Tuesday, October 31, 2006

It’s that season again to get your flu shots

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: It is influenza season again, so it is important to make sure your flu shots are up to date.
Health authorities say vaccination once a year is sufficient for most, but people in high- risk groups should be vaccinated twice a year.
Institute of Respiratory Medicine head Datin Dr Aziah Ahmad Mahayiddin said people with the highest risk of serious complications from flu include those above 65 years of age, adults with diabetes, chronic heart or lung conditions, including asthma, and those suffering from chronic kidney and blood circulation diseases and organ damage, and children six months and older.
Those who live with or care for people at high risk should also have two flu shots twice a year.
The symptoms may be similar, but flu should not be confused with the common cold.
"The flu is a highly contagious, serious viral illness that can lead to pneumonia. It can be life threatening in some cases," said Dr Aziah.
But, if you are allergic to chicken eggs, if you’ve have had a severe reaction to a flu shot in the past or developed Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) within six weeks of a previous shot, you should consult your doctor before having a flu shot. Babies under six months old should be taken to see a doctor first as well. If you are ill with a fever, you should wait till your symptoms lessen.
Malaysia has two flu seasons — June and October. The viruses keep changing so the vaccine is changed as well. Medical experts choose the three most common strains of the virus circulating globally each year.
They are grown in chicken eggs, then killed and purified before being made into vaccine.
"No vaccine is 100 per cent effective," says Dr Aziah. "But studies have shown the flu vaccine to be 70 to 90 per cent effective in preventing illness."
And if you do come down with flu, she adds, the infection will be less severe if you are vaccinated.

Brain-dead Fikry’s legacy of hope

NST: ALOR STAR: In life, Mohd Fikry Fazail was an ordinary kampung boy with modest ambitions. His death, however, has given life to others.
After he was declared brain dead on Sunday, Fikry’s grieving father agreed to donate his organs.
Fazail Mat says he was taken aback when the doctors at Alor Star Hospital broached the subject of organ donation.
The 51-year-old tin mine worker feared that by allowing his 18-year-old son’s internal organs to be harvested and placed in strangers’ bodies, his body would be "incomplete" and he would face problems in the afterlife.
But after much discussion with his family and reading a booklet on organ donation issued by the religious department, he agreed.
He described his decision as "amal jariah (charity)" for his son’s soul.
"My son dreamed of becoming a mechanic. In death, he became a hero, as his organs will now save other lives. When I saw him for the last time to say goodbye, I told him why I did it and that I was very proud of him. I hope his soul will be in peace," he said.
The operation to harvest Fikry’s liver, heart valves, kidneys and corneas was carried out at Alor Star Hospital by doctors from Kuala Lumpur around 10.30pm.
"This is Lin’s legacy," said Fazail. "He helped give those who need it a chance to live again."
"Lin", as Fikry was affectionately known to his family, was studying automotive engineering at a private institution in Ipoh.
He was on his way to Pengkalan Hulu to buy food six days before Hari Raya when he crashed and was flung from his motorcycle on the Pengkalan Ulu-Gerik road.
He was in a coma till his death.
He was buried yesterday in Kampung Bukit Buloh, Klian Intan in Pengkalan Hulu, his home town.

