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Critical illness patients in Malaysia face anxious wait as hospital resources diverted to COVID-19

Patients who have been battling life-threatening illnesses are caught between a rock and a hard place as their treatment is postponed to give priority to those infected with the coronavirus.

Critical illness patients in Malaysia face anxious wait as hospital resources diverted to COVID-19

Workers wearing protective suits clean the windows outside the COVID-19 ward at Kuala Lumpur Hospital on Apr 21, 2020. (Photo: Reuters/Lim Huey Teng)

KUALA LUMPUR: Noor Amalina Izzuah, 39, does not know how much more time she can spend with her six-year-old daughter. 

In an interview with CNA, the stage-four cancer patient said: "Every day is a battle ... I am just worried that if I keep pushing my luck, I might leave too soon."

She has been battling breast cancer since 2010 and relapsed after making a full recovery in 2013. Noor Amalina said her treatment has been postponed for 15 days, as priority is given to COVID-19 patients. 

“This time round, the cancer is more aggressive and has now spread to more parts of my body. With that being the case, I am often in pain, so every day sooner to my next treatment counts,” said the former events manager, whose physician is based in a public hospital.

The worldwide pandemic has put some patients who are dealing with life-threatening illnesses in a critical situation as healthcare resources have been stretched.

READ: ‘If not us, then who?’  Malaysian doctors overcome fear of infection in country’s battle against COVID-19

Noor Amalina is among those whose treatment has been postponed, amid increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Currently, more than two million people have been tested positive globally, while more than 170,000 have died.

A cancer treatment machine at a private Malaysian hospital. (File photo: Bernama)

Malaysia has more than 5,000 cases and over 90 deaths. The Health Ministry has indicated that there are sufficient resources to handle the pandemic. 

On top of this, the government has channelled additional funds to the Health Ministry to purchase equipment like ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical staff as well as to beef up manpower. 

Just like Noor Amalina, 29-year old cancer patient Navi Indran Pillai told CNA that her treatment at a private hospital had to be postponed as the facility was trying to manage the overwhelming situation at the moment.

“My treatment has been postponed for about a month.

“The treatment has been delayed due to this pandemic period, and so my doctor has advised me to take all the precautions in the meantime,” said the project management graduate.

READ: Malaysia left with 2 weeks worth of personal protective equipment for hospitals

Serdang Hospital in Malaysia. (File photo: Bernama)


Despite assurances by their physicians that the postponement period is within what is considered safe and reasonable, those interviewed by CNA said they can't help but feel anxious.

“It is giving me stress and anxiety. Cancer works in mysterious ways and whether it's creeping in and getting into my head, I do not know,” said Navi who was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013.

While she has recovered, Navi will need to continue treatment for the rest of her life to ensure she is able to keep the cancer at bay.

She is concerned about going to the hospital for appointments as COVID-19 is widely believed to be more lethal for people with pre-existing illnesses.

According to the World Health Organisation, there were 43,837 new cancer cases in 2018 alone with breast cancer being the most common type of cancer.

Cancer treatment in Malaysia. (File photo: Bernama)

Much like Navi, Lee Goh Cheong, a retired armed forces officer from Selangor, is worried over how his dialysis treatment at a government facility has been postponed for about a month. 

“If I die, I do not know who would take my grandson to school,” he said. The 67-year-old lives with his son and helps to care for his 4-year-old grandson.

His doctor had explained that going to a hospital at this point could be life-threatening for him.

READ: Malaysia studying ways to lower cancer treatment costs in private hospitals 

“I don’t want to die yet. Some days it is very painful ... I am very scared. 

“I know if I am regularly going for my dialysis, I will be able to live a little longer. I just want to take my grandson to school,” said Lee. 

According to the Malaysian Dialysis and Transplant Registry, there is an estimated 51,000 dialysis patients nationwide in 2020.

Dialysis treatment at a Malaysian hospital. (File photo: Bernama)


Despite the anxiety, the patients understand that the delay could be for the greater good.

“Don’t get me wrong. I am nothing close to the heroes on the frontline. But if my death means someone else could be saved, then why not?,” said Noor Amalina

"I have been battling this for 10 years. As much as I want to keep going, if God demands that I make way for someone else, then so be it. That would be my service to the country I guess."

A 12-year old leukemia patient from Malacca who only wanted to be known as Rahmat also told CNA that he was not afraid.

“My father is a doctor. He is fighting this (virus) with so many other doctors on the frontline every day. I know if he wanted to, I could be receiving treatment right now, but we all know that isn’t right, so I will wait.

“Because when we get over this and everyone is okay, we all will heal. It won’t be just me,” he said, adding that his treatment has been postponed by three weeks.

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Source: CNA/kd


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