Brunei reaffirms commitment in combatting COVID-19

James Kon

Brunei Darussalam’s strategies and approaches in successfully containing the COVID-19 out break through enhanced surveillance, testing and effective community engagement strategy were shared by Minister of Health Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohammad Isham bin Haji Jaafar in his video statement during the virtual 73rd World Health Assembly on Monday.

Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohammad Isham said, ”On behalf of the Government of Brunei Darussalam, I wish to extend our sympathy to all who have lost loved ones and express our solidarity with those affected by COVID-19 and the healthcare workers and frontliners who work tirelessly to combat this crisis.”

Since the start of the outbreak in the country, the minister said, “We have detected 141 cases, and reported one death. Thankfully, through a careful programme of testing, isolation, contact tracing and treatment, we have managed to control our first few clusters.”

While the battle is not over yet, the minister shared two lessons in Brunei’s experience in responding to COVID-19.

Firstly, he highlighted the importance of enhanced surveillance and testing. We are an early adopter of testing in the absence of symptoms and we also conduct random sampling in community health centres, and among the foreign worker population.

“Our test-per-capita ratio is among the world’s highest and we believe that containment efforts have been crucial in preventing widespread community transmission.”

Minister of Health Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohammad Isham bin Haji Jaafar and officials attend the virtual 73rd World Health Assembly. PHOTO: MOH

Secondly, the minister said, “We employ an effective community engagement strategy with daily press conferences, a dedicated 24-hour hotline for public inquiries, and a self-screening mobile application integrated with artificial intelligence and data analytic capabilities.

“Civic society also plays a key role in the grassroots movement that sparked a surge in volunteerism and community advocacy.”

With an emphasis on containment along with community engagement, Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohammad Isham said, “This has allowed us to control the disease, without resorting to wholescale ‘lockdowns’. Although we have implemented some level of moderate physical distancing, public services and businesses remain open and no movement restrictions within the country have been imposed.”

He added, “The combination of targetted approaches can be a useful way forward in the months ahead. Adopting a phased approach to de-escalation and leveraging technology for swift contact tracing, could be a viable strategy to sustain the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The minister also stressed that Brunei Darussalam stand ready to work with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the global health community in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 73rd World Health Assembly was attended by health ministers and representatives of 194 member countries of WHO with the aim to focus on global preparedness and response on COVID-19 pandemic and to make sure the continuous operation of global health administration under the WHO with the appointment of new Executive Board members.

The global meeting was chaired by President of the Health Assembly Keva Bain of Bahamas.

Director-General of WHO Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the focus on response and strategies are needed in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and reminded member countries not to ignore other health issues while in the efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 and to further strengthen actions towards achieving universal health coverage.

With the virtual 73rd World Health Assembly, WHO members countries were shared information and experience in coordination, cooperation and direction in curbing the spread of COVID-19 on a global scale in line with the Constitution of the WHO.

“It also provided a collective opportunity to address the themes of security, solidarity, and resiliency, among others by commemorating and acknowledging the significant contributions made by all parties around the world, in particular the global health workforce.”