High-tech research centres to entice experts to return

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: The Government will embark on a programme to provide high-tech research facilities, in a move to attract foreign-based research experts to return home.
Human Resources Minister Datuk Dr Fong Chan Onn said the programme, which will be carried out under the 9th Malaysia Plan, would include providing research facilities with state-of-the-art equipment and government grants to conduct research.
“Research scientists are disappointed that we do not have state-of-the-art equipment when they return, and the Government will try to provide it to them,” he said.
He said high-tech research equipment was costly, so the Government would need to come in to provide the necessary facilities.
“We will continue to talk with the Multimedia Development Corporation so we can jointly build the necessary research infrastructure to support the needs of the returning scientists,” he said.
Fong said many of the returning research scientists were top professors earning high wages overseas so they were often not keen to join local universities where they would be paid much less.
He said they preferred to work as contract researchers and the government grants would help them conduct their research here.
The minister said about 300 experts had returned to work here since 2001 and 100 of them were medical experts who had joined local universities and private medical centres, while the rest had finance, accounting and information technology experience.
He said there was high demand especially in the private sector for experts from these fields, which was why more of them were willing to come back to work in Malaysia.
“Medical specialists who have returned have made a significant contribution in the universities as medical professors and lecturers, and by serving as specialists in private medical centres,” he said.
He said they had been instrumental in transforming Malaysia into a medical tourism hub, adding that many tourists from the Middle East, Thailand and Indonesia had been visiting private medical centres in Penang and Kuala Lumpur for plastic surgery, medical examinations and treatment.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Magic of youth woven in gold

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: Angelina Lum is a lady with a "golden" secret.
Two months ago, the 43-year-old businesswoman had pure gold threads surgically inserted under the top layer of skin on her neck.
Now it is smooth, with none of the saggy skin or wrinkles associated with aging. Lum is one of hundreds of people who have had the procedure.
Over 400 such surgeries have been performed in South Korea in the past three years.
And in the past 18 months, about 30 people in Singapore have undergone gold thread implantation.
The concept is similar to the Malay practice of susuk in that it involves inserting a precious metal under the skin to look young.
But unlike susuk, the procedure is backed by science.
The Singaporean heard of the non-invasive procedure from her plastic surgeon.
The gold encourages the growth of collagen which firms up the skin.
Once the procedure is completed, a gradual rejuvenation process begins, according to Lum’s surgeon Dr Tan Kok Leong.
Results can be seen within two months, and the rejuvenation continues over the first two years.
The final effects will last eight to 12 years, after which the procedure can be repeated.
Lum is happy with the results and considers the S$2,000 (about RM4,600) well-spent.
Here in Malaysia, a full face job costs about RM20,000 and the side effects are minimal.
The gold thread technique was introduced to Malaysia by South Korean plastic surgeon Dr Kim Won Seok, who conducted a workshop here earlier this year.
"No surgery is without side effects," said Dr Kim in an email interview, "but most are transient and easily corrected."
Ivy Ng, a manager of a company involved in surgical gold threads in Malaysia, said: "Given its gradual rejuvenating process and the minimal recovery time, this procedure is expected to be popular in Malaysia."
But, says Dr Yap Chung Mui, the first local plastic surgeon to learn the technique, it may take a while for Malaysians to accept gold thread implantation because of its similarity to susuk.
The gold thread implantation technique was developed in France about 30 years ago.
The procedure involves the insertion of thin 24-carat gold threads, less than 0.1mm thick, into the dermis layer of the skin in a grid-like pattern over a specified area, said Dr Tan Kok Leong.
Dr Tan has performed over 30 surgeries in Singapore in the last one-and-a-half years.
According to Malaysian consultant plastic surgeon Dr Yap Chung Mui, the skin accepts pure gold as it is a biologically inert matter and there is less risk of infection compared to other metals.
Each gold thread is 25cm long and is attached to a needle which is used to puncture the skin to the dermis layer where the stitching is done.
"It is important that the procedure is carried out on the right layer," said Dr Yap.
Since the dermis layer has very small blood vessels, the bruising is minimal.
The insertion of gold threads helps to restore the lost of tension and elasticity of the skin.
It also eliminates drooping of the skin and it smoothes out wrinkles.

