Friday, April 29, 2005

Chua: No more dengue outbreak in Malaysia

The country is free of a dengue epidemic, said Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek.
After battling the deadly disease for the past 16 weeks of the year, there is no more dengue outbreak.
Dr Chua said there was a significant drop in dengue cases as compared to early part of the year when the outbreak occurred. To date the disease has killed 40 people, many of whom children.
"There were about 1,500 cases reported in a week in February. But they have since dropped to between 350 and 400 cases a week now and that is normal," he told reporters after visiting the Kangar Hospital here
SJMC buys Megah Medical for RM10.7m

Sime Darby Bhd’s unit Subang Jaya Medical Centre Sdn Bhd (SJMC) has acquired Megah Medical Specialists Group Sdn Bhd (MMSG) in Petaling Jaya for RM10.70 million.
The acquisition of the MMSG would be financed by SJMC’s own funds under the latter’s expansion programme to upgrade its facilities.
SJMC director Datuk Syed Tamin Syed Mohamed said on April 28 that MMSG’s 17,500-sq ft facility in Taman Megah, together with the SJMC managed Klinik Rantau Petronas in Kerteh, would be the first of a chain of feeder hospitals for SJMC as well as day-care and outpatient treatment centres.
Speaking to the press after the signing ceremony in Subang Jaya on April 28, he estimated SJMC should be able to record RM15 million in profit on the back of RM175 million in revenue for the financial year ending June 30, 2005.
For FY04, he estimated profit of “about RM13 million” on the revenue of RM150 million.
On the acquisition of MMSG, Syed Tamin said it was part of the plan to make SJMC a “mothership” for a series of similar centres throughout the country.
“We’ve built SJMC to be best-in-class but our patients are all over the country. What we want is if a patient in Kedah has a problem, they don’t have to come here. If we had a centre in Alor Star, they can be examined by our doctors there,” he said.
Tamin said the MMSG acquisition would bring together SJMC’s expertise in in-patient treatment with MMSG’s expertise in out-patient treatment to create “the best overall healthcare” in the country.
The takeover is expected to lead to some “letting go” of MMSG staff and there will be a name change, he said.
Kinrara hospital is no more!

KUALA LUMPUR: The 95 Kinrara Armed Forces Hospital in Puchong, which treated thousands of military personnel for more than half a century, is no more.
The 55-year-old hospital, built by the British Army, ceased operations on Wednesday, despite pleas from many servicemen to preserve the oldest military hospital in the country.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman confirmed that the Kinrara Hospital officially ceased operations on Wednesday. It was initially supposed to stop operations on Aug 1, last year.
“The patients have all been transferred to the Science and Technology Research Institute of Defence (STRIDE) building in Jalan Padang Tembak, pending the completion of the Mindef hospital,’’ he said.
The closure of the Kinrara Hospital has upset many ex-servicemen, and the public from the neighbouring housing estates, as it was the only Government hospital where they could receive specialist treatment without having to make an appointment.
Sources said practically all the specialist clinics at the hospital have closed down and skeletal staff are manning the building now.
“The doctors and nurses report for work dutifully but have absolutely nothing to do. Whatever minimal service they were providing before has also ground to a halt and they have to turn away patients,” they added.
The Malay Mail had, on May 28 last year, reported that the millions spent on highly-trained medical specialists and equipment were going to waste due to the premature “phasing out’’ of their services, in view of the hospital’s impending closure.
As a result, the highly qualified specialists who were trained at between RM6 million and RM8 million per person by the Armed Forces, were reduced to providing treatment which ordinary GPs could perform.
Some of the specialists were transferred to the Terendak and Lumut hospitals.
Demoralised by the situation, a number of the specialists and ancillary staff left the service.
It is believed that the move to close the Kinrara hospital was to facilitate the sale of the prime land in Puchong to a private developer for about RM200 million.
Under the deal, the proceeds from the sale were to be pumped into the new Genting Klang Hospital, which is scheduled for completion in a year or two.
However, it is learnt that following the uproar over the impending closure of the hospital, the developer backed out.
Sources said Mindef officials are now unsure about what to do with the land now that Kinrara Hospital is no longer functioning.
”It is such a waste. Had they thought this thing through, they would have saved this heritage and upgraded it instead of spending an additional RM5 million for a temporary facility at the STRIDE building which lacks facilities as it is not designed for a hospital at all,’’ they said.
They said the Kinrara hospital also had some of the best equipment and facilities which even other Government hospitals do not have. It was also a training ground for medical personnel of the Armed Forces.
It is learnt that a contractor has been engaged to transfer the equipment from the hospital to the temporary facility at STRIDE.
The Kinrara hospital used to operate like a full-fledged public hospital with a 24-hour emergency department and a staff strength of 180.
It had a wide range of specialist services including orthopaedic, ear, nose and throat and obstetrics and gynaecology clinics.
Biotech thrust : Nine-point policy includes tax breaks

PUTRAJAYA: Malaysia has unveiled a national policy to give impetus to its biotechnology sector, providing tax breaks to attract private investments and setting up the Malaysian Biotechnology Corporation.
The National Biotechnology Policy announced by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi yesterday encompasses three phases – capacity building (2005-2010), creating business out of science (2011-2015) and turning Malaysia into a global player (2016-2020).
The policy spells out nine thrusts, which include transforming and enhancing the value creation of the agricultural sector through biotechnology.
It also aims to capitalise on the strengths of biodiversity for commercial discoveries in health-related natural products.
The policy will encourage growth opportunities in the application of advanced bio-processing and bio-manufacturing technologies, and build human capital in biotechnology via education and training.
The other thrusts of the policy are to:
# APPLY competitive “lab to market” funding and incentives to promote participation by academia, the private sector and government-linked companies,
# ENSURE the country’s regulatory framework and procedures are in line with global standards and best practices,
# ESTABLISH a global marketing strategy to build brand recognition for Malaysian biotech products and applications, and benchmark progress; and,
# SET up a dedicated and professional implementation agency to oversee the development of the biotech industry.
USM Scores A First In Rapid Diagnostics Kit For Typhoid

KUALA LUMPUR, April 28 (Bernama) -- Researchers at Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) have scored a world's first in coming out with a rapid diagnostics kit for typhoid.
The kit produced by a research team headed by Prof Asma Ismail can detect the disease in patients in as little as 15 minutes.
According to a statement released by the university here Thursday, the kit named TYPHIRAPID-IgM has been used to help the Kota Bharu Hospital in Kelantan in tackling the recent outbreak of typhoid in the state.
Besides antibodies tests, the researchers also succeeded in inventing a DNA testing kit called EZTYPHI Carrier DNA to detect the presence of specific genes of the Salmonella Typhi bacteria, which causes the disease.
The team further found a new testing method for identifying carriers of typhoid more easily and accurately.
The test which uses the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) method takes about two hours to identify carriers among food operators and illegal immigrants.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Heart disease taking toll on fiscal health

In 2003, cardiovascular drugs topped the list of pharmaceuticals the ministry bought from Pharmaniaga (the ministry’s major supplier), with the bill coming to RM70.2 million.
Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek said cardiovascular diseases and their treatment consumed a substantial portion of the nation’s healthcare budget.
The ministry’s total expenditure on drugs increased from RM228 million in 1996 to RM751 million in 2003.
Dr Chua said the use of statins in the primary prevention of atherosclerosis alone cost nearly RM10 million annually.
At the National Heart Institute (IJN), subsidy payments by the Government for civil servants and poor patients rose from RM31.3 million between September 1992 and August 1993 to RM144.5 million between September 2003 and August last year.
These figures gave just a glimpse of the financial burden imposed on the Government by cardiovascular diseases.
"More funds will be channelled under the Ninth Malaysia Plan to address the risk factors in the development of cardiovascular diseases, such as diabetes, smoking, hypertension and high blood cholesterol," he said.
Three kindergartens ordered closed

SEREMBAN: Three kindergartens in the state have been ordered to close temporarily after several of their pupils showed symptoms of hand, foot and mouth (HFM) disease.
Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan said this was a precautionary measure to control the spread of the disease.
He said the kindergartens – two in Tampin and one in Seremban – were ordered closed until the health authorities give them the all-clear sign to reopen.
“We have yet to confirm whether the children are suffering from the disease and will monitor the situation.
300 new typhoid cases in Kelantan

Some 300 new typhoid cases have been registered in Kelantan in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of cases to 589.
Most of them are students who have the tendency to consume food sold outside, Deputy State Health director (Public Health) Dr Lila P. Mohamed Meeran said.
Investigations since the outbreak was detected two weeks ago also revealed poor sanitation and water supply systems as among the causes for the spread of the disease.
This was made worse by people living close together in most semi-urban and rural areas in Kelantan.
As of 4pm yesterday, there were 226 confirmed and 363 suspected cases.
The Kota Baru hospital had the highest number with 150 patients, Tumpat (24), Pasir Putih (21), Pasir Mas (14), Machang (10), Tanah Merah (one), Jeli (two) and Universiti Sains Malaysia Hospital HUSM (80).
Dr Lila said the rest were treated in private hospitals.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Sime Darby Says In Talks To Buy Medical Center

Malaysian conglomerate Sime Darby Bhd. (4197.KU) said Wednesday its wholly-owned unit Subang Jaya Medical Centre Sdn. Bhd., is in discussions to acquire Megah Medical Specialists Group Sdn. Bhd.
Closely held Megah Medical operates a medical day-care center and provides other health care services.
"An announcement will be made if and when a share sale agreement is signed," Sime Darby said in a brief statement to the local stock exchange.
The Subang Jaya Medical Centre is a private hospital that has 375 beds and 14 surgery rooms.
Banking on Biotechnology - A Disaster in the Making?

