Because Leadership Matters, Malaysia’s Health DG is Among the ‘Doctors at the Top’

It has been very obvious that leadership plays a significant role in managing the pandemic. This is noticeable both in the political response and medical handling of the crisis. In this regard, the example of Malaysia is one that has been globally recognised and highly acknowledged. The country’s Health Director-General Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah was named as one of the ‘doctors at the top’ in a report by the China Global Television Network (CGTN). The network also listed Dr Anthony Fauci, the American infectious disease expert, and Dr Ashley Bloomfield, New Zealand's health Director-General.

The CGNT’s report comes in light of the heaps of praise the three healthcare experts have been receiving over the past weeks. "Amid an unprecedented global pandemic and as governments worldwide have sometimes been slow to react, introducing confusing measures and sending contradictory messages, Dr Fauci, Dr Bloomfield and Dr Noor Hisham have become voices of reason and sources of calm and reassurance," wrote the CGTN. The recognition of Dr Noor Hisham actually goes beyond his personal attributes and hard work in the struggle to fight against COVID-19. It tells a lot about Malaysia’s good governance and advanced healthcare system.

Let us have a look at how Dr Noor Hisham has been leading the battle against the novel coronavirus since it first arrived at Malaysia on 24 January 2020 and how the health ministry’s response progressed since then. The ministry boosted its activities to educate the public about the safety measure they should be following to protect themselves from the virus. Until the first of March, the country with over 32 million inhabitants had only 29 confirmed COVID-19 cases, but only seven of them were in treatment after 22 of the patients had already recovered.


Little known to Malaysians before this, Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah is now a "trusted face" in the country as he relies on facts and figures to make decisions and to inform the public amid the crisis.


However, when the number of cases started to escalate during the second week of March for people who attended a mass gathering of more than 10,000 worshipers at a mosque in Kuala Lumpur. Following that incident, the Ministry of Health intensified its operations to trace and test those who participated in that gathering. It also advised the government to effectuate rules and measures for social distancing by restricting people’s movement to curb the spread of the virus. As a result, the newly appointed Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, announced the Movement Control Order will be enforced on 18 March.

Dr Hisham, who has a Master’s in Surgery and Medical degree from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, joined the civil service as a medical officer way back in August 1988. He went on to specialise in endocrine surgery and did his training in various universities in Adelaide and Sydney, Australia. He has published in many local and international journals and written textbook chapters on endocrine surgery. He has been the director-general since 2013, and his response to being called a hero was: “It’s not about me. It’s about what we can do together as one for the Covid-19 situation.”

Although the number of COVID-19 patients surged during the second half of March, the spread of the virus started to slow down and the rate of recovery reached 52.2% on the day the CGTN published its report, which was more than double the global recovery rate 24.5% on the same day. The fatality rate in Malaysia is 1.6% which is significantly lower than the global rate of about 6.5%. These figures, again, speaks of the effective governmental response and quality medical services of a country that is classified as a developing country, while many of the advanced and highly developed countries failed to contain the pandemic.

Malaysia was one of the first countries to report COVID-19 infections. It recorded the first case on 24 January 2020 and like every other country around the world, Malaysia has been facing numerous troubles caused by the coronavirus outbreak which was declared by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a pandemic on 11 March. What differentiates Malaysia, though, is the country’s ability to manage the impact of the outbreak and slow down its spread. This could not be achieved without the dedication and compliance of everyone to the safety measures set by the government.