Malaysian scientists: Working conditions drive them away

NST: PUTRAJAYA: When scientist Dr Song (not his real name) returned after being wooed by the government, he expected a decent research environment.
This was not unrealistic as it was what he had in mind when he returned under the Returning Scientists Programme.
But what actually happened was totally unexpected: His employer was more concerned with living benefits and relocation than his research potential.
To make matters worse, he was asked to teach at the university that employed him instead of carrying out research. It was not surprising that he packed his bags after his contract ended.
This was also the case with the other 22 Malaysian scientists who had come home under the programme.
In fact, Dr Song’s complaints were somewhat similar to that of 70 foreign scientists who came to Malaysia to work under the same programme.
They did not renew their contracts despite overtures by the then Science, Technology and Environment Ministry, which oversaw the programme.
The Malaysian scientists had been employed by Universiti Malaya, Mimos, Universiti Putra Malaysia and International Islamic University.
The 23 were from Canada, the United States, Singapore, Germany and the United Kingdom and were experts in pharmacology, medicine, semiconductors and engineering.
According to a Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry internal report on the exodus of the scientists, their complaints generally involved working conditions.
One of those interviewed said he had to wait a year for his grant to be approved and another three months for payment to be made.
Another complained that maintenance of research infrastructure was lacking while one respondent said his employer lacked the attitude for commercialising research.
"Collaboration between universities is difficult. It isn’t easy to exchange information and ideas," a scientist had said.
The programme, launched in 1995, was considered a failure by 1998 when the scientists left.
"Most of them, Malaysians and foreigners, left after finishing their one-year contract. They were given the option to renew, but did not," a ministry official said.
The programme ensured allowances for housing, relocation and schooling for scientists’ families.
Other perks included return airfares to their home country and medical benefits.

But while the scientists might have appreciated these perks, according to the report, they complained about:
• a lack of commercialisation focus;
• low awareness of intellectual property rights, laws and funding;
• poorly-maintained and scattered research infrastructure;
• cumbersome administrative procedures to procure research equipment;
• a "perceived gap" in the availability and sustainability of research funds;
• slow disbursement of research funds;
• a critical shortage of scientists and support staff with required research experience;
• a closed environment with scientists focusing on their own research and reluctance to share experiences with other scientists outside the team or department; and,
• insufficient collaboration between the industry and academia.
Ministry officials could not provide an estimate on the amount spent on the programme.

Introduce Guidelines For Mental Health At Workplace, Govt Told

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 29 (Bernama) -- The government should introduce guidelines to promote mental health care in workplaces, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (Niosh) said Sunday.
Its Chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said the present working environment was very competitive and stressful and many workers would likely suffer from anxiety and depression in relation to their jobs.
"Attempted suicide cases involving workers are on the rise in recent years," he said in a statement today.
Lee said suicide has become the third leading death among Malaysians aged 15 to 34 and the number of people contemplating suicide in the 18 to 40 age bracket was also on the rise.
He said it was important to ensure happiness and well-being among workers and their families through initiatives to promote good mental health in workplaces from the viewpoint of the sound mental and social development of the country.
"It might be timely to consider introducing guidelines for mental health care promotion to enable implementation of basic measures by employers at workplaces, suited for the practical conditions of each enterprise," he said.
Lee said Niosh suggest that employers focus on the following areas when drawing up the mental health care programme:
+ Identify problems at workplaces related to poor mental health.
+ Secure the necessary resources to develop mental health care programme
+ Take measures to protect workers' privacy
+ Take other measures necessary for mental health promotion among workers and improve work environment
Lee said a healthy and educated workplace would ensure improved productivity.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Forum on women’s health issues

