Thursday, December 30, 2004

Self-examination way to beat breast cancer

Despite strong evidence that women in the initial stages of breast cancer can be saved, many still don't practise regular breast self-examination.
Only three to five per cent of Malaysian women do.
Pantai Medical Centre (PMC) consultant general surgeon Dr M. Devanand said the chance of recovery from breast cancer could be significantly improved if the disease is detected early.
"We have all the equipment needed. What we lack is awareness," he said.
Most Malaysian women are said to be suffering breast cancer at an earlier age than women in the West, and they succumb to it as they don't seek early treatment.
Dr Devanand advised women above 20 years old to perform breast self-examination regularly while those above 40 should go for an annual examination by healthcare providers.
He was talking to reporters after a cheque presentation ceremony to Hospis Malaysia yesterday. The mock cheque, amounting to RM6,378.29, was handed over to Hospis vice-chairman Peter Loh. Also present was its honorary treasurer James Menezes.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

MRCS Contributes US$10,000 To Indonesian Red Cross

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 28 (Bernama) -- The Malaysian Red Crescent Society (MRCS), Tuesday contributed US$10,000 (RM38,000) from its Relief Fund to the Indonesian Red Cross now in urgent need of financial assistance as it scrambles to help thousands of victims of Sunday's earthquake and tsunami in Acheh.
MRCS national vice-chairman Wan Azhar Wan Ali said the society was responding to an appeal by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies for funds to support international relief operations in Southeast Asian countries affected by the tidal waves.
"The appeal for 7.5 million Swiss Francs is to assist some 500,000 people affected in the region," Wan Azhar said at a news conference and cheque presentation here.
The cheque was presented by Wan Azhar to the deputy Indonesian ambassador here, A.M.Fachir.
Wan Azhar said MRCS's first relief team left for Acheh at 9.30am,Tuesday.
The five-member medical and relief team comprising a doctor and four relief and reporting officers was sent to Acheh to work with the Indonesian Red Cross Society to bring relief and assistance to the victims, he said.
A second five-member team would leave for Acheh, Tuesday afternoon.
He said that at home, the MRCS had mobilised teams in the affected states of Penang, Perlis, Kedah and Perak to assist the local authorities in search and rescue, relief and tracing operations.
The MRCS is also appealing to members of the public, private companies and organisations for contributions towards the MRCS Relief Fund set up to provide financial and relief assistance to victims.
Direct contributions, which are tax-exempted, to the campaign jointly organised with the National Press Club, can be sent to the MRCS National Headquarters at 32, Jalan Nipah Off Jalan Ampang, 55000 Kuala Lumpur.
Those wishing to contribute through the Media Appeal are requested to send their cheque, money order or postal order, marked "Tidal Waves Appeal" at the back of the cheque to be directed accordingly.
Further information and assistance can be obtained by calling MRCS at 03-4257 8122.
Ministry Takes Steps To Prevent Epidemic After Tsunami

PUTRAJAYA, Dec 28 (Bernama) -- The Health Ministry has taken measures to prevent any epidemic in the areas hit by the tsunami last Sunday.
Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek said the states and districts concerned had set up health teams to advise people in those areas about consuming safe water and food as well as proper sanitation.
"The ministry fears water-borne diseases like cholera, food-borne ones like typhoid or diarrhoea and others like pneumonia could break out if controls are not put in place quickly, while stagnant water could breed mosquitoes and cause a dengue fever outbreak," he told reporters at his office, here Tuesday.
Dr Chua said the teams would closely monitor the relief centres housing between 4,000 and 5,000 victims of the disaster.
The tsunami tidal waves, unleashed by a 9.0 magnitude undersea earthquake off Sumatra in Indonesia on Sunday, slammed into coastal areas from Perlis to Selangor, killing at least 63 people and displacing 5,000 others from their homes.
Dr Chua said the ministry also set up a national operations room to coordinate medical and health assistance. It can be contacted at 03-8883 4100.
He said the country is capable of handling the aftermath of the disaster without outside help because it has enough trained personnel, equipment and medicines.
"We have 9,000 doctors and 50,000 nurses and support staff. Our manpower is more than enough," he said.
`Lifestyle' Diseases a Concern

HEALTH: THE average Malaysian is healthier compared to some 30 to 40 years ago. What is worrying though is acute and infectious diseases are being replaced by chronic, non-infectious diseases mainly due to a lifestyle closely related to social and economic changes.
Hospital Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia's Professor Dr Syed Mohamed Aljunid, said the main chronic diseases were cardiovascular diseases such as ischaemic heart diseases, hypertension and stroke.
Together with diabetes and cancers, they make up the main causes of hospital admissions, he told the New Straits Times.
Cardiovascular diseases are also the principal causes of deaths in government hospitals, accounting for 23 to 26 per cent of deaths from 1994 to 2001 followed by cancers 9.34 per cent.
Syed Mohamed, who is the hospital's Professor of Health Economics and Head of the Community Health Department, says almost 30 per cent of Malaysians now suffer from hypertension.
However, he says more than half of them "are unaware they have hypertension. Only one third of them are on treatment".
As for diabetes, Deputy Director of Disease Control, Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar says it is no longer an ailment affecting those above 30 years. It is also hitting the young.
Many above the age of 20 are diabetic because of their eating habits. They consume far too much drinks with high sugar content and high calorie foods which had less fibre.
Twelve per cent of the Malaysian population are diabetic, and Zainal said more than 50 per cent of complications were linked to the ailment which was one of the leading causes of deaths.
Diabetes, which can cause blindness, renal diseases, organ loss, ulcers and impotency in men, is also a main cause of End State Renal Disease (ESRD) in the country.
The National Renal Registry statistics show that 44 per cent of the ESRD in need of dialysis are diabetic patients.
"Management of diabetes has become a great challenge in the 21st century," says Zainal.
Syed Mohamed says one main reason why Malaysians suffer from these diseases is because an estimated 70 per cent never exercised.
The focus, he adds, should be on primary prevention, health promotion, encouraging healthy lifestyles through proper diet, exercise and stress management.
People should also, he says, go for regular check-ups to enable early detection of diseases.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Health Minister: Tsunami survivors face risk of diseases

PUTRAJAYA: About 5,000 Malaysian survivors of the tsunami are at risk of food and water-borne diseases like cholera and typhoid, Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek said Tuesday.
He said health teams had been sent to relief centres to educate them on preventive measures.
The ministry had also set up a command centre to co-ordinate medical services provided. The centre's contact number is 03-8883 4100.
Dr Chua said counselling would also be provided for the survivors in the hospitals where many were still found to be in a state of shock.
At 11.30am Tuesday, there were 60 people warded - 30 in the Penang Hospital, four in the Langkawi Hospital and 26 In the Sungai Petani Hospital.
Docs ‘avoiding transfers’

Some government doctors are using their political connections to avoid being transferred to rural areas and this has annoyed the Health Ministry.
Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek said the doctors, both seniors and juniors, would write to the politicians asking them to use their position to have transfer orders withdrawn.
“They would give all sorts of excuses like their parents are aging or that their family won’t be able to join them at the new place.
“The politicians, afraid of being labelled as powerless, would pressure the directors to cancel the order,” he said at the Benut Health Centre near here yesterday.
Dr Chua said this would disrupt the health department’s planning, especially in matters related to services in rural areas.
“That is why in most places, we have one doctor who is responsible for five health centres.
“With that ratio, the doctor will only be able to serve one centre each day,” he said.
Dr Chua hoped that health department staff would give their cooperation regarding transfers.

Monday, December 27, 2004

MRCS Appeals For Assistance To Tidal Waves Victims

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 26 (Bernama) -- The Malaysian Red Crescent Society (MRCS) has appealed to the public to extend all possible assistance to victims of the tidal waves in Penang, Kedah, Perlis and other affected areas in the country.
The tidal waves were set off by a powerful earthquake in northern Sumatra Sunday morning.
"Together with the National Press Club (NPC), the MRCS welcomes all forms of assistance, in cash or kind, to help victims during this difficult time," MRCS Media Committee chairman Datuk Ahmad A.Talib told Bernama Sunday evening.
Cheques can be made out to the Malaysian Red Crescent Society and marked Tidal Waves Victims at the back of the cheques to be forwarded to the NPC or to any of the MRCS offices.
Ahmad said that any inquiries can be directed to 03-42578122.
Two weeks ago, the MRCS and the NPC launched a fund for flood victims.
Round The Clock Search And Rescue Operations For Tsunami Victims

