From humble beginnings as a surgeon to the country’s beloved hero leading frontliners in this deadly pandemic, Dr Noor Hisham is indeed the man of the hour.
Transparent, calm and altruistic, he's a beacon for the healthcare profession and what all of us working with patients should aspire to become.
Like many of us, Director-General of Health Datuk Seri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah had to start from somewhere. Born in Sepang on the 21st of April to a Chinese family, he was raised by his single mother and furthered his education in Medicine at the National University of Malaysia (Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, UKM).
He went on to Australia to undergo a fellowship in endocrinology, a branch in medicine specializing in the endocrine system, a network of glands responsible for secreting hormones that regulate your body’s processes (for example, thyroid hormones and insulin). After completion of the fellowship, he returned to Malaysia to serve as a breast endocrine surgeon at Kuala Lumpur Hospital (1998) and then Putrajaya Hospital (2002).
Not much is known about Dr Hisham’s professional and personal life other than what is portrayed in the media. However, just several days ago while I was searching for credible resources to cite in my thesis, I discovered that he was a member of the panel for the Malaysian Clinical Practice Guidelines on Management of Obesity (2004) as the consultant surgeon from the Breast and Endocrine Surgery Unit of Putrajaya Hospital.
The project was headed by Professor Ikram Shah Ismail who was the vice president of the Malaysian Association for the Study of Obesity and the Malaysian Diabetes Association. The project was already in the works in 2003, as there is an unpublished draft of the guidelines that you can download from the Academy of Medicine of Malaysia’s website. For those who are curious, here’s the published guide in PDF format, readily available from the Ministry of Health.
This discovery was purely by accident. I’m writing a thesis on childhood obesity and of course, I had to cite these guidelines. It makes sense that Dr Hisham, as an endocrinologist, was a part of that project - reduced insulin sensitivity is known to be one of the major proponents of obesity. A topic for another time.
But he was already making massive contributions to research even before being assigned to the post of Director-General of Health in 2013. As of date, he has served under three prime ministers and four health ministers.
Ever since the Covid-19 outbreak in Malaysia, some netizens and members of the higher government have been complaining about the management of the crisis. It seems like our new Prime Minister is allowing the director-general of health to do his job accordingly - which is what a good leader should do. Delegate tasks to those who are competent and let them do their job.
Quiet and unassuming, Dr Hisham was basically just another senior member of the Ministry of Health until the pandemic stormed across Malaysia. Recognized by the China Global TV Network (CGTN) as one of the top three doctors in the world for his calmness and transparency in handling the Covid-19 crisis, he took that as a recognition for the country as a whole, not just for himself.
Inspiring the next generation
As if his posts couldn’t get any more wholesome, there were pictures circulating the Internet several days ago of Lara Khadijah, a little girl who sent him a letter and a LoomBand bracelet in blue to represent hygiene and Covid-19.
At first glance, the pictures that portrayed Lara’s handwritten letter and Dr Hisham’s typed reply seemed like a hoax. Mind you, I saw this post on Facebook with no proper source-crediting.
The letter, dated 16 April 2020 complete with the official Ministry of Health letterhead, was signed, “From your new friend, Dr. Hisham.”
This is the least I can do to inspire her.Dr Noor Hisham, Bernama
Indeed, he is not only inspiring a young girl, but the hundreds and thousands of us jaded adults who have lost all hope for our government. I daresay he has ignited a flame within many of us that burns to help our country in any way we can.