PENANG, Malaysia, Apr 26 (IPS) - There are fears that the Malaysian government is attempting another bad swing in the biotechnology game by welcoming clinical trials outsourced by pharmaceutical giants, where monitoring mechanisms and regulations for research could be relaxed to spawn domestic biotech ventures.
On Thursday, the government is due to unveil a national policy that will earmark biotechnology -- which harnesses the science of genetics to develop medicines --as the next engine of growth for the country.
This national biotech policy comes after the disappointing Bio Valley project venture, which started in 2001 inside Malaysia's 3.7 billion U.S. dollar Multimedia Super Corridor. Malaysian officials were hoping to attract 10 billion dollars in foreign and local investment in the biotechnology industry in 10 years - a tall order for a small domestic scientific community.
Four years later, the indications are that Bio Valley has been a dismal failure with only three companies signing up to establish plants.
Now, there is much speculation as to what the government has in mind.
''We understand it (the draft policy) was essentially farmed out to a private consultant and even among government ministries and agencies, the consultation has been unsatisfactory,'' said Chee Yoke Ling, the legal advisor for Third World Network - a coalition of NGOs in the developing world.
''From the public statements made by Malaysia's Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Dr. Jamaludin Jarjis, it is not clear exactly which part of the biotech world he is aspiring to,'' she told IPS.
In giving broad brush glimpses of the policy, Minister Jarjis said, ''We will discuss with the Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs for a complete review of IP (intellectual property) laws. Otherwise, the foreign biotechnology giants will not outsource their clinical trials in our country.''
It appears that Jamaludin may want to follow the footsteps of India where monitoring mechanisms and regulations for research are relaxed in order to encourage the setting up of contact research organisations (CROs) to take up the business of experimenting new drugs for pharmaceutical giants.
Clinical trials performed on humans, animals or cells are estimated to cost only one-tenth in Asia as compared to the United States and Europe.
A report by Sandhya Srinivasan of the India Resource Center indicated that in the case of India, the middleman and CROs, for instance, could collect up to two million dollars while spending only 20,000 dollars on initial research outlay. He said the huge profit margin was made using the poor and sick of India ''as raw materials''.
The report goes on to add that unethical practices by drug companies and CROs are common, and the ones bearing the brunt are usually the unsuspecting Indian people in areas where the clinical trials are conducted. ''Mostly, patients do not know that they are on experimental drugs,'' the report claims.
The 1964 Helsinki Declaration on ethical principles for medical research involving human subjects, in an updated note added last year, states clearly that ''at the conclusion of the study, every patient entered into the study should be assured of access to the best proven prophylactic, diagnostic and therapeutic methods identified by the study''.
But the Indian Resource Center report explicitly points out that most of the time these patients are shortchanged. ''There is no guarantee that the drug will be made available post-trial.''
Critics are concerned that the same thing could happen in Malaysia should the country take this biotech route.
Jamaludin's promise to have a one-stop agency to cut the red tape for foreign biotech companies has also created fear among certain quarters.
Beth Burrows, president of the Edmonds Institute - a U.S.-based public interest group that looks into biosafety issues - cautioned that turning off the alarm bells, just to invite investment from multinational biotech companies, was tantamount to courting disaster.
''Bravo to Malaysia, if it takes the route of biosafety research!'' said Burrows.
''Good regulation is efficiency in the long run - it can help a country to have safe, dependable products on the market, build trust with consumers worldwide and thereby sustainable markets and avoid human health and environmental disasters as well as long term clean up and litigation costs.''
But Malaysia's neighbours could thwart the country's dreams by putting up strong competition for investment in a highly capital-intensive biotech industry.
Australia, Japan, South Korea and China have all introduced new legislation and provided funding to jumpstart their life-science industry. Singapore, for example, set aside two billion dollars to offer as incentive to attract leading research corporations and to invest in local and foreign biotech start-ups. To bolster its universities' research capabilities, Singapore is also offering competitive salaries to attract professors from top-ranked U.S. institutions - something Malaysia is finding difficult to do.
''Many developing countries aspire towards this goal (of having a lucrative biotech industry). Nonetheless, they go about this without very clear specific understanding of the various aspects of the industry,'' said Third World Network's Chee. ''It's a very risky venture, especially since public funds will be spent.''
A study of 51 biotech centers in the U.S. by the Brookings Institution revealed that it often takes a decade or more to develop biotechnology-based products and perhaps one in 1,000 patented biotech innovations produces a successful commercial product.
The study also shows that most biotechnology firms are quite small and typically contract with global pharmaceutical firms to produce, market, and distribute successful products rather than attempting to create their own capacity to do so.
The losses, too, have been tremendous. According to the accounting firm Ernst and Young, publicly traded biotechnology companies in the U.S. lost 41 billion dollars from 1990 to 2003.
As the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions gone astray and Malaysia's national biotechnology policy might be another headstone in a graveyard of investors' dreams
Typhoid alert in Negri Sembilan

SEREMBAN: Three suspected cases of typhoid were detected in Negri Sembilan yesterday, prompting a statewide alert on a possible outbreak.
State Health, Science, Technology and Innovation Committee chairman Datuk Yu Chok Tow said the three cases were reported in Gemencheh, Tampin and Jelebu.
She said the first case in Gemencheh involved a married couple, both of whom were medical staff at the district clinic while a housewife was referred as a suspected carrier.
“We are monitoring the whole situation including collecting samples from the 23 premises visited by the three in the last 21 days,” she said here yesterday.
Yu said that based on the information gathered, the three had not visited Kelantan since January this year.
“We are still probing the source where the three could have possibly contracted the harmful bacteria,” she said.
Yu said a “typhoid alert” had been issued to all clinics and hospitals in the state, and the department had set up typhoid operations rooms at district clinics in Tampin and Jelebu.
Dramatic drop in childbirth deaths

THE death rate among women who had just given birth has reduced dramatically in the past 50 years, according to China Press.
It quoted Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek as saying there were 530 deaths for every 100,000 deliveries in 1950 but in the year 2000, this had reduced to 30 deaths per 100,000 cases.
Dr Chua said with this achievement, Malaysia had met the World Health Organisation’s target of a 98% delivery success rate. He stated that this vast improvement was the result of the Government’s strategic five-year economic plans.
The infant mortality rate in the country has also improved from 19.7 deaths in every 1,000 newborns in 1981 to 6.8 deaths in 2002.
Dr Chua also said that today 90% of the country’s residents lived within five kilometres of a healthcare facility.
He urged all fathers and husbands to take good care of the health of women and children as they were important assets to the country.
Sin Chew Daily reported that the National Heart Institute (IJN) has introduced a new drug that will benefit those suffering from heart problems.
Compared with other anti-platelet drugs, the new drug clopidogrel is said to help save the lives of heart patients and prevent a second heart attack.
According to the institute, there are about 30,500 people in the country with heart problems. Every year, about 23% of heart patients die from heart attacks.
The drug is said to be one of the more effective drugs in preventing heart failure. The drug has been tested on about 10,000 patients by the institute’s research department. So far, there are more than four million users of the drug worldwide.
Private Sector Encouraged To Set Up Nursing Colleges

UALA LUMPUR, April 26 (Bernama) -- The Higher Education Ministry welcomes the establishment of nursing colleges offering advanced level courses by the private sector to help overcome the shortage of trained nurses in the country, the Dewan Rakyat was told Tuesday.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the ministry, Datuk Dr Adham Baba, said the colleges must be registered as private institutions of higher learning and apply to offer the nursing courses under the Private Higher Education Institutions Act 1996.
"If the colleges want their graduates to join the civil service, it is advisable for them to obtain the accreditation from the National Accreditation Board," he said in replying to a question from Dr Rozaidah Talib (BN-Ampang).
Dr Rozaidah had wanted to know the steps taken by the ministry to overcome the shortage of nurses in hospitals nationwide.
She said the nurse-patient ratio was 1:436, lower than the ideal ratio of 1:200.
She said Malaysia needed about 8,000 additional nurses annually but could only make available 3,000 more each year.
Dr Adham said that as at December last year, 56,703 trained nurses were in service while 1,160 student nurses were undergoing the course at public higher education institutions and 2,861 more in private colleges.
Up to last month, the ministry had approved 20 applications from private institutions to offer nursing courses while seven applications were under consideration, he said.
Malaysia Going After The Pearl Of Biotech Industry

KUALA LUMPUR, April 26 (Bernama) -- Being in the mega biodiversity league with 12 other nations has not made Malaysia's achievement in biotechnology something to crow about.
While countries with advance biotechnology have long been in the high end of the industry and conquered the world with the extraction of herbs for better value, Malaysia is satisfied playing on the low side of the field.
Most of the biotech activities in the country still centre on turning the herbs into powder form and sold in capsule or blended into juice.
Chief Executive Officer of Tropical Botanics Malaysia Sdn Bhd, Dr Rajen M. is very philosophical in describing current state of Malaysia's biotechnology status.
He likens the scenario in the country to that of "a sea shell on the shore."
"We are excited by the sea shell with different colours. The real pearls are in the ocean. One pearl there could be worth more than all the sea shells -- that is herbal extraction," he said.
Tropical Botanics, a joint venture between Malaysian Herbal Corporation (MHC) -- the investment outfit of the Malaysian Industry Government Grouping for High Technology (MIGHT), is Malaysia's first multi-herb extraction firm.
MardiTech, the investment subsidiary of the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (Mardi) and Mayban Ventures, the venture capital arm of Maybank, also have a stake in the company.