PENANG, Dec 27 (Bernama) -- Search and rescue operations for victims of the tidal waves (tsunami) which hit Penang, Kedah and Perlis Sunday afternoon is continuing until Monday.
State Deputy Police Chief SAC II Mohd Ali Mohd Yusuf said police and emergency aid units were carrying out 24-hour operations with about 200 members of search and rescue teams being deployed at two locations namely Batu Feringghi and Balik Pulau.
So far police have recovered 31 bodies at the two locations but have yet to locate two children who were reported missing.
The two missing children are siblings Nurul Nazirah Mohd Hassan, 13 and Mohamad Ferdaus Mohd Hassan, from Guar Chempedak Kedah, who were reported missing in Batu Feringghi.
"A troop from the Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) with 120 ordinary policemen have been stationed at Batu Feringghi while 10 officers and 80 lower rank policemen are being assigned to Balik Pulau," he said when contacted by Bernama here.
Mohd Ali said leave for all police personnel in the North East and South West districts had been frozen to assist in the rescue operations.
He said hundreds of residents living in the coastal areas in the two districts had also moved out of their homes temporarily.
Meanwhile, Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Abdul Rashid Abdullah said the state government had given out immediate aid to the victims of the tragedy.
"We will disburse the allocation from the 'Tabung Yang Dipertua Negeri' from Monday after the Social Welfare Department had carried out a survey on the families requiring aid," he said.
Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, who is also Chairman of the National Disaster Management and Relief Committee, is scheduled to visit the sites of the tragedy in Penang and Kedah Monday morning.
He will also be given a briefing at the State Operations Room.
Meanwhile, the five victims reported missing in Kuala Muda, Kedah have yet to be found and search and rescue operations are still ongoing.
Kedah Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Syed Razak Syed Zain, when visiting the 24 victims admitted to Hospital Sungai Petani Sunday night, said the state government would give out aid to the tidal wave victims.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Demonstrators Greet Health Minister On First Day In New Office

PUTRAJAYA, Dec 23 (Bernama) -- Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek moved into his new office, here Thursday, greeted by about 200 demonstrators protesting what they felt was a government move to privatise dispensaries in government hospitals.
Chua, whose new office is located in Parcel E here, met with seven representatives of the demonstrators comprising members of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to clarify the government's move on the matter.
The noisy protestors, carrying placards with slogans reading, among others, "The people's health is the government's responsibility", had gathered in front of the ministry building.
Speaking to reporters after his dialogue with the NGO representatives, Chua said the government had no plans to privatise hospital dispensaries but wanted to start private pharmacies in the Putrajaya and Selayang hospitals to enable those who could afford to buy their medicines.
However, the dispensing of medicines to those who could not afford to buy them would continue, he said.
According to him, the health delivery system was good but there were areas that could be improved so that the government and the poor were not unnecessarily burdened.
"I think what has happened is that there are attempts to politicise the issue by certain groups, especially the opposition," he said.
The issue came about after Deputy Health Minister Datuk Dr Abdul Latiff Ahmad said on Dec 10 that the government was proposing to stop issuing certain low-cost medicines for free and patients would have to buy them from medicine shops or private pharmacies.
On the "full-paying patient" concept, the minister said a detailed study on its mechanism was being carried out.
He said the concept, to be introduced at the Putrajaya and Selayang hospitals, was to prevent government hospital facilities from being abused by people in the higher income groups.
"For example, a patient who can well afford it, only has to pay RM3,000 for surgery as has been set now in government hospitals whereas he is capable of paying up to RM15,000," he said.
This will affect the chances of lower income groups from obtaining similar surgery or treatment," he added.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Mercy assists typhoon victims

INFANTA (Quezon, Philippines): The five-member Malaysian medical team has started helping Filipino children in typhoon battered Luzon where 1,500 people have died or are still missing.
Headed by Mercy Malaysia’s Sarawak chapter chairman Benjamin Chai, the team consisting of a general surgeon, two medical officers and a psychiatrist have been moving around mud-filled villages to provide assistance.
They also brought cheer to the children, many of whom had been orphaned and displaced by typhoons and floods.
“Stripped off their possessions and homes, the holiday season had a bitter twist,” said Mercy Malaysia team member Dr Cheah Phee Kheng.
The Mercy Malaysia team has set up a base camp at the Claro M Recto Memorial District here for the next two weeks to provide medical assistance and other immediate needs to the typhoon victims.
Chua: Allocation system needs change

BATU GAJAH: The system of allocating 10 doctors to a district hospital needs to be reviewed, said Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek.
The present system was no longer relevant by modern standards, he said, with each hospital having its own workload and expertise.
“Therefore, state health directors have now been given the power to review the number of doctors at each district hospital and make the necessary adjustments,” said Dr Chua during his visit to the Batu Gajah Hospital here yesterday.
Dr Chua also advised other healthcare providers present to constantly improve themselves to ensure that patients were satisfied with the service.
“Although RM7bil has been allocated for the purpose of subsidising the medical expenses of patients at government hospitals and clinics next year, this does not necessarily guarantee their satisfaction,” he said.
Excellence Awards Help Slash Rate Of Workplace Accidents, Says Fong

PUTRAJAYA, Dec 21 (Bernama) -- The occupational safety and health excellence awards have helped to reduce the rate of accidents in the workplace by 44.6 per cent over the last 10 years, Human Resources Minister Datuk Dr Fong Chan Onn said Tuesday night.
The reduction was obvious in the years after 1994, he said at the presentation of the National Occupational Safety and Health Excellence Awards 2004 here.
Dr Fong said the Social Security Organisation (Socso) record of accidents showed that the total number of accidents had dropped from 133,293 in 1993 to 73,858 last year.
"This means that in the 10-year period there was a drop of 44.6 per cent. On the average, there was a reduction from 21.2 accidents per 1,000 workers in 1993 to 7.4 per 1,000 last year," he said.
Dr Fong said the awards seemed to have won over the occupational safety and health practitioners with the increase in the number of workplaces that had applied to participate in the competition for the excellence awards.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Diabetes hitting rural folk

MIRI: The increasing diabetes cases among rural people is worrying as it shows a big change from the past when the ailment was more common among urbanites, said the Malaysian Diabetes Association.
President Prof Dr Chan Siew Pheng said the association found that the ailment was more common among those in areas like rubber estates.
“Changes in their diet and an advancement in age are among the reasons why more people become diabetic even in rural areas where they are supposed to be leading more healthy and active lives,” Dr Chan added.
More opting for biotechnology

More young Malaysians are venturing into biotechnology, betting that there will be a huge demand for such skills in three years’ time.
Many students are also considering careers in biochemistry, pharmacology, psychology, nutrition and nursing.
Career consultants and counsellors in local colleges said this was somewhat unusual as most students tend to opt for evergreen courses such as engineering, business, accountancy and hotel catering.
"There are still many students wanting to do such traditional courses, but a noticeable number are turning to science and technology," said Nilai International College counsellor and career planner Ling Mee Chooi.
Apart from the biotechnology industry being new, students may have also been encouraged by recent news that there are 40,000 vacancies in the health science industry.
Prompt diagnosis reduces deaths

Patients suffering heart attacks are now diagnosed and treated within 15 minutes on arrival at the Accident and Emergency Department of Hospital Kuala Lumpur, which has been working to meet world standards in treating heart disease.
This has reduced the death rate of patients who come to the A & E Department with heart attack from 15.9 per cent to less than five per cent a year since last year.
HKL's Consultant Pulmonary and Critical Care Physician, Datuk Dr Jeyaindran Sinnadurai,(pix) said the hospital has also become the first in the country to start treating patients with heart attacks in the A & E department itself.
"The faster we identify and treat, the higher the chance of survival," he said, adding that at least one patient comes in daily with heart attack at the hospital’s A & E department.
Fate of Celebrex in FDA hands

Whether Celebrex, a pain killer prescribed for arthritis sufferers, remains on pharmacy shelves here will depend on what the US Food and Drug Administration recommends.

The Health Ministry’s Pharmaceutical Services Division is hoping to get an update on the FDA’s stand tomorrow before it decides on a course of action, said its director Datuk Mohd Zin Che Awang.

The withdrawal of a similar drug, Vioxx, in September had been a voluntary move by its maker Merck, and not pulled off the shelves by the FDA, pointed out Mohd Zin. Vioxx had been found to double the risk of patients suffering heart attacks and strokes.

Celebrex is "extensively used" in Malaysia, but being a restricted drug available only on prescription by specialists, the Pharmaceutical Division does not keep statistics on its use, he said. Both Celebrex and Vioxx are a type of drug called cox-2 inhibitors. Pfizer said it found an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes for patients of the drug.
Govt Losing RM8 Mil In Medical Fees From Immigrants

SITIAWAN, Dec 20 (Bernama) -- The government is unable to collect medical fees of more than RM8 million annually from immigrants who seek treatment at government hospitals nationwide.
Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek said Monday it was difficult to trace the immigrants and collect payment as many of them did not have a permanent address.
He said many government hospitals had also reported cases of women immigrants who disappear with their new-borns after giving birth to evade setting medical charges.
"There are also cases of immigrants using fake identity cards when registering as patients and instances where hospitals treat immigrants without any personal documents based on humanitarian grounds," he told reporters after opening the RM5.1 million Sitiawan Health Clinic here.
Dr Chua said the immigrants sought various treatments from government hospitals, including child delivery, surgery and outpatient treatment.
"I hope hospitals can be stricter when admitting immigrant patients. They need to verify the authenticity of personal documents to ensure that the vast allocation provided by the government for medical facilities benefits Malaysians," he said.
The amount of unpaid medical bills by immigrants in government hospitals is estimated to account for about eight per cent of the total medical charges that have yet to be collected.
Dr Chua said the ministry had collected RM125 million a year from the RM1 fee imposed on the public to receive treatment at government hospitals.
Earlier, during a visit to the Seri Manjung Hospital, he said district hospitals with specialists in certain fields should apply to the ministry to conduct housemanship for medical graduates.
"The fields include surgery, orthopaedics, paediatrics and O&G (oncology and gynaecology). For the time being, 28 hospitals have offered 1,350 places for medical graduates to undergo their housemanship.
"District hospitals like Batu Pahat, Miri and Sandakan will also conduct such training. The number may not be enough in the next three years because of the increase in students pursuing medical courses now," he said.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Telemedicine project to be revived