Star: IN NOVEMBER, medical experts from the world over and in Malaysia will be focusing on women’s health, in conjunction with the XVIII FIGO World Congress of Gynaecology and Obstetrics that will be held in Kuala Lumpur from 5-10 November.
To kick off this congress that is being hosted by Malaysia for the first time, FIGO (International Federation of Gynecology & Obstetrics) is working with the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, the Obstetrical and Gynaecological Society of Malaysia, Partners in Health and OH! Only Health magazine to organise a public health forum for women in Malaysia.
The forum, themed “The Truth Women Should Know”, will be held on Saturday, 4 November in Kuala Lumpur.
Local and international experts will talk about current women’s health issues. Among the topics to be explored are: “Women’s Health – Issues and Interventions”, “Individualisation of HRT” and “Cervical Cancer and HPV – Reducing the Burden and Prevention”.
Forum participants will have the opportunity to have their questions answered by the speakers during the Ask Your Doctor session.
Concurrent activities that will be held during the forum include health checks, skin tests and product sampling.
Note: The forum will be held on Nov 4 at Hotel Equatorial, Kuala Lumpur, from 9.30am to 1pm. A registration fee of RM20 (to be donated to Yayasan Kebajikan Negara) is required. To register, visit www.pharmvision.com or call Ms Veni at 03-20933384.

HIV-positive children victims of discrimination

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: When Sarimah (not her real name) and her husband adopted a baby girl, they knew she was the child of a sex worker and a drug addict.
Four years later they found that their daughter was HIV-positive.
The little girl began vomiting constantly and had terrible diarrhoea. Their family doctor recommended screening her for HIV.
After the initial shock and thoughts of giving her up, their love for their daughter reasserted itself.
"We accepted her as a gift, a blessing from God to look after. Not everyone gets the chance to help God to help others," Sarimah said.
It has been 11 years since the diagnosis, and Sarimah says she and her husband have told no-one about her condition.
"I’m afraid that other parents won’t allow their children to mix with my daughter."
Sarimah says they have not informed her daughter’s school that she is HIV-positive either.
She is worried the teachers might talk about it and her friends will tease her, and it could affect her studies.
Chuah (not his real name), and his wife only found out their adopted son was HIV-positive when he was six years old.
Their immediate family members are aware of his condition and are slowly coming to terms with it.
But they are afraid of what will happen if they make their son’s condition more widely known.
"Our conservative society may discriminate against our son," says Chuah.
Charumathy (not her real name) and her family have been more open about the fact that the little girl they adopted is HIV-positive, and they have felt the consequences.
"Many of my neighbours say I am stupid to accept the girl as my daughter, knowing that it isn’t easy to look after her and that she may die."
Charumathy says her relatives don’t allow their children to play with her daughter, fearing she may pass on the virus that causes AIDS while talking or laughing with them.
Malaysian AIDS Foundation (MAF) are aware of 651 children below the age 12 infected with HIV/AIDS who have been abandoned or orphaned.
Fewer than 15 have been adopted. The rest are being taken care of in 10 homes nationwide.
Besides the medical challenges of raising an HIV-positive child, people fear discrimination from family, friends and society in general.
Associate Prof Dr Norlijah Othman, head of paediatrics of Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at University Putra Malaysia, says Malaysians must change their mindset on HIV-positive children.
"We must accept them just like any other children," she says.
"They are not to blame for being HIV-positive. They are like, but unlike, other children. They are counting their days."

Pharmacists unlikely link to beta-agonist

Star: PETALING JAYA: It is unlikely that pharmacists are involved in supplying beta-agonist to feed millers or farmers, said the Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society.
President John Chang said he had not heard of any reported case of pharmacists supplying the banned drug to be mixed into livestock feed locally.
“Our shorelines are so exposed. Illegal drugs can easily enter the country and farmers can easily buy beta-agonist direct from the black market or smuggle it in without needing to go through pharmacists,” he said.
He was responding to a statement on Friday by MCA Traditional Agriculture and Agro-based Industries Bureau chairman Datuk Dr Lee Chong Meng, who urged the Health Ministry to go after pharmacies that smuggled in beta-agonist.
Chang said those in the pharmaceutical industry were unlikely to bring in the banned drug because they were already making good profit with medication for people and did not need to depend on the illegal drug.
“Why is the beta-agonist issue still persisting after all these years? The issue is about continuous enforcement and vigilance,” Chang said.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Honey to heal diabetic wounds