Dr Rajen said herbal extraction is the technology that Malaysia should undertake if it wanted to leapfrog into the world herbal industry worth US$50 billion.
He said there are many herbs that are unique to Malaysia which is the fourth largest producer after China, India and Indonesia.
Uniquely too, Malaysia is the only place in the world where herbs used by the Chinese, Indian and Malay, like "pegaga" (centella asiatica) and "kacip fatimah" (labisia pothoina) have been "cooked" for the last 500 years.
Associate Professor of Molecular Medicine, Dr Mohamed Saifulaman Mohamed Said, of the Institute of Medical Biotechnology, Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM), said Malaysia's other unique attribute was that its biodiversity was not only in the flora and fauna but also in the people.
Malaysia is the only place in the world where three races -- the Malays, Chinese and Indians -- live in one place, he said.
In doing research on a certain drug, for instance, in China, the medicine works for the Chinese but if the product is tested on other races, there might be some adverse reaction.
"So, by coming to Malaysia, you can do testing on the Malays who represent the Malay stock, the Chinese for those from mainland China, and so also the Indian," he said.
Dr Saifulaman said herb extraction through biotechnology was the only choice if Malaysia wants to compete with a country like China.
The local herbal industry is said to be worth between RM4 billion and RM5 billion a year.
The sector is expected to contribute about five percent to the Gross National Product by 2020.

The fact is, Malaysia's push to get onto the biotechnology bandwagon is not a recent effort.
Over time, it evolved and to become the latest national project and new engine of growth for the country.
The government is looking into various ways to accelerate the development of biotechnology like formulating specific laws and creating a new agency to manage the industry.
Many universities in the country had been or are putting their academic infrastructure in place to meet the challenges of the biotech development.
Besides, various physical infrastructure like the BioValley are being put in place as a hub of biotech companies and research institutions to carry out their activities.
The project, similar to the country's Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC), may provide incentives currently offered by the United States, Europe, China, India and Singapore.
Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Seri Dr Jamaludin Jarjis said the perks might include tax incentives and pioneer status.
Details of the incentives will be announced by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi when he unveils the country's biotechnology policy this Thursday.
The task of providing infrastructure for the industry was well complemented by the private sector which has full faith in the potential of the industry.
One private sector project is @enstek, an integrated township in Negeri Sembilan, being developed by TH-NSTC Sdn Bhd.
TH-NSTC is a joint venture between TH Properties Sdn Bhd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Lembaga Tabung Haji and the Negeri Sembilan State Development Corporation.

The entire township, covering an area of more than 2,000 hectares, will be the industrial and technological hub which will function as a hotbed for high technology -- non-pollutant industries encompassing biotechnology, information technology, advance manufacturing technology and other related technology.
Chief Executive Officer of TH Properties, Syed Mohamed Syed Ibrahim, explained the reason behind the company's drive in choosing the biotech sector as its industry partner.
"...simply because we feel that this industry has the potential to contribute significantly to the economic growth of the country," he said.
Three companies -- Tropical Botanics, Felda Agricultural Services Sdn Bhd and Stevian Biotechnology Corporation Sdn Bhd. -- are already in the techpark.
Tropical Botanics would be operating Malaysia's first multi-herb extraction plant there while Felda Agricultural, which is involved in tissue culture and cloning, would be opening a RM25-million biotech laboratory in April next year.
Stevian Biotechnology Corporation is involved in research and development, and manufacturing natural sweeteners with functional, sensorial as well a health and nutritional properties.
It's plant at @enstek will be the largest "saccharides sweetener-centric" operating outside Japan.
Besides these companies, Syed Mohamed said the techpark also had strategic collaboration with biotechnology partners in the likes of MHC and Chemical Engineering Pilot Plant (CEPP) of UiTM.
CEPP would set up the largest research and development (R&D) centre in @enstek specialising in the extraction and chemical processes of herbal products.
Syed Mohamed said TH Properties is talking to five big investors including two companies from Singapore and Germany which are keen to participate.
He refused to reveal the name of the investors, saying that the deals would be concluded "in a couple of months."
With all the facilities on the line, Malaysia should be poised to enjoy the pearl of biotechnology from the ocean of the country's resources.
Government to review Tak Nak campaign

PUTRAJAYA: The Government will review the anti-smoking Tak Nak campaign after receiving complaints about its lack of direction.
Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek said there were also criticisms over the lack of infrastructure such as counselling for those who had quit smoking during the campaign.
“Questions such as where do we go from here or the effectiveness of the campaign are not answered. Similarly, once smokers give up the habit, there is no follow up action to that.
“We should focus our attention on these matters. In light of this, the Cabinet has agreed to review the second phase of the Tak Nak campaign,” he told reporters after launching the Jom Kayuh cycling campaign at his ministry on Tuesday.
He said there had also been reports that the use of giant billboards for advertising the campaign had actually been counter-productive.
“These billboards are placed at locations where there is a lot of traffic and many drivers reported that they do not even dare look as they might be involved in accidents,” he said.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Free treatment at public hospitals to end next year

There isn't going to be any more free treatment at government hospitals! From next year, some eight million Malaysians will have to pay for their medical treatment.
This is when the National Health Financing Scheme comes into force.
Those exempted will be the one million civil servants, some 200,000 disabled people, about 435,000 pensioners, around 250,000 hardcore poor and the unemployed.
Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek said public sector healthcare financing had been spiralling upward in the past two decades. Since it first breached the RM1 billion mark in 1983, he said, government healthcare allocations had increased to RM9 billion last year.
He said the demand for health care was projected to increase further.
Last year, there were 1.7 million admissions in government hospitals nationwide. The outpatient departments had 47 million visits.
"The Government subsidised 98 per cent of their treatment. This cannot go on as there has been a significant escalation of health care costs in recent years. Medical inflation in Malaysia is ever increasing," he said after the launch of The Pacific Insurance Berhad's Gold-Cross Medi-Preferred Insurance and Gold-Cross Home Healthcare Insurance here.
At present, Dr Chua added, the general scheme of things under the National Health Financing mechanism had been decided upon and they were in the process of appointing a consultant to look into details, such as the quantum, criteria and ceiling of contributions, the collection mechanism, the basic health packages and the provider payment mechanism (how the ministry will pay the clinics and hospitals).
Dr Chua said the National Health Financing Scheme was a payment scheme and not a privatised or insurance scheme.
HAIAP Acknowledges Malaysia For Its Drug Regulatory System

PENANG, April 25 (Bernama) -- Health Action International Asia Pacific (HAIAP), an organisation based in Colombo, Sri Lanka, has acknowledged Malaysia's drug regulatory system as one of the best in the region and among developing countries.
Its advisor and coordinator, Dr K. Balasubramaniam, said Monday Malaysia had put in place stringent measures to ensure that all drugs coming into the country were properly screened.
Speaking to reporters after the opening of the three-day Asia Health Forum here, he said that although there had several reported cases of drug counterfeiting in the country, the situation was not as serious compared with other developing countries like Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
"There is always room for Malaysia to improve its drug regulatory system," he said.
Based on studies done by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), almost 10 per cent of drugs in the market in Southeast Asia were believed to be counterfeit while in some countries, more than 50 per cent of the drug supply was made up of counterfeit medicines, he said.
Balasubramaniam said that among the countries that had the largest number of counterfeit drugs with over 50 per cent in the market were Africa and Nigeria.
The main problem facing these countries in drug counterfeiting was weak and lenient authorities in controlling the flow of drugs into their country.
More than 100 participants from non-govermental organisations (NGOs), lecturers, medical practitioners and health care professional from Asia Pacific countries like Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Pakistan, and Indonesia attended the forum jointly organised by HAIAP and a few other agencies including Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM).
Meanwhile, the forum's co-Chairman, Dr Mohamed Izham Mohamed Ibrahim, said counterfeit drugs were a worldwide problem and were difficult to detect, investigate and quantify.
"That is why it is difficult to estimate the true extent of the problem here in the country," he said when asked by reporters for statistics on counterfeit drugs in Malaysia.
"Among the fake drugs administered in the country are mainly Panadol and Viagra pills as well as drugs sold through websites on the Internet," he said.
Mohamed said counterfeit drugs were of poor quality, had low content, contained no active ingredient or had been replaced with a wrong ingredient and had wrong packaging and labelling.
"Counterfeit drugs do not usually have a manufacturing label or registration number and may differ in terms of colour, shape and texture and the only way to differentiate them is if they do not work like usual or one suffers side effects after consumption," he added.
Cuba to conduct vaccine trials in Malaysia

PUTRAJAYA: Malaysia is allowing Cuba to conduct clinical trials on vaccines as part of efforts to promote co-operation in the pharmaceutical industry.
Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, who met visiting Cuban First Vice-President Raul Castro here yesterday, hoped the co-operation would boost bilateral trade, which came to only RM7mil last year.
“The deal will include procurement, manufacturing and research and development in vaccines and pharmaceutical products.
“Cuba feels that our country is unique for conducting clinical trials because we abide by global standards and because of the composition of our society,” he told reporters after the meeting.
Typhoid Cases In Kelantan Rise By 110 Today

