The noble cause

Dr. Zaliha Mustafa calls for civic participation to address the pandemic
Wonder Women Ep 5

Malaysia now has more Covid-19 cases per million people than India.

On 25 May, Malaysia reported 205.1 cases per million people on a seven-day rolling basis, compared with India’s 150.4 cases. Also, to date, only 3.1% of the population is fully vaccinated. A far cry from 70 to 75 percent rate necessary to achieve herd immunity.

Dr. Zaliha Mustafa, a medical doctor from Malaysia, reported these numbers in the fifth episode of Wonder Women on 27 May 2021. Dr. Zaliha is twice a front liner: as someone who runs her own clinic in her hometown in Kulai, Johor; and as Head of Strategy in the Johor State Executive Council, helping organize efforts to contain the coronavirus.

A reformist

Dr. Zaliha is the eldest of eight children. She shared that her father was a common laborer and her mother was illiterate, and while her family was not desolately poor, they struggled financially. She witnessed how her parents would borrow money from relatives to cover their basic needs. This shaped her commitment to change her own and her family’s course, making sure that she entered a profession that was prestigious, but most especially noble.

She became a medical doctor, and initially worked in government hospitals. This was her first exposure to public service. This was until a political crisis shook Malaysia in 1998. Then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad, who was in the midst of charges of corruption and cronyism, sacked his deputy Anwar Ibrahim. This triggered the Reformasi movement, a call for political and social transformation. Dr. Zaliha, the reformist that she is, joined the cause.

She embraced another profession, similarly prestigious, but many people would question if it is equally noble. Dr. Zaliha entered the world of politics.

Wonder Women Ep 5
"If I get sick, I would want Dr. Zaliha to attend to me because I know that I would be in good hands," said Vera Putri of FNF Malaysia.

Leadership by example

Dr. Zaliha is currently an Executive Member of the Supreme Council, and Head of Policy, Strategy, and Training Bureau of the National Women Council of the People’s Justice Party (PKR), a centrist multiracial political party in Malaysia. She works closely with Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, the first female Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, and the first president of PKR. When asked about women’s unique leadership traits, Dr. Zaliha spoke with pride about Wan Azizah who is also a medical doctor and a sitting member of parliament.

“Dr. Wan Azizah genuinely cares for the people. She intently listens to their concerns, and responds appropriately to their needs. She embodies teamwork. During this pandemic, she convened experts and many stakeholders to get their opinion, and make a collective decision for the best interest of the nation,” described Dr. Zaliha. She added that Dr. Wan Azizah is always respectful, which earns her the trust of the people. “I try to replicate these traits,” Dr. Zaliha expressed humbly.

Wonder Women Ep 5
Dr. Zaliha shares a hearty meal and life lessons with Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail. © Dr. Zaliha Mustafa's Facebook Page

Sense of community

“In medicine as in government service, we should always strive to give the best prescription so our patients – and the nation will be healthy,” said Dr. Zaliha. She presented the increasing number of coronavirus infections in Malaysia, but stressed that the data should be seen not as an indicator of the government’s failure to address the problem, but as a measure of how much everyone should work together. “This should not be a blame game. We all have a share in carrying the load,” Dr. Zaliha encouraged.

She acknowledged the government’s initiative in involving the private sector in vaccine procurement and administration. She suggested that community doctors should be tapped to fast track immunization services, and that volunteer recruitment should be intensified. “Basically, the government needs to put in more money,” she remarked.

Dr. Zaliha also pointed out the value of strategic communications. “We need to convince more people to get vaccinated. There should be heightened efforts to counter misinformation concerning vaccines,” she recommended. She cited how religion is being used to build reluctance and spread fear. “Majority of Malaysians are Muslims. Stories that the vaccines are not halal products affect people’s decision to get vaccinated,” Dr. Zaliha warned. “We should debunk false information, and highlight the whys or the benefits of getting vaccinated,” she advised.

The pandemic has affected the operations at Dr. Zaliha’s clinic, and while that can be taxing, Dr. Zaliha has found destressers to cope. In the interview, she played videos that showed her backyard vegetable garden, and her cooking recipes. She beamed as she said that she edited the videos herself, learning from her children how to add colorful texts and happy emojis.

With Dr. Zaliha, every task, big or small, is noble.

Watch the full interview here

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