Photo for illustrative purposes only. Medical staff putting on personal protective gear at a hospital.

Islamic Finance

Malaysian crowdfunding platforms raise funds for hospital PPE


KUALA LUMPUR - The Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) has enlisted three homegrown crowdfunding platforms to raise money to supply frontline health workers with critical protective equipment and supplies.

MDEC normally supports the development of the local tech economy, but since March 25 has been encouraging start-ups to join an effort to support critical workers and struggling small businesses.

The latest crowdfunding move is an extension of MDEC’s #DigitalVsCovid campaign, which kicked off last week with 80 Malaysian tech companies offering their services to struggling SMEs on a pro-bono basis or at discounted rates while most of Malaysia is in lockdown.

“There needs to be a way for the tech community to fight the impact of COVID-19, and one of the most urgent needs is for the healthcare workers themselves to be protected as they help others,” Umar Munshi, founder of Global Sadaqah, one of the crowdfunding platforms chosen for the initiative, told Salaam Gateway.

Like its fellow Malaysian platforms in the MDEC campaign, PitchIn and SimplyGiving, Global Sadaqah has set a target of 50,000 ringgit  ($11,475) in donations for #DigitalVsCovid.

The money raised will be used to acquire supplies for health workers, including 200,000 protective suits, 2 million triple-ply face masks, 100,000 face visors and 20,000 space suits.

It will also go to paying for food and general supplies, along with other types of medical equipment, like ventilators.

Malaysia currently has the most COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia, and as the number of infections increases, medical equipment stocks are believed to have been feeling the strain.

On March 21, the Malaysian Medical Association called on the government to resolve a shortage of face masks and other protective equipment, an issue it had been highlighting since early February.

Top health officials responded by saying on March 23 that 33 million items were ready for distribution, to be distributed to all health facilities.

Nearly two weeks later, the government remains tight-lipped over suspected widespread shortages, even when receiving donations of equipment from overseas.

Accepting a highly publicised shipment of 100,000 virus test kits, 600,000 masks, 50,000 sets of personal protective equipment and 200 ventilators from China on March 28, there was no mention by Malaysian officials of any shortages or why the equipment was needed.

#DIGITALVSCOVID

Announcing the #DigitalVsCovid crowdfunding campaign today, MDEC chief executive Surina Shukri paid tribute to Malaysia’s frontline workers, calling them the “last line of defence to stop the spread of the virus”.

“We must do whatever we can to contribute and continue to support our medical and health professionals to save lives by supplying essential protective equipment that will enable them to protect themselves while carrying out their daily duties,” she said.

An Islamic crowdfunding platform more accustomed to working with corporate donors and large foundations, Global Sadaqah has focused on its retail side to bring in donations.

It has also, on its own initiative but within the #DigitalVsCovid campaign, reached out to other tech companies to offer their expertise. So far, 32 have responded to Global Sadaqah’s appeal, including its parent Ethis Ventures, halal gold trading app HelloGold and Islamic payment gateway Payhalal.

“What we are asking for is support in kind to promote this fundraising campaign and spread awareness,” said Umar.

“Each one will get their own people on board and then spread the message of what we are doing through blog posts, articles or banners on their websites. They will then promote the initiative to their user and social media base.”

Global Sadaqah is also hoping to use its B2B expertise to bring bigger corporations and Islamic banks onboard with the scheme, though this will take longer than for start-ups, he added.

FUNDS FOR ISLAMIC MEDICAL ASSOCIATION OF MALAYSIA

The funds raised will be sent to the Islamic Medical Association of Malaysia’s emergency response and relief team, IMARET, to secure and distribute the equipment needed by health workers.

PPE comprises items like a protective suit, or a gown that is used by some medics, as well as face covers and masks, gloves, aprons and shoe covers. Currently all hospitals are low in stocks of all of these, Ahmad Munawwar Helmi Salim, founder of IMARET, told Salaam Gateway.

“Currently medical centres are really low in stocks of all items of personal protective equipment [PPE]. Whatever we can get is still not enough, not just in the Klang Valley but all over the country,” said Ahmad Munawwar.

His organisation is staffed by doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers at hospitals and clinics across Malaysia.

The charity’s members work full-time at hospitals and clinics, said Ahmad Munawwar, who is normally a sports medicine doctor at Sungai Buloh hospital but is now working in its COVID-19 admissions department.

Then, after finishing their shifts on the front line, the volunteers assemble to work on IMARET’s relief effort.

A daily strategy meeting of some 20 IMARET doctors plans the charity’s response, which it organises through a WhatsApp group of about 40 members.

“What we have been doing since day one is a needs assessment at hospitals and healthcare centres, and we use this assessment to know what is needed and which hospitals need it the most,” Ahmad Munawwar said of the medical supplies it sources.

“Its quite challenging because we need to do this daily, not weekly, which would be much easier. The needs change every day based on the severity of the crisis.”

Malaysia, the world’s biggest medical glove producer, should have a relatively healthy supply of these items, but its industry body has warned of a chronic shortage as the country locks down and companies can only run a skeleton staff.

Other PPE, such as gowns and masks, are not produced in Malaysia and must be sourced from other COVID-19-struck countries like Turkey or China.

“We began sourcing PPE in the last two weeks, during which time there have been few stocks in the country. We have had to go as far as China to source it. We would be looking at Turkey but they are in lockdown too,” said Ahmad Munawwar.

“What we can find in Malaysia is very expensive because very little of it is locally manufactured.”

(Reporting by Richard Whitehead; Editing by Emmy Abdul Alim [email protected])

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COVID-19
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Richard Whitehead