KOTA BAHARU, April 25 (Bernama) -- A total of 110 confirmed typhoid cases were detected in Kelantan today, bringing to 337 the number of people suffering from the disease since its outbreak in the state on April 3.
State Health Department Director Datuk Dr Ahmad Razin Datuk Ahmad Maher said 35 of the cases were in Kota Baharu, 10 in Tumpat, seven in Pasir Puteh, six in Machang and one in Pasir Mas.
He also said that the confirmed cases also included 48 people, who were previously admitted to the Universiti Sains Malaysia Hospital (HUSM), and three others, at two private hospitals, here.
Dr Ahmad Razin expressed concern over the lackadaisical attitude of some food traders who failed to maintain cleanliness at their stalls despite directives to do so.
"We detected traders ordered to close their food stalls at night operating their business during the day," he told Bernama after chairing a special meeting with medical officers and the District Health Office, here, Monday.
Two people have died from typhoid since the disease hit Kelantan.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Sarawak Moves Into Electronic Patient Care

SIBU, April 23 (Bernama) -- Sarawak healthcare took a step into electronic patient care Saturday with the launch of the Teleprimary Care (TPC) project linking Sibu General Hospital to 16 rural clinics via satellite communications.
The clinics, all in central Sarawak, are provided with the hardware, local area networks and satellite communications to enable them to hold teleconsultation with specialists.
Initially, six disciplines are covered in the project -- obstetrics and gynaecology, paediatrics, internal medicine, dermatology, family health and epidemiology.
Support services such as laboratory, imaging and prescription are also part of the system.
The RM27 million TPC project was launched by Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud and witnessed by Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek.
The two tested out the system by holding a teleconference with state Minister of Land Development Datuk Sri Dr James Masing and Assistant Minister in the Chief Minister's Department Fatimah Abdullah who were stationed at the Belaga and Mukah district hospitals respectively.
TPC will increase the availability of specialist care for the rural people and reduce the professional isolation of health staff serving in rural areas.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

No New Government Hospital For 9th Plan

SIBU, April 23 (Bernama) -- No new government hospital will be built in the country under the Ninth Malaysia Plan because there is a shortage of suitable land and insufficient medical staff to operate them, Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek said.
Instead, the government would emphasise upgrading existing hospitals and human resources in all disciplines and sectors, he said.
He said district hospitals would be upgraded with new diagnostic equipment, laboratories and other necessary infrastructures.
Greater emphasis too would be given to public health awareness promotion and education programmes in order to inculcate a healthier lifestyle among the people, he said at a meeting with doctors, nurses and supporting staff of Sibu General Hospital Saturday.
Dr Chua said the perenniel problem of shortages of specialists, doctors, nurses and other supporting staff was affecting the delivery of health services in Sarawak.
He said the state faced a shortage in 12 different disciplines and the Cabinet had been informed of this and other problems.
Peninsular Malaysian doctors were reluctant to serve in the state as they could not get approval to go into private practice in the state after serving in government hospitals.
As a solution, he said, the government would have to send more junior staff to Sarawak.
Doctors would also be sourced from other hospitals where the workload was not heavy, he added.
USM to make health checks mandatory

PENANG: Universiti Sains Malaysia will soon make it compulsory for its staff to undergo regular health checks.
Its vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dzulkifli Abdul Razak said the checks would first involve those aged 50 years and above.
Those younger will be asked to do their checks later, Prof Dzulkifli said.
“We want our staff to be healthy and fit,” he said when opening a campaign on “Health Awareness Among Men” at USM yesterday.
The university would also encourage its retirees to visit its health centre for regular health screening, he said.
He said the centre had recently initiated glucose and cholesterol tests for men working in campus.
Prof Dzulkifli said USM would organise more activities like jogging and sports to promote a healthy campus community.
Kelantan’s attitude towards healthcare draws flak

KOTA BARU: The Health Ministry has criticised Kelantan for failing to adopt adequate measures to safeguard the health of the people, so much so that they continuously face outbreaks of diseases.
Deputy Minister Datuk Dr Abdul Latiff Ahmad claimed that the state and local authorities were weak and not committed to wiping out infectious diseases especially typhoid that hit the state this month.
He said the latest outbreak occurred 20 days ago and had claimed two lives but the Health Department had only been asked to brief Mentri Besar Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat and the state exco about the situation today (yesterday).
“I am not saying the state is insensitive but if this had happened in other states, they would have asked the Health Department to give a briefing once the first case occurred.
“Here, it has entered the third week but no briefings have taken place. To me, it (yesterday's briefing) is way too late,” he told reporters after an interview with Radio about the typhoid fever.
“A state government and local authorities that are close to the people should have acted much earlier in tackling the problem, including through enforcement, campaigns and lectures and taking the necessary preventive measures.”
As of yesterday, 280 typhoid cases were reported with 128 patients being treated at the Kota Baru Hospital, 28 in Tumpat, 13 in Pasir Mas, 24 in Machang and 16 in Pasir Puteh.
Sixty others are receiving treatment at the Universiti Sains Malaysia Hospital, nine at the Perdana Hospital and two at the Kota Baru Medical Centre.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Typhoid In Kelantan Under Control

KOTA BAHARU, April 22 (Bernama) -- The typhoid situation in Kelantan is under control, Deputy Health Minister Datuk Dr Abdul Latiff Ahmad said Friday.
He said immediate action taken by the State Health Department, including opening an operations room and in promptly informing the ministry, helped prevent an epidemic.
"There is better awareness among the public of the disease. They go to the clinics or hospitals immediately when they are not well and this can help prevent the spread of the disease," he told reporters.
Dr Abdul Latiff, accompanied by State Health director Datuk Dr Ahmad Razin Ahmad Mahir, had earlier visited typhoid patients at the Kota Baharu Hospital.
Since the typhoid outbreak in Kelantan two weeks ago, two people have died from the disease.
Dr Abdul Latiff advised the people not to be unduly worried about typhoid since the disease could be cured if treated early.
He said that as at noon Friday there were 282 cases reported with 127 of them confirmed as typhoid fever.
A total of 92 patients are being treated at the Kota Baharu Hospital, 16 in Tumpat, two in Pasir Mas, 11 in Bachok, three in Machang and one patient each in Pasir Puteh, Tanah Merah and Kuala Krai.

Friday, April 22, 2005

91 confirmed typhoid cases in Kelantan

KOTA BARU: Ninety-one people in Kelantan have contracted typhoid, state Health Director Datuk Dr Ahmad Razin Ahmad Maher said.
He said they were being treated at the Kota Baru Hospital, Universiti Sains Malaysia Hospital in Kubang Kerian, Tumpat Hospital, Pasir Puteh Hospital, Machang Hospital and Pasir Mas Hospital.
The Health Department has examined 112 people suspected to have been infected with the fever, he said.
“We did not receive reports of any new deaths. The death toll remains at two,” he told reporters after chairing an emergency meeting with his officers here yesterday.
Dr Ahmad Razin said there were three deaths at Kota Baru Hospital but they were not related to typhoid.
“We are investigating the cause of death of an 18-year-old girl from Kuala Krai to see whether she died of typhoid,” he said.
Typhoid fever is spread through food and water contaminated by human waste (stools or urine) containing the salmonella typhii bacteria. – Bernama

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Only 12 docs for 80,000 folks in Beluran

SUGUT: Beluran MP Datuk Ronald Kiandee has urged the Health Ministry to make its agenda to upgrade the existing health facilities in the rural areas throughout the State under the 9th Malaysia Plan.
He pointed out that the rural areas would require more well equipped hospitals and health clinics with sufficient doctors.
Kiandee said this while closing a recent medical camp, organised by the Nangoh Health Clinic, at Kampung Besai here.
He noted that there is a ratio of one doctor for every 6,600 people.
Citing an example, he said only 12 doctors are serving some 80,000 people in the Beluran district alone, and all assigned only to the Beluran hospital, Beluran and Telupid health clinics.
Elsewhere, the patients were being treated only by hospital assistants in six rural clinics - Kampung Tagas-Tagas, Kampung Kolapis, Kampung Jambongan, Kampung Kiabau, Kampung Lingkabau and Kampung Keniongan, he added.
Malaysia To Host Conference On Women's Health, Traditional Medicine

KUALA LUMPUR, April 20 (Bernama) -- Malaysia will host an international conference on Women's Health and Asian Traditional Medicine on Aug 23-25 this year.
It is organised by the Journal of Tropical Medicinal Plants and Malaysian Herbal Corporation (MHC).
MHC director Dr M. Rajen said the conference is expected to attract 1,500 participants from Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, China, United Kingdom, Australia and the United States.
He said there would also be 100 booths for exhibitors.
The conference would be opened by the Prime Minister's wife Datin Seri Endon Mahmood and closed by the wife of the Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Rosmah Mansor.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Medicines Already In The Market Exempted From Hologram Sticker Rule