TELUK INTAN: The Health Ministry will re-implement its telemedicine project which was stopped several years ago, said Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek.
The ministry, he said, was ready to start it now that it had managed to discover the root cause, which had hindered its initial implementation.
A total of RM60mil has been allocated for the project which would be implemented in stages.
The ministry had scaled down the project from the one planned several years ago to ensure its success this time around, he told reporters after making an official visit to the Teluk Intan Hospital here Sunday.
Dr Chua said that under the scaled down approach, only government hospitals which already had broadband infrastructure services would be connected for telemedicine services.
Income will decide the amount you pay

The National Health Financing Scheme is neither a privatised nor an insurance scheme.
It is a scheme where those who can afford will have to pay a certain amount based on their annual household income.
Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek said the existing healthcare treatment and hospitalisation for the civil servants, the elderly, the poor and the unemployed would still continue with the Government subsi- dising 98 per cent of the cost of drugs every year.
"The scheme is to reduce the Government's burden of having to spend RM800 million annually as subsidy on drugs," he said after opening a two-day national conference and exhibition at Universiti Malaya.
The conference is on "Biomedical Informatics: Applications in Teaching, Training, Research and Development - Convergence of Informatics and its Development Trends".
Dr Chua said the money saved through the scheme could be utilised for upgrading the existing facilities in government hospitals and also to provide quality healthcare service for the people.
The Economic Planning Unit in the Prime Minister's Department will appoint a consultant to fine-tune the mechanism, including coming up with the rates to be charged depending on the annual household income.
Dr Chua said studies showed that 35 per cent of the population's annual household income was less than RM1,500.
He added the consultant's report would indicate the minimum and maximum amount to be charged based on each family's annual household income .
"The general principles of the scheme have already been agreed upon. Now we have to wait for the consultant's report before implementing the scheme."
Dr Chua said Malaysia had seen the modules used by countries such as Germany, Taiwan, China and Singapore but those cannot be used fully as Malaysia needed its own module based on its development and people's affordability.
The Government subsidy for drugs in 1996 was RM280 million and it rose to RM800 million last year.
Dr Chua said the scheme was needed as the Government could not continue to cover the rising cost of health.
The budget for the Health Ministry has risen from RM1 billion or 3.6 per cent of the national Budget in 1983 to RM7.6 billion or 7.1 per cent of the Budget in 2003.
At the same time, the total collection from hospitals and clinics only equalled 2.2 per cent of the ministry's operating budget in 2003.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Ministry To Restructure Telehealth

TELUK INTAN, Dec 19 (Bernama) -- The Health Ministry will restructure its Telehealth programme as the initial project has failed to produce satisfactory results due to several problems, said Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek.
He said Telehealth had several advantages in providing good medical services particularly for consultation and education as Malaysia was facing a shortage of doctors especially specialists.
"The initial project was too ambitious as it planned to link all the hospitals and polyclinics in the country. Now, the government has agreed for the project to be in stages and has approved RM60 million for that," he told reporters after visiting the Teluk Intan Hospital, here Sunday.
He said to ensure the project's effectiveness, it would be implemented at selected hospitals or polyclinics which had the needed facilities and they would also identify suitable disciplines for the project.
"Not all disciplines are suitable for Telehealth. We have identified four important components namely teleconsultation, continuous professional development, mass health educational programmes and personalized health record. We scaled it down only to these four components," he said.
Dr Chua said before the project was temporarily stopped, the hospitals had been equipped with computers and facilities but nobody wanted to use them.
"With this Telehealth, many things such as medical consultation and education can be done from a distance and there is no need to send specialists to any particular area.
"With this, there is a link between district hospitals and clinics to the state hospitals. Patients do not need to be transferred to state hospitals.
"It's good for the patient's safety and also in terms of cost. Besides that, doctors at district hospitals will get the support from specialists. However, there can be problems if some people do not want to use ICT (information and communications technology)," he said.
Incentives For Doctors Working In Islands, Remote Areas

PULAU PANGKOR, Dec 19 (Bernama) -- The Health Ministry will introduce a special incentive scheme for medical officers stationed on islands and in remote areas nationwide, says its minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek
He said those who completed a year of service in such areas might receive incentives in the form of scholarship for further studies, career advancement and other benefits.
"It is hoped that such incentives will encourage medical officers to accept postings to such areas," he told reporters at visiting the Desa Pangkor Hospital here Sunday.
He said currently almost all the small islands in the country had no medical officers as all of them were stationed in towns and the incentive was a form of reward for their sacrifices.
"Apart from incentives, the ministry may also introduce a system to rotate the posting of medical officers to ensure such places have the required expertise.
"However, if problems arise from the system, the ministry may have to engage the services of foreign medical officers to avoid disrupting the current system," he said.
Dr Chua hoped the revival of the Telehealth programme could also help reduce the problems caused by the shortage of medical officers.
Use of biomedical informatics technology hailed

KUALA LUMPUR: The Government welcomes the use of biomedical informatics technology – which employs supercomputers to process huge amounts of medical data – as it can help save lives.
Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek said researchers using biomedical informatics were now able to map and pinpoint abnormalities in genes.
“Through genetic identification, we can recognise a disease even before a child is born
“The ultimate goal is to use such information to develop new ways to treat, cure or prevent thousands of diseases that afflict humankind,” he said before opening the First National Biomedical Informatics Conference and Exhibition at Universiti Malaya yesterday.
While acknowledging that Malaysia currently did not have enough expertise and skills in this comparatively new field, he challenged the participants to “prove to the world that Malaysia can be a formidable force in this field”.
The minister later witnessed the signing of a memorandum between the university and Virescent Sdn Bhd to undertake research, development and training programmes in areas of bio-informatics and bio-computing.
Red Alert: Online healthcare mgmt to pick up

Red Alert Online Sdn Bhd, a provider of a web-based healthcare management system, is targeting to increase its membership to 100,000 members within the next three months, says its general manager Noorreha Abdullah.
“At this stage, we are looking at group medical practice where the healthcare provider is concerned. As for the employer, we are currently marketing this system to local corporations and multinational companies,” she said after the launch of Red Alert Online Healthcard in Shah Alam on Dec 15.
The online healthcard is a web-based management system that stores and provides medical data, instant employee eligibility verification, claims processing and medical utilisation monitoring online.
This latest tool, which is targeted at both employers and healthcare providers, enables better management of medical records, eliminate the bulk of paperwork and streamlines the management of medical benefits.
Red Alert Online is a wholly owned company of the Nadin Group, which has business interests in retail, property, leisure, technology and medical
Gov't Still Protects The Needy's Welfare, Says Dr Chua

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 18 (Bernama) -- The government has no intention of neglecting the needy's welfare, especially in healthcare services in government hospitals, said Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek.
He said the poor, elderly, civil servants and those who could ill afford their medical fees would still enjoy the current medical benefits in government hospitals and only those who opted for the Full Paying Patients Scheme would be paying as private patients in Hospital Selayang and Hospital Putrajaya.
Dr Chua stressed that the Full Paying Patients Scheme which would be limited to only the two hospitals and the Health Financing Scheme would pave the way for the ministry to ease the government's burden in medical subsidies, currently heavily subsidised at 98 per cent to ensure better facilities and quality healthcare services.
"The Health Financing Scheme is not a privatisation project nor an insurance project. It is a scheme where those who can afford to pay would be charged and those who cannot, their welfare is looked after by the government," he said.
Dr Chua told reporters this after opening the National Conference and Exhibition on "Bio-Medical Informatics: Applications in Teaching, Training, Research and Development - Convergence of Informatics and its Development Trends" at the University of Malaya (UM) here Saturday.
"We have not determined the rate until a study is carried out by our consultants. We have appointed the consultants to look at the rate on how to fine tune the mechanism to suit the Malaysian context," he said, adding that about 35 per cent of families had a household income of less than RM1,500 a month.
He refused to comment further on the implementation of the Health Financing Scheme, saying that the details would only be disclosed after the consultants had studied the various models of similar schemes in other countries like Germany, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, China and Singapore.
Earlier, he witnessed the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between UM and Virescent Sdn Bhd on Bio-Medical Informatics related training, research, development and consultancy services.
Meanwhile, Dr Chua lauded the UM for its efforts in developing the Bio-Medical Informatics field, which is a relatively new field but with rich resources in the country.
He said among the future plans under Bio-Medical Informatics would be training of surgeons using simulators, to achieve more precise surgery.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Girl undergoes ‘bloodless’ op

