KUALA LUMPUR, 22 SEPT – Malaysia and Brazil are affected by similar diseases and health challenges as they are both tropical and megadiverse countries, hosting part of the world’s rainforest and its biodiversity.
As such, both countries have immense potential to work together, said Brazilian ambassador Ary Norton de Murat Quintella.
The envoy stressed that the relationship was best characterised by the fact that Malaysia’s Health Ministry, together with Brazil’s Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (or Fiocruz), helped found the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi) in 2003.
DNDi, formed together with the Indian Council of Medical Research, Institut Pasteur of France, the Kenya Medical Research Institute and the World Health Organisation (WHO), is a partnership to advance innovation for diseases that affect the poorest and vulnerable.
“Through this partnership, to which (Malaysia’s former Health director-general) Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah is a member of the board, Brazil and Malaysia are engaging in cooperation to provide access to innovative and affordable hepatitis C medicines.
“These medicines were discovered by the Egyptian pharmaceutical sector.
“We are also involved in research to develop treatment for dengue, alongside India and Thailand,” said de Murat Quintella after presenting Dr Noor Hisham with the ‘Order of Rio Branco’ award at the former’s residence at Stonor Park, Kuala Lumpur City Centre.
De Murat Quintella added that through the WHO, Brazil and Malaysia were also collaborating within the ‘Group of Friends of Equity’, a coalition of developing countries that was working to ensure a future instrument to address pandemics.
The so-called ‘Pandemic Treaty’, he said, included concrete measures to promote health equity between all nations.
On the award to Dr Noor Hisham, de Murat Quintella said it was to commemorate his long career and work in public health in Malaysia and the multilateral world.
“He held the position of Health director-general during what is probably the most impactful epidemic to hit humanity since the Spanish Flu of 1918 – the Covid-19 pandemic.
“As in other crisis before and future, the emergence of this new and deadly virus in 2020 highlighted the most valuable characteristics – as well as the most flawed ones – of men, women, societies and governments.
“Here in Malaysia and all over the world, the Covid-19 pandemic put a limelight on the dedication and resilience of frontline health workers. “This tireless community made countless sacrifices again and again to protect fellow men and women against a then unknown and unpredictable disease,” said de Murat Quintella.
He added that the ‘Order of Rio Branco’ conferment also reflected on the Brazilian government paying tribute to the work carried out by the Malaysian health workforce, to shield its healthy system from the impact of the disease, to provide effective immunisation once a vaccine was available and to implement the necessary public health measures.
“I believe I speak for the whole diplomatic community when I say that the dedication of Malaysia’s Health Ministry from the leadership to the staff, made us guests from our respective nations in Malaysia, feel safe during the pandemic,” de Murat Quintella said.
The ‘Order of Rio Branco’, he added, was a recognition to the efforts of the Malaysia to promote access to safe, effective, quality and affordable medicines and medical products for all.
In this area, Malaysia and Brazil were extremely affected by the inequities in access to medical products, and shared the same perspectives.
Meanwhile, Dr Noor Hisham said that he looked forward to strengthening ties between both countries and working together towards a healthier and safer world.
He said he accepted the award with great humility and gratitude, and was deeply humbled and honoured by the recognition.
“This award is significant and serves as a reminder of the importance of international collaboration in the fight against public health threats and the importance of collective preparedness and response,
“The Covid-19 pandemic has affected every aspect of our lives,
“However, we persevered, equipped with science, facts and data through a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach to arrive at where we are today.
“I want to take this opportunity to express my most profound appreciation and gratitude to all the frontliners, who have worked tirelessly and sacrificed so much to keep us safe.
“They are the true heroes of this Covid-19 pandemic, and I am honoured to receive this award on behalf of all frontliners,” said Dr Noor Hisham.
He added that he was confident that the award was just the beginning of a much closer collaboration between Malaysia and Brazil in health.
“Our countries have a shared common interest in promoting public health, and this award highlights the potential for greater cooperation and partnership between our two countries.
“I am particularly excited about the potential for South-South collaboration in research, particularly between the Institute for Medical Research, the Health Ministries of Malaysia and Brazil, and The Oswaldo Cruz Foundation,” he said.
The award paid homage to Baron of Rio Branco who was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1902 and retained office for ten years, until his death in 1912, under four different Presidents.
It was a feat unequalled in Brazilian history.
Before and during his 10-year term as foreign minister, Rio Branco negotiated territorial disputes between Brazil and its neighbours and consolidated the borders of modern Brazil.
He never abandoned his belief in diplomacy and negotiations, rather than armed conflict, as the means to handle international affairs.
He was instrumental in establishing Brazil’s reputation as a peace-loving nation. Brazil is one of the countries in the world with the highest number of land neighbours, 10 in all.
It was in great part thanks to the Baron of Rio Branco that Brazil had no territorial conflicts with any of its neighbours, guaranteeing peace and security, which were fundamental to health and well-being.