A great team stems from great leadership
In the letter to Lara, he also salutes his colleagues and fellow Malaysians for doing their part:
Your words are too kind but I am not doing it alone. I am lucky to have a great team with me to help our country.Dr Noor Hisham, Ministry of Health
In line with his humility, he credited his colleagues at the Ministry of Health with their success, and we should celebrate these names alongside his:
- Datuk Dr Rohaizat Yon, Deputy Director-General (Medical)
- Datuk Dr Chong Chee Keong, Deputy Director-General (Public Health)
- Dr Hishamsham Mohd Ibrahim, Deputy Director-General (Research and Technical Support)
- Dr Norhayati Rusli, Director of the Disease Control Division
With a Facebook following of over 500,000, a Twitter fanbase of 289,000, and 9 million views on his blog, Dr Noor Hisham has captured the hearts of many Malaysians seeking stability in these troubled times. He appears on live broadcast at 5pm everyday to inform the public of the daily Covid-19 statistics in the country, reciting numbers for cases cleared, diagnosed and deaths, and answering questions from the media. On his Twitter, he also provides 12pm updates.
There is a sense of comfort in looking forward to these updates while in quarantine. You can’t help but feel reassured by the calmness he exudes, something which many Malaysians should try and emulate.
It was disturbing to see the magnitude of panic-buying during the early days of the Movement Control Order (MCO). Did we even think of those who needed certain items more than us? Did we consider the needs of those less fortunate? If there is a thing or two we can learn from Dr Hisham, it is patience.
“The real power of a leader is in the number of minds he can reach, hearts he can touch, souls he can move, and lives he can change.”Matshona Dhliwayo
The greatest gift
An MCO baby, his birthday coincided with a record low of positive cases since 12th March in Malaysia. At the Ministry, his colleagues held a little celebration for him (with proper social distancing and sanitization, of course!).
Ever the altruist, he announced that the greatest gift he could have is for Malaysians to stay home and stay safe. Everyone wants the MCO and the pandemic to be over, most of all he and the rest of the frontliners. I know we’re all bored out of our minds by now, but it’s about time we learn to adapt. It’s been nearly a month since the lockdown, so if you haven’t already, why not try out a new language on Duolingo or check out Khan Academy for some basic but fun coding tutorials. It’s never too late to invest in yourself, and this period is as good a time as any.
Without a doubt, this period of uncertainty has brought major uncertainties to you and I. Like a black cloud over the nation, it blocks out the sun and makes us wonder whether we will ever see the light. But then there are those who take it upon themselves to somehow delight and amuse the rest of us, just like this post on the US Embassy KL’s Instagram, which I think is absolutely brilliant:
Finally, he even has his own Twitter Fan Club. The account was created in April this year and already has over 2,000 followers. Apparently, he's also the subject of a meme. Not bad, Datuk!
For those who are interested, there is an online petition in support of Dr Noor Hisham and the frontliners on Change.org. They are aiming for 1 million signatures, and are currently sitting at just over 43,000 at the time of writing.
Vaccine trials - the fight continues
At the time of writing, The Star just uploaded a video on their official YouTube channel featuring the director-general announcing that Malaysia is ready to participate in Covid-19 vaccine trials. According to Dr Hisham, they are currently in discussion with countries that have been identified with the capabilities to produce the vaccine.
However, we Malaysians need to be patient because producing a drug, which is essentially what a vaccine is, will take time because the formulation will need to go through several phases of clinical testing in order to determine its safety and efficacy.
But Dr Hisham reassures us that we have the means of contributing to the efforts by providing data to these countries to utilize in the development of the vaccine. In return, our people will be prioritized once the vaccine is made available.
And once we are aware of the formula for the vaccine, we may be able to manufacture it ourselves.Dr Noor Hisham, The Star
Regarding a cure, it was just four days ago that a group of Ministry of Health hospitals were reported to be ready to start testing of the new anti-viral drug, Remdesivir.
Perhaps this is what we Malaysians need, a hero to remind us that in the midst of this political and economic crisis, there are still capable people at the top who deeply care for the nation and will do whatever it takes to ensure our safety and wellbeing.
When you write a story, you give your characters conflicts for them to overcome in order to grow. Characters never get what they want, but instead what they need to drive personal growth. Perhaps within this story of our fight against Covid-19, Dr Noor Hisham is the man we need to restore our faith in government.
Featured image source: Bernama.