KUCHING: When doctors told Rani Lee that her daughter, Chelsea Lavina Brookeman, 11, needed major surgery to correct a deformity in the spine, she was adamant that it should be done without a blood transfusion.
Both Lee, 37, and her husband, Brookeman Jabing, 42, felt it was wrong to accept blood transfusions because of their religious beliefs.
“I told the doctors that I wanted my daughter’s surgery to be done without a blood transfusion.
“At first they were concerned because it would be a major operation but finally they agreed because the hospital has a cell saver machine to minimise blood loss,” she said.
Hence, Chelsea became the first patient at the Sarawak General Hospital to undergo a “bloodless” operation for congenital scoliosis on Dec 8.
According to orthopaedic surgeon Dr Ahmad Hata Rasit, one of three doctors who operated on Chelsea, the cell saver machine takes the blood lost during an operation, cleans it and reinfuses it into the patient again.
He said the machine had been available at the hospital since over a year ago and belonged to the cardiac department for use in heart surgery.
“This is the first time we have used it in a congenital scoliosis operation,” he said.
Miri dialysis centre needs volunteers

MIRI: Cash or material donations are what the Miri Red Crescent Society wants, but if you cannot spare these, then voluntary service will do.
The centre, located at the Miri Red Cresent headquarters, provides treatment to thousands of renal-failure sufferers and is need of extra volunteers to help it reach out to more folks, especially those in the interior.
Annual costs run up to more than a million ringgit, and the centre depends mainly on contributions.
The centre’s chairman Lee Kim Shin, who is Assistant State Minister for Infrastructure Development and Communications, said kidney failure patients undergo a lot of physical and financial stress.
“Those who can afford get their dialysis treatment at private health centres where they are charged thousands of ringgit every year.
“For the poor, the centre has served as a lifesaver,” he added.
Set up in 1996, the centre, which is managed by the Miri Red Crescent Society, has provided treatment to some 35,000 people throughout the state.
It provides full or partially subsidised treatment depending on the financial background of patients.
Each dialysis session costs RM150, with middle-income earners given a subsidised rate of RM80.
“For the poor, we only charge RM5 per session.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Healthy Eating

WHILE a lot has been said about eating healthy, the habit hasn't really sunk in among Malaysians.
WITH the aim of getting more people to adopt healthy eating habits, a Nutrition Month campaign was launched by the Health Ministry's Health Education Division recently.
It is jointly organised by the Nutrition Society of Malaysia, Malaysian Dietitians Association and Malaysian Association for the Study of Obesity.
Two Universities To Offer Post-grad Programme On Drug Addiction

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 16 (Bernama) -- Two public universities will offer a special programme dealing with alcohol and drug addiction next year, Higher Education Minister Datuk Dr Shafie Mohd Salleh said.
He said the special programme, known as SPADA (Speciality Programme in Alcohol and Drug Addiction), would be conducted at Kolej Universiti Islam Malaysia (KUIM) and Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS).
He said the programme would only be offered to people directly involved in counselling, including those at drug rehabilitation centres, welfare officers and social workers.
The first intake of students for the post-graduate programme would be in the July session next year, he told reporters after a ceremony to proclaim Datin Seri Endon Mahmood as the first Open University Malaysia Chancellor during the university's inaugural convocation here.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Support for haemodialysis centres

KUALA LUMPUR: As a cost-effective measure, the Health Ministry is looking into supporting haemodialysis centres run by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) rather than expanding its own facilities, said minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek.
He said it cost about RM10,000 annually to treat a patient at government haemodialysis centres compared with RM8,000 at NGO centres.
“Therefore, in the future, it may be more cost-effective for the Government to continue to support haemodialysis treatment at NGO centres.
“This would pave the way for more meaningful partnerships between the Government and NGOs and foster greater community participation in health and healthcare,” he said at the Nanyang Press Foundation Dialysis Centre at the Tung Shin Hospital charity dinner.
A total of RM1.3mil was raised at last night's dinner from donations of haemodialysis machines and sales of tables. An auction of Hong Kong actor-singer Andy Lau's calligraphy works raked in RM34,000.
At an earlier function, Dr Chua said a consulting firm would be appointed to work out payment rates for people who fall under the “affordable category” of the proposed National Healthcare Financing Scheme.
He said discussion on the payment rates were still in the initial stage and he hoped the consultant would be able to complete the task in the next six months.
“After the rates are fixed, we will discuss again. The scheme will be implemented as soon as it is ready,” he said upon being asked when the scheme would take effect.
The proposed National Health Financing Scheme is expected to be based on a community-rated national health insurance scheme, with cost- and risk-sharing across the population.
Chinese diet a factor in cancer toll?

KUALA LUMPUR: Local universities and research bodies should undertake a study on the dietary patterns of different races and its link to cancer.
“Then we will be able to understand the dietary factors that cause certain cancers among different ethnic groups,” said Nutrition Society of Malaysia (NSM) president Dr Tee E Siong yesterday.
“Only then will we know how to go about advising our people on the proper eating habits.”
He said currently what the public know is based on findings and information from other countries.
“We don’t want to use their findings (by other countries) to advise our people. What we need to know is the dietary patterns about our own ethnic people,” said Tee.
He was commenting on an article in a local newspaper that the Chinese, especially women, are most at risk of getting cancer among the other races.
Based on a registry compiled by the Government, it was found that Chinese recorded a cancer rate of 194 per 100,000, followed by Indians with 117 and Malays with 70.
The gender breakdown also showed Chinese females with the highest cancer rate of 218 per 100,000 population, followed by Indian females (147) and Malay females at only 79.
On the other hand, Chinese males recorded a rate of 169 per 100,000, followed by Indian males (86) and Malay males recorded the lowest at 61.
The report, quoting Malaysian Oncological Society president Dr Gurcharan Singh Khera, had also said that diet and genetic disposition could account for the high rate of cancer among the Chinese.
National Health Insurance Scheme Gets Go-Ahead

PETALING JAYA, Dec 15 (Bernama) -- After two years of study, the government has agreed to implement the proposed National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) soon to reduce the healthcare burden on the government and help ease the long waiting time in public healthcare facilities.
Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek said it would be based on a community-rated model.
"This means it would be based on cost and risk-sharing across the population, with the rich subsidising the poor, the young for the elderly, the healthy for the sick and the employed for the unemployed," he said when launching two medical insurance policies by Kurnia Insurans (M) Bhd -- "Mediguard" and "MediGuard Express" -- at Bandar Sunway, here Wednesday.
Chua said the community-rated model would encourage cost-sharing among stakeholders and consumers of healthcare while optimising the government's contribution and commitment and improving the quality of life of the people.
"The mechanism will be affordable, viable and sustainable, provide universal and comprehensive coverage and achieve greater equity and accessibility to quality health are for all Malaysians," he added.
Chua said the present system would be retained and be improved with greater integration between the public and private sectors while the mechanism would help to ensure better access to healthcare, either in the public or private sector.
"To govern and run the national health financing mechanism, there is also a need to set up a National Health Financing Authority under the Ministry of Health and to be wholly owned by the government," he said.
The National Health Financing Authority would function as a single payer for the healthcare of all citizens and eligible non-citizens.
Speaking to reporters later, Chua said the proposed NHIS was given the go-ahead by the government after Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was briefed on the proposed model six weeks ago.
"However, the Prime Minister instructed that some adjustments be made (to the proposal)," he said.
He said the ministry has appointed a consultant to study the amount that needed to be paid for the NHIS.
The consultant would submit a report within six months, he added.
Dr Chua said NHIS was needed as the government could not continue to cover the rising cost of health expenditure.
For example, he said, the ministry's budget had increased from RM1 billion or 3.6 per cent of the national budget in 1983 to RM7.6 billion or 7.1 per cent of the national budget in 2003, while total collections from hospital and clinic charges only equalled 2.2 per cent of the ministry's operating budget in 2003.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Gift of health centre for Bam

When a devastating earthquake hit the historic city of Bam in Iran last December, Malaysians showed their sympathy and scooped out a lot of money from their pockets to help the victims.
The Malaysian Government immediately came out with RM3.8mil, half of which was for Mercy Malaysia’s mission to the site of the catastrophe.
Yesterday, Mercy Malaysia president Datuk Dr Jemilah Mahmood and her team of volunteers reached a milestone in their pursuit of helping the international community with the ground-breaking ceremony for a RM1mil health centre in the middle of the rubble-riddled city.
The team had left Malaysia on Friday night to attend the ceremony, which was jointly officiated by Dr Jemilah and Social Security Organisation of Iran (SSO) chairman Dr Gholamreza Suleymani at the 0.44ha plot at Abu Ali Street here. Malaysian ambassador Mazlan Muhammad was among those who witnessed the ceremony.
Employers can use SMS system to check on health of foreign workers

Employers who are anxious to know the health status of their foreign workers can now opt to use the Short Messaging System (SMS) for the purpose.

