Battling COVID-19: What hospital association heads in Asia have realized

How does the healthcare industry across Asia deal with COVID-19? Five hospital association heads from India, Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia, and Thailand discuss the challenges and realizations they have during the pandemic.

In a five-part webinar series, Dr Girdhar Gyani (Director General, Association of Healthcare Providers India), Dr Widyastuti Wibisana (Chair, International Relations, Indonesian Hospital Association), Dr Wasista Budiwaluyo (Vice-Chair, International Relations, Indonesian Hospital Association), Dr Wang-Jun Lee (Executive Chair and General Secretary for COVID Task Force, Korean Hospital Association), Dr Kuljit Singh (President, Association of Private Hospitals Malaysia), and Dr Pongpat Patanavanich (Adviser and Former President, The Private Hospital Association of Thailand) share what issues each country has faced, which directions their associations are headed, and what they think can be done in responding to the current health crisis.

Among such realizations, what stood out are three main difficulties – medical, economic, and sociological – arising from the sudden onset of COVID-19 and the vital role of cooperation between public and private institutions in battling the pandemic.

What made the crisis harder to tackle?

First, there are no adequate preparations made.

No one is fully prepared to handle this pandemic, not even the healthcare industry. Everyone was just trying their best to control the spread of the virus and achieve the fewest fatalities as possible.

Countries are scrambling to impose a lockdown although this in itself is difficult to implement, particularly in a country like Indonesia where 70% of the population works in the informal sector.

In Thailand, India, and Indonesia, kits and facilities are not enough to enable massive testing. Added do this is the alarming rate of infections of doctors and nurses who work in the frontlines, due to a short supply PPEs and N95 masks.

Despite the praise it has earned for its COVID-19 response, South Korea admits to being overwhelmed when the first cases from the Shincheonji Church Cluster appeared. Understandably, confusion and panic caused disorientation among citizens.

Second, front-liners and patients suffer stigmatization.

Unfortunate as it may seem, this pandemic has introduced a new social stigma for COVID-19 front-liners and patients. We could blame it on either lack of awareness about the virus or its unannounced arrival. Even so, this makes it more difficult for healthcare professionals to achieve social trust and authority.

Thankfully, some institutions, like the PERSI Indonesian Hospital Association, have stepped up to lessen the stigma through social education. Yet, ending this stigma toward health workers and survivors is still a long way ahead.

Third, private hospitals worry about cash flow.

Private hospitals’ cash flow take the hardest blow during this pandemic despite having more patients in need of treatment. Take for example India’s case wherein elective surgeries have been stopped to make way for COVID-19 patients. In Malaysia, elective surgeries are still being done but hospitals face doubled expenses since all patients have to be tested for COVID-19. In Thailand, medical tourism has slowed down, therefore threatening the employment of thousands of health professionals.

Besides, people hesitate to visit hospitals because of the existing stigma related to the virus as well as their financial woes. They worry that expenses incurred for treatment in private hospitals will not be shouldered by the government.

What is left to be done?

There is no question that COVID-19 stirred our otherwise normal lives. However, there is still a way to turn things around. From what transpired in the webinar, cooperation between private hospitals and the government can help us win the fight against this pandemic.

Let us take it from South Korea’s victory in flattening the infection curve. The Korean Hospital Association works together with the government through giving suggestions to revise certain policies, such as the focus on triage, treatment based on the severity of symptoms, and swift containment of the virus.

The Association of Healthcare Providers India also works with the government through handling press-related matters. In Thailand, COVID-19 patients receive free treatment in both public and private hospitals. Lastly, the Association of Private Hospitals in Malaysia has loaned 70 functioning ventilators to public hospitals.

A sense of cooperation forged between the government and private institutions, such as the above instances, paves the way for a better response to this crisis. After all, this outbreak affects all sectors.

In case you missed it, below are the links to the webinar’s episodes.

Episode 1Dr Kuljit Singh

Episode 2Dr Wang Jun-lee

Episode 3Dr Girdhar Gyani

Episode 4 – Dr Pongpat Patanavanich

Episode 5Dr Widyastuti Wibisana

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