nation being treated unfairly?

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JUST days ago our Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin described health personnel and other front-liners nationwide as “our national heroes”. He spoke about their invaluable and immense sacrifice for the nation and the risks they were taking by being on the front line of the pandemic.

He was speaking here not just of healthcare professionals like doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other healthcare workers, but also of the police, armed forces, food delivery drivers, supermarket workers, restaurant cooks, security guards, cleaners, garbage collectors, and many others who protect us and keep our nation functioning in this time of crisis.

Hence it was extremely painful to read the updated Taska guidelines/SOP from the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development (KPWKM) — ‘Panduan Pencegahan Penularan Covid-19 Pasca Perintah Kawalan Pergerakan Bagi Keselamatan Warga Taman Asuhan Kanak-Kanak (Taska)’.

In Appendix 12, Section 2.1.2 it reads, “Anak-anak front-liners adalah berisiko tinggi untuk mendapat jangkitan daripada ibu bapa mereka. Tempat yang paling selamat untuk anak-anak ini adalah penjagaan di rumah. Walau bagaimanapun, sekiranya anak-anak petugas front-liners dihantar ke Taska, mereka perlu diasingkan daripada anak-anak yang lain.”

[Children of front-liners are at high risk of being infected by their parents. The safest place for these children is to be cared for at home. However, if the children of front-liners are sent to Taska (childcare), they need to be separated from other children.”]

This SOP, revised May 22, was circulated by Welfare Ministry officers. We have confirmed with sources in the ministry that this is an official revised edition.

In essence, this statement is a ‘slap in the face’ for all the front-liners in the country. It communicates that yes we want your hard work, sacrifice, and the risk to your own health and that of your family, but we are not going to be there for your children. Your children are ‘contaminated’ and should be segregated, preferably not even welcome at a nursery or childcare centre.

The very individuals who desperately require childcare so that they can serve us at this critical time are being denied this. We wonder if the Ministry of Health (MoH) was consulted regarding such a policy decision?

It looks like front-liners will have to walk around like lepers of old with bells around their necks to warn everyone or shout out ‘unclean’.

That such a policy statement can come from KPWKM is of concern. This ministry should be protecting the rights of all children and their parents, not eroding them and sending a message of non-inclusion and segregation.

What message are we giving to the public at large about all front-liners? Are we to shun them in all contexts like outcasts? Such thinking can easily spread to other areas. It also speaks of the way we have treated our migrant workers, their families, and children recently, even after their service to our nation.

We appeal to the Prime Minister to please urgently rectify this unfair decision by KPWKM and bring back inclusion to our nursery and childcare centres. Front-liners will continue to serve the nation.   Please support our children and families and treat them with dignity.

This letter is signed by 250 paediatricians and supported by the Malaysian Paediatric Association.