The service is provided by Fomema Sdn Bhd, the foreign workers’ medical examination monitoring agency responsible in carrying out the medical examination on foreign workers.
Through the service, employers will be able to obtain immediate results of their foreign workers’ medical test results from the agency .
“In the past they have to call or come to our office. Now they can get immediate answers via SMS,” said Fomema chairman Datuk Dr Abdul Aziz Mahmood at the launching of Fomema Mobile-a short messaging service (SMS).
To use the service, employers need only to type in FOMEMA (space) Worker’s Code, and send it to 33366 via their cell phone and a result will be given to them in seconds. (For example, FOMEMA S10N000001, send to 33366).
Nation faces shortage of oncologists

Deputy Health Minister Datuk Dr Abdul Latiff Ahmad said there were only 39 oncologists in the country, including 16 in government hospitals, when it should have at least 100 specialists in the field.
"The recommended ratio is one oncologist for 250,000 people, so based on our population of 24 million, we should have at least 100 oncologists," he said at the launch of the Second Cancer Incidence in Malaysia Report 2003 at Kuala Lumpur Hospital.
Dr Latiff said the ministry encouraged more doctors to be trained as oncologists, adding that more cancer treatment centres would be set up.
He said Malaysia had 21 centres for radiotherapy and oncology in public and private hospitals. The ministry operates two centres in hospitals and three in universities.
A national cancer institute is also being planned for cancer research and treatment. This is in addition to the Oncological Unit at Putrajaya Hospital, which is the centre for cancer treatment in the country.
On another issue, Latiff said he would soon provide data to show that doctors had been over-prescribing medicine to patients. This followed his statement on Friday that doctors in government hospitals had given longer courses of antibiotics and other medicine than necessary, resulting in wastage and a higher medicine bill.
Men more prone to lung cancer

Lung cancer is the most common cancer experienced by men in the country, latest statistics from the National Cancer Registry show.
Females are more prone to breast cancer.
Lung cancer accounts for 13.8 per cent of cancer cases among men. Other cancers common among men are nasopharynx (8.8 per cent), colon (7.6 per cent) and leukaemia (7.1 per cent),
For women, breast cancer accounts for 31 per cent of cases while the other types are cervix, ovary and uterus cancers. These figures are part of the second report from the registry.
Deputy Health Minister Datuk Dr Latiff Ahmad said statistics were crucial as they could help identify the funding for cancer treatments and research.
"We have 40,000 cancer patients and their treatment costs are heavily subsidised," he said after launching the Cancer Incidence in Malaysia Report at Kuala Lumpur Hospital.
Lung and breast cancers were predominant among the older age group (50 years and above).
For those below 15, the most frequent cancer is leukaemia, brain, lymphoma and cancers of the connective tissue and kidney.
The report also showed there was a variation of cancer incidence among races. The crude incidence rate for cancers for Chinese males and females were 169.2 and 217.7 per 100,000 of the population respectively.
This was higher compared to Malays and Indians who recorded a rate of 60.6 and 79 for Malay males and females while Indian males and females accounted for 85.7 and 147.2 per 100,000 of the population respectively.
BIRD FLU WATCH: Malaysia sets Jan 3 deadline

The Government has set Jan 3 as the last date to declare Malaysia free of the disease although the country would have achieved such a status on Nov 1 according to World Organisation for Animal Health standards.
According to the organisation, a country can be declared free of bird flu if no new cases surface within 21 days of the last case or the last day of culling.
Agriculture and Agro-Based Industries Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said the new date was set following concerns about the possible re-emergence of the disease due to heavy rains in Kelantan.
He said the ministry would continue conducting checks in the areas first hit by the disease before declaring Malaysia free of the disease.
He said the state Veterinary Services Department (VSD) would continue surveillance for another three weeks until Jan 21 to ensure the disease did not make a comeback.
Mysterious Illness Keeps Siblings From Growing

SUNGAI SIPUT, Dec 14 (Bernama) -- Many people wish they could remain young forever but they would not want to be in the shoes of two siblings here who have been unable to grow since birth, a malady that goes beyond apprehension.
Ten-year-old boy Sugan and his sister Devarani, six, have grown little since their birth and weigh 3 kg and 2.5 kg respectively.
Their parents, P. Moorthy, 44, and A. Thanthy, 31, who have three other children, have tried everything to cure them of the affliction but to no avail.
The mysterious illness struck the second and fifth of their children when they were two-month old infants. Despite their ages, both Sugan and Devarani only consume milk and cereals like babies.
"They have to be cared for very carefully. I have taken them to many doctors, including at Ipoh Hospital, but all of them tell me my children don't have any problem," Moorthy told reporters Tuesday at his home, here.
He said that going by their ages, his children should be attending school but they can hardly walk or even move.
"They live the life of newborn babies and have to be helped in every way. This worries me when I think about their future," he added.
Moorthy said the family received aid of RM50 a month from the Welfare Department to reduce the family's burden in looking after the two unfortunate children.
"As a result of lying down most of the time, they have been afflicted by another problem where their limbs have shrunk to the bones.
"They also have to be bathed in warm water as cold water can cause them to catch fever," he said.
He said the children would cry when their napkins get wet but could joke with their other siblings as they could understand what was said to them.
Moorthy appealed to any medical specialist who could help the children to come forward and relief them of their plight.
"I am worried for their future," he lamented.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Raffles Medical aborts Island Hospital buy

Raffles Medical Group Ltd (RMG), Singapore’s leading integrated private healthcare provider, has aborted its proposed acquisition of Penang-based Island Hospital Sdn Bhd for RM110 million due to “principal issues” that could not be resolved.
RMG told the Singapore Exchange on Dec 11 that the proposed acquisition had been called off — seven weeks after it first announced the move as part of its strategy to continue expanding its operations beyond Singapore.
The company reached an agreement on Oct 23 with the hospital’s existing shareholders to buy up to 100% of its issued share capital for RM110 million cash, subject to contract, due diligence and all necessary approvals.
RMG said since then, the parties had been working towards the finalisation of a definitive sale and purchase agreement, but “principal issues arose which could not be resolved to the satisfaction of all parties”.
Dr Chua Denies Govt To Stop Giving Free Medicine To The Poor

LABIS, Dec 13 (Bernama) -- The Health Ministry does not intend to stop prescribing free medicine to patients, especially the poor, seeking treatment at government hospitals, Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek said Monday.
Instead, the government only planned to set up private pharmacies at selected government hospitals to facilitate patients who could afford to get their medicine supply.
"As a trial, the ministry has identified the Putrajaya and Selayang hospitals to launch the concept before it is expanded to other hospitals," he told reporters after performing the ground-breaking for the Labis branch of the Muhibbah Haemodialysis Centre here.
He said the statement by his deputy Datuk Dr Abdul Latiff Ahmad that the ministry planned to stop giving free medicine to patients was inaccurate.
On Saturday, Dr Abdul Latiff was reported to have said the Health Ministry proposed to stop giving free medicine to patients seeking treatment at government hospitals.
Dr Latiff's statement sparked objections from various groups saying the move would affect the poor seeking treatment at government hospitals.
Dr Chua said what was discussed was the proposal to set up private pharmacies at certain government hospitals following the call by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi that patients who have the means should pay for their medicines when seeking treatment at government hospitals.
This, he said, was in line with the "full-paying patient" concept to be introduced to affordable patients suffering from ailments related to sedentary lifestyle like diabetes, hypertension and stress.
"It's true the cost of buying medicine has been on the rise from year to year and touched nearly RM1 billion or 15 per cent of the ministry's operational cost but the ministry never intended to stop prescribing free medicine to patients, especially to the poor and government employees.
Dr Chua said matters that might be studied were expensive medicines used by patients suffering from hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, stress and illnesses caused by sedentary lifestyle.
He indicated that patients might have to pay a nominal sum but the poor would still enjoy free medicine.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Tobacco firms warn smokers, health risks info on their websites

PETALING JAYA: Tobacco companies have apparently joined the crusade to warn smokers of the dangers of smoking.
The top two tobacco firms – British American Tobacco (BAT) and Phillip Morris International (PMI), have placed information on their websites, warning people of the health risks involved in smoking.
Last month, Phillip Morris also placed information leaflets (in three languages) on their cigarette packs in Malaysia, an initiative first implemented in July, which coincides with the ongoing Tak Nak campaign.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Lower Fertility, Higher Death Rate Among Malaysian Indians

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 12 (Bernama) -- A lower fertility rate and higher death rate among Malaysian Indians in comparison with the Bumiputeras resulted in them falling 0.1 per cent to 7.6 per cent of the population between Census 2000 and this year, according to the Malaysian Statistics Department.
In absolute numbers, however, Malaysian Indians increased from 1.696 million to 1.807 million in the same period.
Works Minister and MIC president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu recently questioned the "7.5 per cent" Indian composition in the population and asked how the Statistics Department arrived at the figure.
He said he had "checked the whole of Sungai Siput (his parliamentary constituency). Nobody went there to do a survey".
In establishing the size of the population, the Statistics Department said it undertook the Population and Housing Census once every 10 years. In between, estimates were used.
In Census 2000, the department used the "de jure" concept where the population including foreigners were counted according to their ordinary residence in Malaysia during the census day while the "de facto" approach which was used in previous censuses counted the number of the population according to where they were on census day.
The total population of Malaysia is estimated at 25.581 million this year compared to 25.048 million last year and 22.082 million during the 2000 census. From the total, 1.694 million are non-citizens this year, against 1.624 million in 2003 and 1.413 million in 2000.
Compared to the growth rate of the Bumiputera population at 2.3 per cent in the 2001-2004 period, the growth rate of the Indian population rose 1.6 per cent in the corresponding period.
MMA: Government doctors not over-prescribing