PUTRAJAYA, April 20 (Bernama) -- Locally-made and imported medicines already on the shelves are exempted from the hologram sticker regulation which comes into effect on May 1.
Parliamentary Secretary to the Health Ministry Lee Kah Choon said Tuesday operations would be conducted at pharmaceutical warehouses to ensure that valid hologram stickers were used on all products before they were distributed to the market.
"The ministry's move to enforce the use of the high security feature sticker is to overcome the problem of imitation medicines in the market," he added.
He said the imitation medicines were not only harmful for consumers but also affected the industry.
"This is our objective; it is not to give problems to anyone," he told reporters at the ministry.
Lee said the hologram stickers, supplied by Mediharta Sdn Bhd at 5.6 sen per piece, had three levels of security features, including a unique serial number which enabled the company to detect any abuse.
Lee said Mediharta Sdn Bhd would be held responsible should there be any incidence of fraud or abuse of the stickers.
"When we signed the agreement, we were assured by the company that the use of the sticker is the solution to the problem of imitation medicines," he added.
He said the use of hologram stickers would enable consumers to differentiate between genuine and imitation medicines.
Typhoid Cases Up In Kelantan

KOTA BAHARU, April 20 (Bernama) -- Thirty-seven fresh typhoid cases have been reported in Kelantan, bringing to 164 the total number of cases as at 4pm Tuesday compared to 127 previously.
State Health Director Datuk Dr Ahmad Razin Ahmad Maher said 72 patients are being treated at the Kota Baharu Hospital, Tumpat Hospital (24), Pasir Puteh Hospital (24), Machang Hospital (22), Universiti Sains Malaysia Hospital in Kubang Kerian (17) and Pasir Mas Hospital (five).
No new deaths were reported, he told a press conference on the outbreak which had claimed two lives so far.
Describing the outbreak as increasingly critical but still under control, he said the Health Department had taken immediate steps, including conducting large-scale operations at business premises, especially in towns and surrounding areas.
Hospitals and health clinics statewide have been instructed to be on the alert of the outbreak, he said.
Hologram supplier to use more local content

PUTRAJAYA: Mediharta Sdn Bhd, the local company authorised to supply the security holograms for medicines to pharmaceutical companies, has agreed to use more local content in its production.
Health Ministry parliamentary secretary Lee Kah Choon said on Tuesday it is then expected the price of medicine and prescription drugs will not increase by as much as is anticipated now, perhaps 15 sen at the most.
"I do not know how they do the pricing as I am not in the business but if they use more local content, I would presume the price will come down and there will be more local participation," he told reporters at the ministry here.
Lee was responding to a question on why the government decided on buying the hologram from France and not from local companies, in line with the Buy Malaysian campaign.
He said the decision, to be enforced from May 1, is provided for by the law under the Control of Drugs and Cosmetics Regulations 1984, which empowers the Drug Control Authority to implement the registration of pharmaceutical products.
Its implementation would protect the interest of consumers and help the industry to stamp out fake products as, at the moment, enforcement work is challenging and ineffective, he said.
The hologram will have three security levels, and once the law is enforced, the ministry will be supplied with a machine to read the sticker during enforcement activities.
Addressing some issues confronting the industry, Lee said it has been agreed that enforcement will only be at the point of warehousing, and manufacturers need not recall their products already in the market now.
Asked why the ministry is playing the role of the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry in safeguarding the interest of consumers while the onus is on the manufacturers to protect their products, Lee said: "First, we are helping the manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies to stamp out fake products.
"Second, since we are the ones who approved the medicine, we have to make sure they are not playing the fool with us."
On the dissatisfaction of consumers who feel they would be burdened with the price increase of at least 5.6 sen (the cost of each hologram), Lee said: "It is (a question of) whether you want to buy a product which may be fake and costs nothing at RM2, or have certain measures of security and pay 5.6 sen more, or 10 or 12 sen more."
Pointed out that there is only 7% fake products in the market, he said it could be the tip of the iceberg and the government would not want to wait until the whole market is flooded with fake products before it takes action.
Schools, hospitals to go fast forward

Schools and hospitals will be among the 26 projects, originally planned for the Ninth Malaysia Plan, which will be implemented immediately.

Archive Since 1991 These projects are worth RM2.4 billion.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said today the Government agreed that the projects be brought forward to give a boost to the construction sector, which recorded growth of only 1.9 per cent last year.

"By implementing these projects, we would be able to create growth in the construction sector besides creating a demand for construction materials and also employment.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

New ruling offers protection against sub-standard medical products

ALL medical equipment and products on sale in the country will have to comply with a new regulation to protect the public against substandard items by 2007.
The regulation will also prevent other countries from dumping low-quality products in Malaysia.
Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek said the Medical Devices Bill is to be tabled in Parliament by early next year.
Under it, equipment used for prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and diagnostic purposes will have to be registered with the ministry before being marketed.
“We cannot regulate the medical products now as there is no provision under the existing law for enforcement. But with the proposed legislation, we will be able to do so from the manufacturing stage,” he told reporters after a closed-door dialogue with manufacturers of medical equipment today.
All Donated Blood Tested Before Being Issued To Recipeints

KUALA TERENGGANU, April 18 (Bernama) -- The Health Ministry, Monday gave an assurance that all blood issued to patients had gone through various test and were free of infectious diseases.
Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek said that among the tests carried out on donated blood before being issued to patients who needed them were for HIV, Syphilis and also Hepatitis.
"We don't issue blood to recipients directly from donors. As such patients need not worry," he told reporters after a visit to the Specialist Clinc at the Kuala Terengganu Hospital, here Monday.
Newspapers today reported that more than 200 people who had been infected by transmittable diseases including HIV, continued to donate blood in different locations, something that has got the National Blood Bank worried.
Chua also said that testing procedures in the country were among the best and most stringent in the world.
However, according to him, the ministry was surprised by the actions of the people concerned as to why they would still want to donate blood knowing fully well they had been infected.
In another development, Chua said all operation theatres in the Kuala Terengganu Hospital which had been delayed almost three years could be used form next June.
He said the operating theatres would be completed by the end of this month and another month would be needed for cleaning works and installing of equipment.
"We believe the backlogs in surgeries will be overcome once the theatres are operational," he said commenting on reports that patients had to wait some times sup to eight months as only five of the 16 surgery rooms were in operation.
This was due to the appointed contractors not being able to get the operating theatres and post-surgical care rooms costing RM7 million ready on time.
SMC eyes major bite of health tourism cake

Kota Kinabalu: Sabah Medical Centre (SMC), the State's first private hospital, is excited about the prospects of health tourism following the Government's forecast of it being a RM2.2 billion earner by 2010 plus the fact that Sabah has been doing exceptionally well in tourism lately.
Its Executive Chairman, Dr Tseu Fui Loong, said it has invested heavily in its new building in Damai, Luyang, expected to be fully operational in June. The equipment installed rank among the most advanced in the region.
Altogether 787 foreign patients from 22 countries have sought treatment at SMC the past three years. One hundred and ninety five were inpatients, mainly British (33), Indonesians (25), Europeans (20), Filipinos (19) and Australians (18). The rest comprised Americans and Chinese.
Britons (123) formed the bulk of the outpatients, followed by Japanese (77), Koreans (70), Europeans (65), Chinese (51), Australians (44), Indonesians (40) and Filipinos (32).
"This is despite the fact that we had no active overseas promotion," said Dr Tseu, adding SMC satisfies criteria such as membership in the Association of Private Hospitals of Malaysia (APHM), capacity to provide tertiary or a highly-specialised level of care, ability to acquire accreditation on the quality of its service and availability of in-house facilities such as laboratory, pharmacy and radio-imaging.
Dr Tseu, who is also the Medical Superintendent, said they had been planning for health tourism ever since the MBO (Management Buy-Out).
"We have all the right ingredients to formulate our health tourism package as a wellness programme such as health screening, and also as a medical treatment programme.
"We would like to promote SMC as a better and cheaper alternative to people in nearby countries. Kota Kinabalu, being the second busiest airport in Malaysia, has this potential," he said.
"In line with the opening of the new building, we will devise ways to tap the foreign market. We embarked on advertisements with UK's National Health Services (NHS) Overseas Hospital Project since last September.
"We also participated in their NHS e-messaging programme," he said. More details are in
Dr Tseu noted that the projected revenue from health tourism in Malaysia is RM540 million this year and is confident of positioning itself as a key player.
"Firstly, our advantages are cheaper cost (compared with services in Europe, US and Singapore), uniqueness, professional care and security.
"Secondly, the Sabah Government's tourism promotion efforts have borne fruit as reflected in the increase of annual tourist arrivals. The number has shot to well over the one million resistance level," Dr Tseu said.
"The ripple effect resulting from this critical mass of foreign visitors augurs well for the promotion of health tourism."
Furthermore, the State's tourism products are constantly being improved, and we have excellent resort hotels. Dr Tseu said it was necessary to think not only of visitors who come for our wellness or medical treatment programme, but also their family and loved ones.
"Suffice to say whatever the length of stay of our overseas patients previously, we expect our future patients from abroad to stay much longer to enjoy the beauty, tranquillity and uniqueness of Sabah while recuperating with their companions."
Asked on the types of treatment sought by these foreign patients, he said they included tonsillectomy (surgical removal of the tonsils), appendicectomy (removal of the appendix by a surgical operation), laparotomy (the operation of making an incision into the abdominal wall), haemorrhoidectomy (surgical removal of piles), angiogram (X-ray photograph of blood vessels, especially of the heart), right hip aspiration (removing fluid from a cavity of the body), and rigid cystoscopy (examination of the urinary bladder).
Dr Tseu also said as a member of the Association of Private Hospitals of Malaysia (APHM), SMC regularly submits its data on foreign patients to the association.
Health Minister Datuk Chua Soi Lek recently said only a few of the 31 private hospitals targeted for the Ministry's medical tourism programme had submitted data on foreign patients.
"Although we do not need to be in the Ministry's list to promote health tourism, we are looking forward to receiving the Ministry's acknowledgement so that we can benefit from the Government's overseas promotion activities."
The Malaysian Government, in response to the economic crisis in 1997-1998, formed a national committee on health tourism "in an effort to develop the industry to boost tourism earnings."
Initially, 44 of the 225 private hospitals (current number) were selected by the Ministry and promoted as Malaysian private hospitals with the capacity to provide health tourism services.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Gov't Considering Use Of Methadone To Treat Drug Addiction - Najib

