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In late 2019, when the coronavirus spread to every nook and corner of the world and held us ransom in the physical world, we had to comply and rely on a virtual world of mobile management.
In Malaysia, right from the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, we were guided by a digital mobile app, MySejahtera which helped trace, monitor, and enable a seamless world-class vaccination process.
We did not raise issues on digital privacy and data ownership, or even question if there was a better app than My Sejahtera, because at that time, our health trumped any other concerns.
The app made it easy to scan our phone within a second, instead of standing behind a long queue to scribble our personal details in a public logbook. We also did not have to wait for a labour-intensive and time-consuming follow-up where important information could have been lost manually.
No one dared to temporarily halt this mechanism, not even long enough to assess its parts, fix it, or look for a better engine platform.
However, as we open our borders and approach endemicity, the very politicians who have violated global social distancing guidelines with unnecessary state elections, have depicted the app as a dystopian surveillance nightmare.
Other “hindsight Einsteins” had the courage to announce that they would have built a more intelligent mobile app at a much lower cost. Where were these experts at the onset of the pandemic?
When the pandemic hit Malaysia, our nation was plunged into a week of political crisis, following the unexpected resignation of Dr Mahathir Mohamad as prime minister on February 24, 2020.
After a weeklong political manipulation, during which Muhyiddin Yassin took over as prime minister. The first lockdown was imposed on March 18, 2020 in a move to manage the pandemic
On April 20, 2020, MySejahtera was launched by the Ministry of Health (MOH) under former health minister Dr Adham Baba. This app was initially being developed for “a proposed dengue contact tracing project”.
However, with the foresight of the MOH team and the app developers, it was pivoted as an application for Covid-19 self-health evaluation and reprogrammed as the national app for digital contact tracing.
Dr Mahesh Appannan, who leads the digital health team for Covid-19 management. said that MOH received 11 proposals from various companies on digital solutions, but they eventually settled on MySejahtera.
Later. the app was enhanced to include vaccination scheduling, digital traveller home surveillance. and quarantine centre modules.
When Khairy Jamaluddin became health minister in August 2021, he told the cabinet that MySejahtera, which serviced about 24.5 million registered users, cannot work on a corporate social responsibility (CSR) basis forever.
“So far, we have not paid anything for this app. The matter was brought up to the cabinet. Negotiations are going on for a contract to be signed between the government and the company operating this platform,” Khairy answered queries raised on payments made for the MySejahtera app.
Currently, the app is managed under a new entity, MYSJ Sdn Bhd, for the sole purpose of managing the application under MOH.
With regard to data ownership, Khairy assured that: “MOH owns it now and will remain the sole custodian for the data which is saved at AIMS Data Centre in Kuala Lumpur. All data will be kept secured under the National Cyber Security Agency, the National Security Council and the Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Planning Unit.”
All over the world, no response to the Covid-19 has been completely perfect, but we cannot afford to drop our guard.
Hong Kong, which once led the way in containing Covid-19, is now being hit by a fifth wave, and recently had the highest death rate per capita in the world. There were severe criticisms against Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, for mishandling the pandemic.
At the end of the day, no clever stand-alone technology could ever bring us this close to endemicity. We have to thank the efficient management of at least a million people here — app developers, frontline health workers, volunteers, and the MOH team — all of whom were working around the clock during the pandemic.
We should reflect and think about the costs and consequences for all of us if this overworked system had crashed midway through the vaccination process.
Though the rakyat did not pay a cent for using the app or for being fully vaccinated, I believe the cost of saving human lives during the pandemic is priceless, in whatever form the help may have come.
Vasanthi Ramachandran is an author and columnist.
- This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.
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