KUALA LUMPUR: Government doctors are not over-prescribing medicine. The high government spending for medicine is because the drugs to treat chronic illnesses such as heart diseases, diabetes, high blood pressure are generally expensive, said the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA).
MMA president Datuk Dr N. Arumugam said if government hospitals stopped giving chronic illness medicine free or cheap to patients, this might discourage some patients from taking the medication without them realising this would cause them serious medical complications.
“If you lose out on early treatment of these diseases, then you are going to transfer the cost of medicine to the cost of hospitalisation,” he said.
On Friday, Deputy Health Minister Dr Abdul Latif Ahmad said the Government spent RM800mil a year on medicine. He believed a substantial amount of money could be saved if doctors did not over-prescribe drugs, adding that some even prescribed five days' treatment with antibiotics for a simple viral infection.
Dr Arumugam said it was always difficult to say what the appropriate prescription should be for each individual because some come from far away and waited for hours before they could see the doctor.
“Asking them to come back after two days might not be appropriate as it bogs down the already crowded government hospitals.”
He stressed that drugs for chronic illnesses made up the bulk of expenses.
“One of the reasons the government spending for medicine is up is because we have become more efficient in treating the chronically ill.”
Dr Arumugam said the Government should continue to supply the poor with medicine for free and charge the moderate-income group a nominal fee of RM3 or RM5.
He also pointed out that some big companies and multinationals exploited government hospitals to keep medical bills down, sending their employees with chronic illnesses there to get free medicine.
Social activist Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said: ”If the Government decides not to prescribe free medicine, it must ensure the poor will continue to get free medication.”
Dr Latif had said that the Government would ask patients to buy medicine from private pharmacies, adding that the poor, however, would continue to get them for free.
National Association of Malaysian Government Pensioners president Tan Sri Abdullah Ayub said it was reasonable for the Government to expect patients to pay a little more for medicine.
Kayveas Suggests Use Of 'Special', Not 'Handicapped', For Disabled

KLANG, Dec 11 (Bernama) -- Welfare homes, care centres and associations for the disabled should use the word "special" instead of "handicapped" in their registered names, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk M. Kayveas said.
He said "handicapped" was not a suitable word to describe disabled people as they did not ask to be born that way.
"Being disabled is not their choice. We should instead call them 'special' because they need special care," he told Bernama after launching a free shopping programme at Klang Tesco hypermarket for inmates of the Klang Association for the Handicapped centre.
Together with the hypermarket's general manager Bakri Mat Deris, Kayveas presented a RM50,000 cheque to the association which has been "adopted" by the hypermarket.
Kayveas accompanied some 40 children of the centre to choose school uniforms and other school requirements sponsored by the hypermarket to celebrate its second anniversary.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Prevent wastage of medicine, doctors advised

KUALA LUMPUR: Some doctors in public hospitals overprescribe medicine or give a longer course of treatment which results in wastage, Deputy Health Minister Datuk Dr Abdul Latiff Ahmad said.
He said there must be a serious commitment on the part of government doctors and hospital administrators to check this trend as a substantial amount of money could be saved.
Dr Latiff said his statement on the matter should not be misconstrued as “disturbing the clinical liberty of doctors in public hospitals.”
“Instead of giving 10 tablets, they would give 20. There is a lot of wastage. What I am saying is that if a patient comes with a simple respiratory tract infection and suffers from fever, cough and running nose, most doctors prescribe a two-day treatment with no antibiotics.
Dr Latiff: 'The Government had to reduce funds for drugs in 1997'.
“However, some of them prescribe five days of treatment with antibiotics even for a viral infection. There is normally no need for antibiotics here. Only in exceptional cases do you give antibiotics,” he said in an interview yesterday.
Dr Latiff said that three days of medicine were wasted in such cases, adding that the Government spent some RM800mil a year to subsidise the cost of drugs for patients, who pay only RM1 for all drugs prescribed by doctors at government hospitals or clinics.
“For instance, patients with hypertension or diabetes need a three-month supply of medicine for which they only pay RM1. They will not appreciate it,” he said, adding that some patients would ask for the medicine again when they lose it.
Citing another example, he said patients suffering from hypertension were sometimes given three types of drugs even when it was not necessary.
He said one was to relax the muscles of the vessels, another for the kidney and the third for the brain, adding that only certain cases needed all three drugs.
Dr Latiff said that for a patient suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure, medication for two months could easily cost about RM2,000 if medicines were overprescribed.
“Doctors could save the Government RM1,000 if they put in some effort in prescribing the appropriate medicine,” he said.
He said that during the recession in 1997, the Government had to reduce funds for drugs and hospitals “tailored” their needs according to the money available by cutting down on overprescription.
“I am sure this can be done now. We need to educate our doctors on this,” he said.
Dr Latiff emphasised that whatever is done to save costs would not be at the expense of quality treatment for the people, especially because most of those seeking treatment at public hospitals were from the lower-income group.
Indoor Air Quality Standard To Be Set Up

SHAH ALAM, Dec 10 (Bernama) -- Malaysia will establish an air quality standard for indoor working environment soon which requires employers and premises owners to maintain healthy air quality at all times, Human Resources Minister Datuk Dr Fong Chan Onn said.
He said officials from the ministry's Occupational Safety and Health Department were drawing up a standard which would meet international requirements.
The regulation would be implemented within six months and would apply to indoor-nature employers including factories, bars, pubs, casinos and karaoke centres.
The move, he said, would require employers to maintain the air quality standard despite the existence of smokers in the premises.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Six Health Ministry Service Schemes Upgraded

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 10 (Bernama) -- Six of the Health Ministry's service schemes have been upgraded, according to a statement from the Public Services Department (PSD) Friday.
They are tutor, nurse, radiographer, assistant environmental health officer, public health assistant and dental surgery assistant, it said.
The statement said the move was in line with the government's efforts to provide the best service to the people through various ways including improving service quality.
It said the status of tutors at the ministry's health training institutes would be upgraded from diploma level to the new requirement of a bachelor's degree in the relevant Allied Health Sciences field.
Through the service schemes, the officers under the Allied Health Sciences field (formerly known as paramedics) with a bachelor's degree can enter service through appointment exchange. Fresh candidates can also enter the service by direct appointment.
Through the new service schemes, its officers would now be under the Management and Professional Group instead of the previous Supporting Group. A total of 215 officers who taught at the institute had bachelor's degrees and 11 had the Masters degree.
The status of nurses, radiographers and assistants of environmental health officers would be upgraded to grades under the Management and Professional Group, specifically U41/42, U44 and U48. However, grades U29, U32 and U36 are retained.
The service schemes for public health assistants and dental surgery assistants have also been upgraded with a new requirement based on the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia qualification instead of the previous one which was based on the Penilaian Menengah Rendah.
The minimum salary for the new service schemes is RM690.18 (compared to RM547.40) while the maximum is RM1,529.92 (compared to RM1,442.80).
With the formulation and amendment of the six service schemes, current staff are given the option to switch. A total of 226 tutors, 26,318 nurses, 800 radiographers, 1,679 assistant environmental health officers, 2,387 public health officers and 1,611 dental surgery assistants are involved.
There are 281 service schemes covering 20 classifications of services under the Malaysian Remuneration System.
SPM requirement for Chinese medicine students

THOSE who want to pursue courses in Chinese medicine must have SPM qualification starting from next year, China Press reported.
Federation of Chinese Physicians and Medicine Dealers Association of Malaysia secretary-general Thong Choong Khat said this was to prevent fake Chinese physicians from operating.
He said the association did not set an academic qualification for the courses previously, resulting in people losing confidence in the physicians.
He said those who wish to pursue the advanced courses must have STPM qualification and be known in the industry.
Thousands Of Motorcyclists Ride Under The Influence Of Drugs

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 9 (Bernama) -- Between 10 and 15 per cent or 630,000 to 945,000 of the 6.3 million motorcyclists in the country are riding under the influence of drugs, Road Transport Department (JPJ) Director-General Datuk Emran Kadir said Thursday.
The JPJ discovered this trend after conducting operations and roadblocks, he said.
Although the percentage was small, it viewed the matter seriously, he told reporters after the opening of the Road Safety Council's 45th Annual General Meeting here.
"It is very dangerous to ride under the influence of drugs. It could explain the high number of road accidents and fatalities involving motorcyclists," he said.
An integrated operation would be intensified next year in addressing the problem as well as reducing road accidents and fatalities as a whole, he said.
He said the JPJ, police, National Anti-Drugs Agency, Royal Customs Department, Immigration Department, Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board and Anti-Corruption Agency would launch three to four operations a month next year compared with the current practice of having operations during the festive season.
Meanwhile, Transport Minister Datuk Seri Chan Kong Choy to reporters after opening the meeting that seat belts for bus passengers would be introduced next year in a move to reduce the impact of road accidents.
The installation of airbags for cars, confiscation of licences of drivers who commit serious traffic offences and the plan to limit the number of passengers in a car would also be carried out in stages starting next year.
Earlier, in his speech, Chan said a road safety department would be set up in every state next year to tackle issues relating to road safety and accidents more effectively.
The objective was to reduce road accidents and fatalities, conduct studies for input for road safety policies and activities and coordinate actions to promote road safety like improving roads in accident-prone areas and enhancing public awareness of road safety.
Chan said the Road Safety Council would continue to play its role as a consultative agency for the private sector to voice its views on road safety.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Mercy Malaysia dispensing aid to Fallujah’s needy