PUTRAJAYA, 17 April (Bernama) -- The government is now in the final stage of a study on the use of "Methadone" to treat drug addicts, said Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.
The government, through the National Anti-Drugs Action Committee, was now carrying out a pioneer project in treating drug addicts by giving them the synthetic drug.
The outcome of the study conducted by the committee, whose members included medical and pharmaceutical experts, revealed that Methadone was capable of preventing addicts from craving for the drug, he said.
"The National Anti-Drugs Action Committee is now carrying out a pioneer project using the Methadone drugs as a way of overcoming the addicts' withdrawal symptom," he told reporters after participating in the Bowling Fest 2005, organised by the Sports and Welfare Club of the Deputy Prime Minister's Office.
He said the outcome of laboratory tests on the effectiveness of Methadone in treating drug addiction had so far shown positive results.
Najib said the government had to look for new methods in the form of clinical treatment which were more suitable in treating drug addicts as the present treatment under the "Pusat Serenti" or One-Stop Rehabilitation Centre had not been very effective.
"This is because the briefings given by the National Anti-Drugs Agency so far showed that the success rate of rehabilitation at the Pusat Serenti is only 15 per cent," he said.
According to the report by the United States National Drug Control Policy, Methadone is a type of drug that can overcome cravings for drugs especially heroin, which had been tested repeatedly and proven effective for treating hardcore addicts in that country.
Health Ministry Admits Blood Tests Not 100 Per Cent Fool-proof

KUALA LUMPUR, April 18 (Bernama) -- The Health Ministry admits that tests on blood for its blood bank are not 100 per cent fool-proof.
The ministry's parliamentary secretary, Lee Kah Choon, said that although thorough screening was conducted on the blood, results could not be obtained immediately because the hospitals were not using the latest technology.
He said the ministry was working to enhance the sensitivity of the tests for earlier detection of contaminated blood.
"But the cost is high because of the use of the latest technology," he said when replying to Datuk Raja Ahmad Zainuddin Raja Omar (BN-Larut) who wanted to know the level of testing of blood for the blood bank following a news report that 200 HIV positive people had been regular blood donors.
According to the report, the donors of the contaminated blood were males aged between 30 and 40 who repeatedly gave blood but disappeared when attempts were made to contact them for counselling.
This had worried the National Blood Centre because it would cause millions of ringgit in losses.
Lee said that besides conducting blood tests, the hospitals also interviewed the donors to ensure that they led a healthy lifestyle and the blood they donated was not contaminated.
Asked to comment on the sale of blood to private hospitals, he said: "There's no such term as selling because the fee charged is for blood tests to ensure that the blood is clean and safe for use."
He said the private hospitals were charged RM20 for each pack of blood although the overall cost of the tests was RM85 and the government was subsidising RM65.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Patients get to pick medicine

The planned National Health Financing Scheme will give Malaysians a choice of whether to buy branded drugs or generic medication.
“This is to make things more customer-oriented,” said Health Ministry director-general Datuk Dr Ismail Merican.
“There are those who prefer branded drugs to generic ones. They will be able to buy these from the hospital pharmacy.
“It will be easier for them when they can make their own choice,” he said.
Dr Ismail said currently doctors prescribed drugs that they felt were most appropriate – generic or branded – to the patient, for free.
He said the new concept of prescription would be tried at the Selayang and Putrajaya Hospitals in June.
The two hospitals are also pioneers for the ministry’s full-paying scheme.
“The drugs offered to the Health Ministry will be offered to them at market price,” added Dr Ismail.
Branded drugs refer to drugs within a higher price bracket and are innovative in nature.
They contain active ingredients that have been “discovered” by the pharmaceutical company that holds the patent for the formulation.
Generic drugs – cheaper versions of the innovator drug – are developed by other companies when the patent has expired.
It contains the same active ingredient as the original but may have some different inactive ingredients, such as starch or sugar, that are added to provide a pleasant taste or colour or to help a tablet dissolve in the stomach.
“There is a wide choice of the drugs available. And a lot of people prefer branded drugs,” Dr Ismail said.
On the escalating cost to subsidise medication, he said a committee had been formed to look into matters.
“The cost has risen from RM200mil to RM800mil. That is a lot of money and we are studying how to cut down the rates.
“One way is to see whether there is an accurate protocol in dispensing drugs; that is, when medication is given when it is unnecessary,” he said.
Dr Ismail said there were cases of patients claiming they had lost their prescription and asked for another one to be issued.
“The doctor would be unaware of whether the patient had, in fact, handed it over to someone else,” he said.
Asked about the call by the Malaysian Medical Association for the National Health Financing Scheme to be made public once a model had been settled on, he said the scheme would be explained to everyone.
“We will inform the public before doing anything,” he added.
Treat antibiotics with care

Health director-general Datuk Dr Ismail Merican said there was a tendency for some clinicians to use the latest or the most powerful antibiotics which may not be necessary.
For example, Dr Ismail said, if a patient suffers from community-acquired pneumonia, the best antibiotic would be penicillin or erythromycin unless the patient is resistant or allergic to them.
He said there was a tendency for doctors to use higher-end antibiotics thinking that they might be the best.
"In certain situations where the patient is very ill, the doctors may resort to using higher-end antibiotics as they do not want to take the risk of him getting more ill. These are exceptional circumstances."
For patients suffering from septicaemia, Dr Ismail said they needed the newer generation antibiotics.
On a report that doctors in a hospital in Singapore had detected the antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria vancomycin-resistant enterococci or VRE in 42 patients, he said:
"We keep abreast with what is going on in hospitals around the world in terms of antimicrobial resistant."
The outbreak prompted the facility to take precautions including postponing 600 surgeries scheduled over the coming two weeks.
Dr Ismail, who heads the Health Ministry’s Infection Control and Antibiotic Committee, said all state health directors and hospitals had been alerted about VRE.
Drug prescription review

The prescription of drugs and medicines for patients in Government hospitals will have to be reviewed to prevent abuse and wastage.
This is because expenses are sky-rocketing and expected to reach RM1 billion in five years.
Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek said the ministry could not afford current practices anymore because of the increasing cost of subsidising expenditure for drugs.
"Last year we subsidised RM800 million, as compared to RM288 million in 1996.
"This is something that we have to really look into," he said after opening the Annual Scientific Meeting of the National Heart Association at a hotel here today.
Patients with chronic and acute illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension are usually prescribed medicines to last three to four months.
Dr Chua said the Government would be looking into whether there was a need to shorten this duration.
He said if the costs were to increase to RM1 billion, it was expected to be at least 20 per cent of the ministry's operating budget, which was currently RM7 billion.
"If this happens, the Ministry will have to revise the way medicines are prescribed to prevent wastage.
Dr Chua said the cost for outpatient and in-patient treatment at present was RM47 million and RM1.7 million, respectively. was RM175 million.
He said the review would be needed to ensure that the rich paid for medicines while the poor and unemployed were taken care of by the Government.
On another matter, Dr Chua said the proposed National Health Financing scheme, which is likely to be introduced next year, would not be an insurance scheme.
"The scheme is not a privatised project and it is not an insurance scheme where the public will have to buy insurance.
"Instead, it is a community- rated scheme. For those who can afford, they will have to pay to help those who cannot."
The minister said consultants were finalising a proper mechanism on the quantum to be charged by hospitals on patients, adding that the scheme would focus on improving the existing healthcare system and facilities.
"We also want to interface the public and private healthcare system, which is currently split into two - the government and private healthcare sector.
"Hence, we may have a scheme where patients have a right to choose a package, depending on their contribution."
Specially for cancer patients

PUTRAJAYA: Cancer patients will soon be able to get items tailored to their needs at a special shop in the Putrajaya Hospital.
This “positive image shop” will be run by the Penyayang Cancer Support Programme under Yayasan Budi Penyayang, jointly chaired by the hospital's director Dr Naginder Singh and Nori Abdullah, the Prime Minister's daughter.
Among the things that will be available at the shop are scarves, wigs, therapeutic equipment, mastectomy support items like prosthetic bras as well as sun-protective garments for post-surgery cancer patients.
Penyayang chief executive officer Leela Mohd Ali said the shop was set up not just to meet the special needs of cancer patients, but also to allow them to acquire the items at subsidised prices.
The shop is the support group's latest project after its first two successful on-going projects.
The first involves a halfway house in Sepang, about 20 minutes' drive from Putrajaya Hospital, for cancer patients as well as family members caring for them.
Consultant surgeon Dr Hisham Abdullah, who has been with the support group even before its official launch in March last year, said the halfway house usually has an occupancy rate of under 50%. It can take a maximum of 39 patients.
The other project involves the provision of chemoports (implanted devices to administer medication for patients undergoing chemotherapy) to patients.
Dr Hisham said about 50 chemoports, each costing about RM800 and paid for by the support group, had been implanted in patients who required high doses of chemotherapy or had weak veins.
Next month, the support group will get another helping hand in its efforts to enrich the lives of cancer patients when KL Fashion Week returns.
More Singaporeans buy prescriptive slimming pills in Johor