PETALING JAYA: It is nearing winter in Iraq and the Malaysian Medical Relief Society (Mercy Malaysia) is dispensing essential items to the internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Fallujah to help them through this difficult time.
The organisation is distributing humanitarian aid worth US$20,000 (RM76,000) to the IDPs at present.
Its head of mission, Dr Hamid Altai, said Mercy Malaysia had donated food as well as other items such as bedding and warm clothing.
“Mercy Malaysia has also been trying to reach the civilians still living in the battered city of Fallujah,” he said from Iraq in a press statement on Tuesday.
He added: “We are deeply concerned about the women and children who have no access to water, food and medical care.
“However, all our attempts have failed because our passage was blocked by the American troops although the aid we are trying to extend is crucial to their survival.”
This prohibition, Dr Hamid, had only been recently lifted with the US forces authorising the Iraqi Red Crescent Society to enter the city.
Mercy Malaysia president Datuk Dr Jemilah Mahmood called on the public to support the organisation's work in Iraq.
“There are still urgent supplies needed for the people who have fled their homes and are living in and around Fallujah,” she said.
In 2003, the organisation spent a total of RM2.44mil on medical and humanitarian assistance in Iraq.
It has completed the rehabilitation of the Ibn Al-Quff Hospital and the Al-Mansoor Paediatric Teaching Hospital.
For details, call Mercy Malaysia
at 03-4256 9999 or e-mail:
Unfit workers highest in agri sector

Based on health screenings last year, 6,500 workers or 35.2 per cent of 18,561 workers (under the sector) screened were found to be physically unfit.
The sector is followed by manufacturing with 4,623 workers (24.9 per cent), construction 3,768 (20.3 per cent), maids 2,639 (14.2 per cent) and service 1001 (5.4 per cent).
Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek said this in his written reply to BN Kelana Jaya member Loh Seng Kok.
Loh had wanted to know what are the types of communicable diseases brought into the country by the foreign workers from their home countries.
He had also wanted to know what steps were taken to control and monitor such diseases.
Chua said among the diseases detected among the foreign workers included Hepatitis B, Tuberculosis, Syphilis and HIV.
He said the Ministry had taken steps like undertaking random medical sampling among foreign workers at five main entry points and also annual medical checks.
District hospitals need then too

KUALA LUMPUR: The Government should provide every district hospital and small hospitals with specialised equipment like ventilators.
“There are more babies born at district hospitals and so each district should have a ventilator at least,” said Federation of Malaysian Consumer Associations (Fomca) adviser Datuk Hamdan Adnan.
He said the Government has the resources to buy these machines even if they cost about RM50,000 each.
“Since the Government could spend a lot on other things like holding celebrations and even open houses, they could afford to provide ventilators to district and small hospitals,” he said.
Hamdan was commenting on The Malay Mail’s front-page report on Monday, where a newborn at Putrajaya Hospital had to be sent 180km to the Muar Hospital for a ventilator as Putrajaya did not have a machine to spare.
The Malaysian Paediatric Association on Tuesday said that the practice of sourcing for ventilators by a Government hospital from other Government hospitals was not new.
Its president, Professor Dr Zulkifli Ismail, also dismissed the idea of sending patients from Government hospitals to private ones, as it was not feasible due to cost factor.
On this, Hamdan said hospitals should be given the power to use their discretion during critical situations.
On another aspect, Hamdan said large companies in the respective districts could fulfil their social obligations by donating a machine (to the district hospital).
The Health Ministry’s director-general Tan Sri Dr Mohamad Taha Arif could not be reached for comment.
Fertility rate at new low

THE fertility rate of men and women in the country has dropped to an unprecedented level, according to the National Population and Family Development Board.
According to Kosmo, the drop had resulted in the Government shelving its plan to have a population of 70 million by 2100.
Women, Family and Community Development Ministry parliamentary secretary Chew Mei Fun said in Parliament that several factors contributed to this decline, in particular the country's development and industrialisation.
She said that many couples had put off having children in pursuit of their careers while people were getting married at a later age.
Fertility specialist Dr Mohd Ismail Mohd Tambi said the sperm count for men had dropped by half from that of the 60s and 70s.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Complaints over ‘physicians’

SOME so-called professional Chinese physicians from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong have been conducting minor surgeries using anaesthetic and putting patients on the drip in Malaysia, reported China Press.
The daily said these “physicians” were not only unregistered with the Malaysian Medical Council but they also had not been trained in Western medicine.
It quoted Federation of Chinese Physicians and Acupuncturists Malaysia secretary Ng Po Kok as saying that the federation had received complaints from its members and patients that these “physicians” were conducting treatment in Kuala Lumpur, Perak and Johor Baru.
He said the “physicians” were operating like a business chain with branches mushrooming in the country and the number of “physicians” was going up.
He said these “physicians” were here on social visas but were operating business with some locals.
"We are doubtful about where these 'physicians' obtain the medicines. It is believed that they get them through some illegal channels. "

Doc: Shortage of ventilators is relative

The demand for specialised equipment like ventilators is seasonal, and there could always be a shortage at Government hospitals.
Such a situation has been described as "relative".
Ventilators cost up to RM50,000 each and they require trained personnel to man them.
Hence, it is little wonder why they are only available at big hospitals in the country, while the smaller ones do not have any The Malay Mail contacted 11 Government hospitals in the country at random, and found that none of them had any ventilator (See accompanying story).
Malaysian Paediatric Association (MPA) president Professor Dr Zulkifli Ismail said Government hospitals have between four and 10 ventilators or incubators, but that depends on the hospitals, too.
"There will always be a demand for ventilators. This is relative," said Dr Zulkifli. The paediatrician said that sourcing for ventilators in other hospitals was not new.
"It's just that those occasions did not make the headlines." Dr Zulkifli was commenting on a front-page story in The Malay Mail on Monday, where a newborn at Putrajaya Hospital had to be sent 180km to Muar Hospital for a ventilator, as it did not have a spare machine.
367 Mental Patients Loitering Nationwide, Dewan Negara Told

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 8 (Bernama) -- A total of 367 mental patients were found loitering on the roads nationwide up to last October, the Dewan Negara was told Wednesday.
Women, Family and Community Development Ministry Parliamentary Secretary Chew Mei Fun said 243 of them were males while the rest were females.
"They are now being placed at a rehabilitation centre of Desa Bina Diri in Mersing," he said, replying to Senator Siw Chun Eam, during question time.
Chew said they were picked up in operations conducted by the Social Welfare Department from time to time under the Destitute Person Act 1977.
Bid to improve ambulance service

BATU PAHAT: The Health Ministry is again considering the possibility of privatising the ambulance service of government hospitals and clinics to provide a more efficient service.
Deputy Health Minister Datuk Dr Latiff Ahmad said a similar study had previously been carried out but no decision had been made.
The ministry is re-looking into privatisation following a directive from the Economic Planning Unit.
Dr Latiff, however, did not say how long it would take to complete the study but added that something had to be done.
“We've been told that the poor service has caused a lot of inconvenience to the public. So, it's timely to reconsider privatising the ambulance service so that it can be managed in a more professional and efficient manner,” Dr Latiff said to reporters after attending a Hari Raya gathering jointly organised by Pantai Medivest Sdn Bhd at the Batu Pahat hospital yesterday.
Apart from non-governmental organisations like the Malaysian Red Crescent Society (MRCS), government hospitals and clinics, several private companies also offer ambulance services.
However, the number of ambulances was still inadequate, Dr Latiff said.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Pantai expects to get overseas jobs early ’05

Healthcare provider Pantai Holdings Bhd expects to secure several overseas contracts especially in the Middle East, Sri Lanka and India early next year, its chairman Datuk Ridzwan Abu Bakar says.
These projects would enable the company to maintain the group’s profitability for the financial year ending June 30, 2005, he told reporters after Pantai’s AGM on Dec 6.
Among the overseas projects, the company hopes to secure contracts to provide management services to Apollo Hospitals Ltd, and South Asia Gateway Terminals (SAGT) port in Sri Lanka as well as three hotels in India.
A company executive said its wholly-owned unit Pantai Medivest Sdn Bhd was expected to secure two management contracts in Sri Lanka and several more in India by the first quarter of 2005. The parties involved are finalising the terms of the contract.
He said the Apollo Hospitals and SAGT contracts have a combined contract value of less than RM1 million a year. Pantai hopes to start providing SAGT the services in February 2005.
A source said Pantai Medivest was talking to ITC-Sheraton and Park Hotel in New Delhi and Bangalore to provide management services for some of its facilities.
Ridzwan said Pantai was waiting for the Saudi Arabian government to give the go-ahead for it to provide hospital management and support services to two new hospitals there.
It was reported that the company had signed a joint venture (JV) agreement with the Al-Sharif Group For Investment and Development in August to tap the Middle East market. The Al-Sharif Group plans to build two hospitals in Mecca and Madinah.
Under the JV, Pantai Medivest would provide expertise and technical resources, manpower and equipment while the Al-Sharif Group would act as liaison to the authorities as well as parties in the private sector.
Ridzwan added that Pantai was finalising arrangements with UK-based and Belgium-based insurance companies to include its seven hospitals here into the insurers panel as part of its efforts to tap into the health tourism business.
He expected to conclude the deals in three months. Currently, Pantai hospitals are in the panel list of UK-based global healthcare organisation BUPA International.
On its 16.7% interest in Avenue Capital Resources Bhd, Ridzwan said it would consider selling if there was an offer on the table.
Bakti to raise awareness on rehab medicine for disabilities

KUALA LUMPUR: In a move to raise awareness about the disabled, Bakti (the Association of Wives of Ministers and Deputy Ministers) is setting up the Malaysian Information Network on Disabilities (MIND).
The Bakti-MIND project, aimed at providing information on rehabilitation medicine and its importance, will involve collaboration with the Malaysian Association of Rehabilitation Medicine (MARM).
MARM president Assoc Prof Datuk Dr Zaliha Omar said a website would be created under the project and relevant information would also be sent out to the public once the project is launched next year.
“We want the public to know that the disabled can be independent and that we want them to be independent so that they can also contribute to society,” she said.

Monday, December 06, 2004

More health facilities for ex-servicemen

From Jan 1, about 170,000 ex-servicemen without pensions can walk into private clinics and send the bill to the Government if usual services are unavailable at government hospitals.
The facility, currently available only to former staff enjoying pensions, will include medicines from pharmacies.
Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said the veterans would, however, have to obtain prior approval from a government doctor.
He said this was expected to cost the Government an additional RM19.55 million annually.
Speaking after attending a Hari Raya gathering of ex-servicemen at the Putra World Trade Centre today, he said veterans could also make claims for orthopaedic equipment and prosthetic limbs and after haemodialysis treatment.
Najib, who is Defence Minister, said the move was another indication of the Government’s commitment to the welfare of ex-servicemen.
Doctors in limbo want to be absorbed

KUALA LUMPUR: A group of doctors who graduated from unaccredited universities and cannot get jobs in the Government sector is hoping that the Health Ministry will put an end to their woes.
In a recent meeting held with Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek, the doctors were assured that the matter will be looked into.
They had sat for the final papers at the Hospital Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (HUKM), but had found that they could not work at Government medical centres as their universities were unaccredited.
Those who graduate from unaccredited universities are required to sit for a qualifying examination at local universities along with local medical students. To work for the Government, they have to pass the papers.
While it is an additional entry examination for them, the same papers are used for local final-year medical students.
Dr Chua declined to comment when contacted.
A spokesman for the group said they were happy to receive a positive response from the Minister.
The spokesman said besides the problem of securing jobs, the doctors were unhappy with the outcome of the examination results.
“The final exams are held biannually in March and October. In the October 2003 examination, only eight of the 48 students from the unaccredited universities passed the examination they sat for at the HUKM. In the exam in October this year, out of the 16 students who sat for the paper, only two had passed. The rest of them were borderline cases who failed,” said the spokesman, who asked to remain anonymous.
Also present during the meeting was deputy director-general of health Datuk Dr Ismail Merican.
The spokesman said Dr Chua had assured them that he will review the matter and promised to bring it up during the Cabinet meeting.
The spokesman hopes that the Government will recognise these doctors and absorb them into Government medical centres as was done with doctors who had graduated from the Kursk State Medical University in Russia.
“Some of the doctors from this university had also failed the qualifying exam, like many of us. They were, however, accepted by the Ministry.”
In February 2002, The Malay Mail had reported that some 200 Malaysians with medical degrees from unaccredited universities would be allowed to practise, without having to sit a qualifying examination to overcome the shortage of 3,500 doctors in the country.
The then Health Minister Datuk Chua Jui Meng had announced that those with degrees which were not originally recognised could apply for a place in government medical institutions.
The spokesman pointed out that the Government has employed foreign doctors with qualifications similar to theirs.
“Some of these foreign doctors face language barriers. Instead of employing them, we suggest that the Government recognise and absorb us in,” he said.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Number Of Women HIV/AIDS Victims Surging

PENANG, Dec 4 (Bernama) -- The number of HIV-positive women increased from nine cases or 1.2 per cent of all HIV cases in the country in 1990 to 673 cases or 9.7 per cent in 2003, Health Ministry Parliamentary Secretary Lee Kah Choon said.
He said the number of women AIDS cases during the same period rose from zero to 137 cases or 12.7 per cent.
Women should have the right to say no to unsafe sex with their partners as a means of protecting themselves from being infected with HIV/AIDS, he told reporters after launching the state World AIDS Day here.
He said studies showed that women were more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS infection compared to men and that the number of cases had been increasing every year.
The main reason for the rise was the lack of awareness, lack of prevention knowledge and reluctance to go for screening for fear of the public stigma and discrimination associated with the disease.
In Penang, Lee said, the figures till September this year showed that there were a total of 2,531 HIV carriers and 564 infected by AIDS. From the total, 349 had resulted in death.
He said about 90 per cent of them were men and sharing needles for their drug fix was the main cause of infection at 54.5 per cent while heterosexual cases contributed to 30.2 per cent.
Gov't Hospitals Do Not Sell Blood, Says Deputy Minister

SEREMBAN, Dec 4 (Bernama) -- Deputy Health Minister Datuk Dr Abdul Latiff Ahmad said Saturday government hospitals have never sold blood obtained free of charge from the public to others.
As such, he said, the ministry would not hesitate to stop immediately the blood supply service to private hospitals which claimed that the government was selling blood to them.
"What is being charged is only a service fee of RM20 for tests carried out by government hospitals on the blood donated to screen for dangerous diseases," he told reporters after launching the Seremban Hospital Family Day Carnival 2004, here today.
Also present at the function were State Health Director Dr Rosnah Ismail and Hospital Seremban Director Datin Dr Zailan Adnan.
He said there were private hospitals which were not grateful for the blood supply from the ministry and some even told their clients that they had to impose a high fee for blood transfusion as the government had imposed certain charges.
He said there were also private hospitals which imposed a high fee for the blood received by their patients claiming that they had to repeat the blood screening upon receiving them.
"This indirectly show their lack of confidence on the tests carried out by government hospitals earlier. I wish to stress that we (the ministry) are responsible for the cleanliness and safety of the blood which had been screened before being supplied to others," he said.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Many unaware of Patients Charter

NINE years after the Patients Charter was accepted, many people, even those in the medical service, are not aware of it.
Datuk Dr S. Sothi Rachagan, the Consumer Rights columnist in Berita Harian, said the concept of a charter was not new.
He said a similar charter was drafted in South Korea by its consumer association and accepted by the government in 1985.
Malaysia, however, drafted its Patients Charter after lengthy discussions among consumers and medical service providers.
These discussions, involving parties like the Federation of Consumer Associations (Fomca), Malaysian Medical Association and the Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society, took six years before the charter was finally drafted in 1993 and accepted with minor amendments, in 1995.
The country’s Patients Charter was widely acclaimed and received positive comments from the British medical journal, The Lancet, in 1994.
But Dr Sothi said that no review has been carried out since 1995, causing its weakness to remain, that is, the absence of an enforcement body to deal with matters of rights and responsibilities.
He suggested that as a measure of enforcing the charter, the Health Ministry should be involved in promoting it.
Another measure is for Fomca to recall the parties involved in formulating the original charter for a meeting to review and update the charter.
He also proposed various committees to work on strategies to promote the charter.
Our ophthalmology outstanding

Malaysia has been praised as being among the best in the field of ophthalmology.
International Orbis Flying Eye Hospital medical director Dr Carlos Eduardo Solarte said that Malaysia was “absolutely fantastic” in terms of technology and the knowledge to train doctors.
“We have had a wonderful two weeks here and our local counterparts have been really outstanding,” he said.
A group of reporters were taken on a tour of the Orbis DC-10 aircraft and its facilities yesterday.
The aircraft has a classroom, an audio-visual room, a laser treatment room, an operating theatre, a sub-sterile room where medical supplies are kept, and a recovery room for pre- and post-operation patients.
It also has 16 cameras and 54 monitors to help the doctors in their work.
The reporters got to see “live” a glaucoma operation via the video system.
The US-based flying eye hospital, the only one in the world, had been at Terminal Three of the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport in Subang the last two weeks, at the invitation of the Tun Hussein Onn National Eye Hospital and the Health Ministry.
It had been providing free eye check-ups and surgery and would leave for Myanmar tomorrow.
Up to yesterday, Orbis had treated 34 patients in Malaysia.
Improved survival rate now

Advances in neo-natal technology and care in Malaysia over the past 10 years have improved the survival rate of babies underweight at birth, a consultant pediatrician said today.
Dr Hans Luc Aster Van Rostenberghe, who is attached to Universiti Sains Malaysia Hospital’s Paediatrics Department in Kubang Kerian, said more than 60 per cent of premature babies now survive the first two years after birth.
Some 10 years ago in Malaysia, he said, the survival rate for low birth-weight babies (less than 1kg at birth) was just above 10 per cent. (The normal weight of a baby at birth is from 2.5 kg to 3.8kg.)
"We have seen major advances in neo-natal technology and care in the country since then," he said. "This has contributed to the decline in infant mortality.
"Despite this, it is not easy for any neo-natal team to ensure the well-being of the babies under their care as strict monitoring is still crucial."
This was because initiating and maintaining growth of such babies is a continuing challenge, especially where proper nutrition is concerned.
Speaking to the New Straits Times at a gathering of more than 20 premature babies that were once under the care of HUSM’s neo-natal unit, he said an average of 10 to 20 premature babies were delivered in HUSM a year. Most of their parents were from Kelantan and Terengganu.