SINGAPORE : The number of people diagnosed with anorexia in Singapore due to slimming pill abuse has tripled in the last four years.
And this could be due to the ease with which they can get their hands on prescriptive slimming pills - without prescriptions.
Doctors say an increasing number of Singaporeans find over the counter slimming drugs just not effective enough.
So, they travel overseas or go online to buy large quantities of controlled obesity treatment drugs - but at what price?
Just across the Causeway, Johor Baru in Malaysia has a thriving pharmaceutical business servicing Singaporeans.
At Taman Sentosa, for example, pharmacists say more than 50 percent of their clients are Singaporeans.
Appetite suppressants like Reductil and Duromine, which also boosts the metabolism rate, are popular buys.
When asked, the pharmacists say they do not sell obesity treatment drugs without a doctor's prescription.
But there is no lack of Singaporeans who try to get them!
One Malaysian pharmacist agreed that Singaporeans do come up with all kinds of excuses to get the drugs.
But contrary to what the pharmacists say, it was not all that difficult to buy these drugs without a prescription.
When this reporter first tried to purchase Reductil from a pharmacy, the counter staff was at first reluctant and insisted on seeing her doctor's prescription.
But when she offered to pay RM$30 extra, the counter staff happily handed over the box of controlled drug.
The staff even asked her if she would like to purchase a few extra boxes.
This reporter asked another pharmacist if she could purchase five boxes of Reductil and another five boxes of Duromine?
He replied: "We have stock at the moment."
At another pharmacy, the reporter was told the prescription drugs could be delivered to her in Singapore for 20 ringgit!
The ease with which the drugs can be obtained worries some doctors.
At the Singapore General Hospital, six new anorexic patients seek help every week because of slimming pills abuse.
It is a figure that has tripled since the year 2000.
Many also suffer other adverse side effects.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

RM100 Million Face-lift For IJN To Enhance Its Services

KUALA LUMPUR, April 15 (Bernama) -- The government will spend a whopping RM100 million, until 2008, to upgrade the National Heart Institute (IJN) to ensure a shorter wait for patients.
Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek said Friday the extension and refurbishing works would be done in three stages and were expected to be completed by 2008.
"In stage one and two we will refurbish and upgrade rooms and other facilities and in stage three, operating theatres and intensive care units will be upragded," Dr Chua told reporters after opening the Ninth Annual National Heart Association Scientific Meeting here.
"Beds will be increased by 20 percent and the upgrading will help to reduce patients' waiting time from the current nine months to one year to about six months," he added.
He said the government felt it was important to improve the facilities and services of the leading heart institute as it was established to help Malaysians seek treatment locally instead of going abroad.
Eighty percent of the IJN patients are dependent on government subsidies while only 20 per cent are paying patients.
Dr Chua also said that the expansion was only a corporate exercise and would not affect clinical doctors working in IJN.
He brushed aside recent newspaper claims of massive resignations of doctors from the institute.
"There were only three resignations and that was between 2001 and 2002 and there may be one later. The rate of resignation is very minimal and it is not true that many doctors resigned," he said.
The current IJN staff strength is 918 of which only 65 are involved in clinical work, including consultants, clinical specialists and medical officers.
New Healthcare Financing Model Not An Insurance Scheme, Says Dr Chua

KUALA LUMPUR, April 15 (Bernama) -- The proposed National Health Financing scheme which is likely to be introduced next year is not an insurance scheme, Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek said Friday.
The government will give an undertaking that the National Health Financing scheme is not a privatised project and it is not an insurance scheme where we will ask the rakyat to buy insurance. No," he told reporters after opening the Ninth Annual National Heart Association Scientific Meeting here.
"It is a community-rated scheme where those who can afford have to pay to help those who cannot.
"Those who are working help those who are not working and the government will continue to fulfil its obligation to offer medical treatment to the unemployed, handicapped, the underprivileged and all civil servants," he said.
He said the scheme was in its final stages and consultants were working out a proper mechanisim on the quantum to be charged by hospitals on patients.
Malaysia to Supply Muslims With Halal Vaccine

KUALA LUMPUR, April 15, 2005 ( & News Agencies) – Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi said Friday, April 15, that his country is planning to supply the Muslim world with “halal” vaccines.
“We can also ensure that vaccine development for diseases prevalent in our respective regions, such as malaria, will receive the attention that it deserves,” he told the opening session of a four-day international convention on self-reliance on vaccine production in the Islamic world, reported the Malaysian news agency, Bernama.
He said the Malaysian government has been undertaking a project for national self-sufficiency in vaccine production to ensure adequate vaccine supplies for Islamic countries.
“In this way, we can ensure not only adequate supplies but also better development of halal vaccines,” Abdullah said.
The international convention on self-reliance on vaccine production in the Islamic world was jointly organized by the Malaysian Health Ministry and Islamic Development Bank.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Chua: Only 15 sen increase per packet or bottle

The maximum increase in price per packet or bottle of medicine and prescription drugs from May 1 will only be 15 sen, according to Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek.
Dr Chua said this in response to a news report yesterday that a 50 sen increase may result from the Health Ministry’s directive for all packaging of pharmaceuticals and traditional medicines to have security holograms to curb counterfeits.
“The cost per hologram label is 5.6 sen and with the labour cost added in, it would be a total of 15 sen at the most.
“However, there will be unscrupulous individuals who will raise their prices above this and blame it on the hologram,” he told reporters yesterday after launching TV3 and Pharmaniaga’s Bhd consumer awareness programme that educates the public on medicine.
Dr Chua urged pharmaceutical companies not to use the price increase as an excuse to gain more profits, adding that 300 companies had already made orders for the labels.
He said the ministry would not insist on pharmaceutical companies absorbing the extra costs, but if they choose to charge more for their products, “we only hope they will not increase the price unfairly.”
On the possibility that such holograms could be faked, Dr Chua said many things these days could also be faked, including money and credit cards.
“Just because it can be faked does not mean we should not use it or are not confident it won’t work.
“The use of hologram labelling was proposed in 2002 and that it should have been launched last year.
“However, after dialogues with stakeholders and pharmaceutical groups, we postponed it twice,'' he said.
Biotech policy: Investors can expect tax incentives, pioneer status

PETALING JAYA: Investors can expect tax incentives and pioneer status among other perks when the Government unveils its biotechnology policy on April 28.
The Government wants to push biotechnology, which is seen as the country’s new growth area, to boost the economy and create thousands of highly skilled jobs.
The biotechnology sector is expected to contribute 5% to Gross National Product by 2020.
The Government is also likely to create an agency to co-ordinate and implement new policies that can eliminate red tape and ensure efficiency in biotechnology operations.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is expected to announce details of the nation’s biotechnology drive at the BioMalaysia 2005 conference in Putrajaya on April 28, which will be attended by international biotechnology investors, scientists, financiers and policymakers.
Doctors must label drugs prescribed

PETALING JAYA: Effective June, all private sector doctors must label the medicines they prescribed to patients clearly, or they will be penalised under Poisons Act 1952.
Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek said the law has been enforced on government hospitals and clinics since last April but not on private entities.
"They must write clearly the name of patient, name of drug, name of dealer, dates given and whether it is a controlled medicine or only for external use.
"Private hospitals do the labelling but they usually do not give the name of drug, except for the generic name, such as antibiotics and flu medicine.
"Effective June, doctors in the private sector must also do proper labelling, otherwise they can be penalised RM5,000 or jailed for two years or both," he said.
Chua was speaking to reporters at the launching of Mesti Ambil Tahu! (Must Find Out) campaign at Sri Pentas, Bandar Utama here on Thursday.
Meant to inculcate consumers' awareness on the importance of proper medicine management, the campaign was a joint effort between TV3 and Pharmaniaga Bhd.
"By making it compulsory, hopefully it will increase patients' level of compliance and avoid chances of getting any adverse effects.
"It would also make it easier for patients to pass the information on to another doctor later," he added.
Chua admitted proper labelling may also result in patients resorting to self-medication as they can get it directly from the pharmacy since they already know the name of the drug.
However, he warned doctors not to make this as an excuse for not doing the proper labelling because patients have the right to know what medication they are on.
On a newspaper report medicine and prescription drugs would cost as much as 50 sen more per packet or bottle from next month, Chua said it was not accurate.
The increase was said to be due to a ministry's directive for all packaging of pharmaceuticals and traditional medicines to have security holograms to curb counterfeits.
He said the decision was made more than two years back and each hologram costs only 5.6 sen or, plus labour and other costs, 15 sen at the most.
Chua said pharmaceutical firms should not take advantage of the decision by simply increasing the price of their goods.
"It does not necessarily result in higher prices as they can still absorb it in other manufacturing costs." he said.
Biotechnology Policy To Promote Herbal And Natural Products

Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Seri Dr Jamaludin Jarjis said the policy would develop the biotechnology sector similar to how the government built up the information and communications technology (ICT) sector.
"The policy will contain among others, the incentives, monetary and infrastructure to be provided. It will be our next engine of growth," he told reporters after launching the Asia-Pacific Natural Products Expo (Natpro 2005), here Thursday.
Jamaludin said the global herbal industry represented an US$80 billion (US$1=RM3.80) market and its growth rate in Malaysia has been between eight and 12 percent annually over the past three years.
In 2003, there were 33,059 products registered with the Health authorities under the Control of Drugs and Cosmetic Regulations 1984, of which 11,815 or 35.7 percent were traditional herbal products.
"Nature has blessed Malaysia with an abundance of untapped variety of medicinal and aromatic plants as she is among the world's 12 mega biodiversity-rich countries and the fourth in Asia," he said.
"We are capable of becoming a leader of excellence in the industry where we have the competitive edge as well as reaping the vast economic rewards," he added.
The government, Jamaludin said, has put in place regulatory procedures to accommodate and facilitate market growth and at the same time ensure consumer confidence in the safety of herbal medicines.
Natpro 2005, organised by the Malaysian Herbal Corporation, a subsidiary company of the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT), is a three-day event which started today.
It expected to attract 6,000 trade visitors with the participation from 152 companies and organisations from various areas linked to the herbal and natural products industry.
The inaugural 2003 event, held in 2003, generated RM150 million worth of sales.
Rules relaxed for doctors

TO encourage more Malaysian-born doctors to return home, a move is under way to relax rules on compulsory service in the public sector.
Since 1991 Foreign-based doctors above the age of 45 will be exempted from the three-year service with the Ministry of Health while those under 45 will be exempted from compulsory service if they are returning to serve in a hospital or if they have qualifications and expertise needed by the country.
Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek said that this initiative was part of the comprehensive incentive package to attract talented Malaysians to return home.
The Government estimates that some 30,000 Malaysians are working overseas in disciplines which may benefit the country greatly. But this number may be grossly understated, judging by the number of Malaysian professionals in Australia alone.
For years, the Government had unsuccessfully tried to entice Malaysians working abroad to return home, with Human Resource Minister Datuk Dr Fong Chan Onn declaring the brain gain programme a failure.
Following that, a slew of incentives were approved by the Cabinet. These included:
* Conferring permanent resident status upon the non-citizen spouse and children within six months of return.
* Exemption from tax on income brought home to Malaysia within two years of return.
* Exemption from tax on all personal goods brought home.
According to the Health Ministry, the doctor-patient ratio in Malaysia is one to 1,400. Ideally, says the World Health Organisation, it should be one to 650.
Chua also said that a special committee responsible for this programme to attract Malaysian talent home had been directed to be flexible when determining the minimum overseas experience required in areas where there was a critical shortage.
Six out of 10 women practise family planning, says study

KUALA LUMPUR: Six out of 10 Malaysian women practise family planning, according to a study by the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry.
The study, carried out last year, also found that 42% of the women who did so used modern methods to space their pregnancy, Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil said.
“With modern technology, we hope family planning can become more user-friendly to attract more women to use it,” she told reporters after the pre-launch of the Women’s Health and Lifestyles (WHL) Programme 2005 at the ministry yesterday.
Meanwhile, organising chairman Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar said “health begins at home” would be the thrust of the three-day WHL exposition from Sept 23 to 25 at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre.
She said health involved a family’s lifestyle and healthcare, which determined the health of the family’s future generations.
“Health begins at home and it involves the entire family whose lifestyle and habits of eating and exercising will largely determine their future health and ability to enjoy a happy, long and productive life,” she said.
Dr Nor said the focus of the event, themed “Love Your Family, Celebrate Health”, would be on the importance of incorporating simple preventive and positive health behaviours into everyday life.
“The event is all about helping to meet the majority of people’s lifestyle-related needs through disease prevention and health preservation and health promotion,” she said.
Organised for the second year by the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry, the event will include educational activities for women and their family members such as seminars, exhibitions, free health screenings, performances and demonstrations.
Ready to top up bird flu vaccines

MALAYSIA is prepared to stockpile vaccines and medication against the deadly avian flu virus.
However, Health Ministry parliamentary secretary Lee Kah Choon said, the decision to top up the existing stock would depend on the seriousness of the outbreaks and the cost-effectiveness of such a move.
“We are in a cautious mode as there are still cases in Vietnam and Thailand but we have to weigh the repercussions if we stock up.
“These vaccines have expiry dates and will go to waste if we do not use them up,” he said at the Parliament lobby.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

No decision yet on incentive for organ donors

No decision has been made yet on a proposal by the National Transplant Resource Centre to the Cabinet two years ago for free medical treatment for spouses and children of organ donors.
Since 1991 An officer, who declined to be named, said the proposal was tabled by former Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng.
The idea behind the proposal was to get as many donors as possible, especially Malays, to donate their organs. Since 1976 he said, no Malays had donated organs.
"The move was aimed at getting more people to come forward. It is also a token of appreciation for donors and their families."
The officer added that the centre will embark on a nationwide road tour to instil awareness among the people on the need to have more organ donations.
The roadshows which will take off in May, will be jointly organised by the Health Ministry and the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry.
It was reported in the New Straits Times recently that four people could die within a month unless Malaysians get over their squeamishness about donating organs.
The four are in the critical stages of lung disease and need lung transplants. However, their chances of getting a second lease of life are not looking good.
In fact, the future looks bleak for anyone looking for any type of organ transplant.
No Malaysian has donated lungs, kidneys, livers or any other organs in the first three months of the year.
Besides the four in need of lung transplants, 25 people are in urgent need of liver transplants and more than 5,000 need kidney transplants.
National Transplant Resource Centre co-ordinator Dr Lela Yasmin Mansor said there were also hundreds of children and adults waiting for people to donate their corneas, bones, skin, heart valves and hearts.
She said the bone bank at the Kuala Lumpur Hospital was "dry", as were the National Tissue Centre at Universiti Sains Malaysia Hospital and University Malaya Medical Centre.
Although nearly 85,000 people have pledged their organs, when it comes to actual donors only a handful come forward, Dr Lela said.
Those wishing to pledge their organs or donate organs of dead relatives can contact the National Transplant Resource Centre at toll free number 1800-88-9080 or 03-2694 2704/5.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

TB returns as No 1 infectious killer disease

Tuberculosis is back as the nation's number one killer among infectious diseases.
This despite all efforts by the Government to reduce the number of Malaysians being infected.
Since the beginning of the new millennium, the number of Malaysians infected by TB has been steadily increasing, with more than 900 deaths reported annually.
In 2000, the Ministry recorded 15,057 TB cases with 942 deaths, followed by 14,830 cases and 942 deaths in 2001, 14,389 cases and 1,035 deaths in 2002, and 15,912 cases with 966 deaths in 2003.
The Ministry foresees some 16,000 new cases each year.
The Health Ministry's Communicable Disease Control Division director, Dr Ramlee Rahmat said: "TB is a leading public health problem worldwide, particularly in developing countries. It's a re-emerging disease which is serious and needs to be tackled urgently."
In 1993, the World Health Organisation declared TB as a global emergency. Of the 1.7 billion people estimated to be infected with the TB bacillus, 1.3 billion live in developing countries.
Currently, it is estimated that there are between 16 and 20 million TB cases worldwide, with eight million new cases every year. Two million of these people die each year.
In the southeast Asian region, nearly three million cases and 700,000 deaths occur every year. Five countries - Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Myanmar and Thailand - account for 95 per cent of these deaths.
Dr Ramlee said Malaysia was surrounded by countries with a high prevalence of TB and the movement of people was one of the reasons why many Malaysians were being infected.
"The situation is further worsened by the high number of HIV/AIDS patients in the country. They are susceptible to being infected by TB due to their low immunity system," he said, adding that the emergence of multi-drug resistant strains of TB was another worrying factor.
Moreover, tuberculosis is the largest killer of women in Southeast Asia, besides accounting for nearly 40 per cent of all tuberculosis cases.
Deputy Disease Control Division director Dr Nirmal Singh, who is in charge of TB, said it was a chronic disease that needed to be diagnosed early and treated.
"One infected patient can infect an average of 10 to 15 people. Imagine if there were 1,000 people with TB who were not detected. They will infect some 15,000 people," he said, adding the worst source of infection was from lung or pulmonary TB with cough.
"Coughing produces the tiny infectious droplet nuclei. A single cough can produce 3,000 droplet nuclei. Droplet nuclei can also be spread into the air by talking, sneezing, spitting and singing, and can remain suspended for long periods," he said. Many cases remain undiagnosed, primarily due to the failure of the health system to promptly identify and properly treat those who seek help.
Dr Nirmal Singh also said that of the patients diagnosed, many did not complete their six-month treatment unless they were committed or under supervision. Errant patients may then continue to infect others in the community.
He said 90 per cent of Malaysians infected with TB did not show signs and those diagnosed were put on treatment.
"Upon coming across a TB patient, health officials will immediately carry out contact tracing to ascertain that people whom they came into contact with at home, their work place and their social contacts were not infected with the disease."
Malaysia protects its population through primary BCG vaccinations but there are questions raised by health authorities as to whether that protection is lifelong.
Dr Nirmal Singh said TB control activities put in place were BCG vaccinations for all newborn babies, health education, training of healthcare providers on the detection of TB in patients, and the involvement of NGOs and the private sector to fight the re-emerging disease.
The Ministry's target is to reduce the TB incident rate by half or less than 40 cases per 100,000 population, the cure rate to more than 95 per cent, and the death rate less than three per 100,000 population by the year 2010.
TB symptoms are coughing for a period of two weeks, cough with phlegm, fever at night and evening, sweating during the evening, loss of appetite and body weight, chest pains when coughing or during deep breathing, difficulty in breathing and coughing with blood.
Dr Nirmal Singh said TB was treatable and people can recover with proper treatment.