NST: KOTA BARU: Diabetics and honey may seem an unlikely combination.
But the sweet liquid from bees is working wonders for those being treated at the Universiti Sains Malaysia Hospital, Kubang Kerian, for wounds caused by the disease.
The best results have been seen on those suffering from ulcers of the foot.
USM orthopaedic department head, Dr Mohd Iskandar Mohd Amin, said the antiseptic properties of honey made it a potent salve.
"We found honey to be just as effective as modern antiseptics. It was less painful for patients and wounds appeared to heal faster."
A clinical trial in 2002 showed that honey worked as well as modern dressings, was cheaper and caused less pain when dressings were changed. "There was also less smell from the wound and no allergic reaction. Honey is now a necessary part of our regimen in treating diabetic wounds," he said.
HUSM treats an average of three patients per week with honey, and it has treated more than 1,000 diabetics this way since 1996.
Diabetic wounds are washed with saline, smeared with a thick coat of honey and wrapped with gauze. The dressing is changed every three days.
"We used to apply local honey but patients complained of discomfort, probably because local honey was impure. This was solved by using imported honey from supermarkets."
Dr Iskandar is now making arrangements to obtain pure local honey.
Patient Fatimah Che Mat Ali, of Setiu, Terengganu, said she would probably have lost her right foot if not for honey.
The 54-year-old cut a foot in August, leading to swelling and gangrene. Doctors amputated a toe but the problem was not resolved.
They then used honey to treat her wound. "It worked wonders on me," she said.

From SPM to nursing school

Star: MIRI: SPM and STPM school-leavers can go straight to nurses' training college soon.
The Health Ministry is drawing up plans with the Public Services Department to enable these youngsters to enter nursing colleges as soon as their examination results are announced.
Its parliamentary-secretary Datuk Lee Kah Choon said that at present school-leavers who were interested to sign up for the nursing courses must wait for about a year before they could apply to enter the colleges.
“Now, after the results are out in March, the next intake will only be opened in January the next year at the earliest.
“The ministry found that during this crucial waiting period we've lost many potential nursing students because they could not wait so long,” he told a press conference here yesterday.
He said the ministry wanted to make it more straightforward for youths to join the profession.
“The ministry is making plans to upgrade the nursing profession and we want to attract more people to join. We are fine-tuning the training programmes now.”
“We also want to attract more non-bumiputras to become nurses to reflect the true racial composition of our country. At the moment, 90% are bumiputras.
“Fresh nurses are given good deals now. A fresh nurse can get about RM1,600 per month, inclusive of benefits.
“During the three-year training, each will get a monthly allowance of RM600 plus lodging and uniform allowance.”
Lee said the huge imbalance in the nurses' racial ratio had created language problems with patients and staff shortage during major festive seasons.
He said the ministry would soon start a voluntary rotation system whereby specialists and doctors from the peninsula would be offered short stints in Sabah and Sarawak.
“We need to share our specialists and doctors and medical officers to overcome the serious shortage in these two states,” he added.
Lee said the ministry was also upgrading the telemedicine linkages between Sabah and Sarawak and the peninsula so that hospitals could assist each other via cyberspace.

Malaysian pork sellers claim pigs still fed banned growth drug: report

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia IHT Malaysian pork sellers alleged that a high number of locally raised pigs are fed a banned drug to enhance their growth and urged authorities to clamp down on pig farmers, reports said Friday. Malaysian Pork Sellers Association chairman Goh Chui Lai was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times that pork sellers have been treated as scapegoats for farmers who use sabultamol, a banned form of beta-agonist. At least 20 pork sellers nationwide have been fined for selling meat found to contain sabultamol over the past two years but no farmer has yet faced legal action, he said. "The government is punishing the wrong people. We buy pork from farmers who are the ones who feed the animals. But why are we being punished when we are just selling the meat?" Goh was quoted as saying. The Federation of Livestock Farmers' Association of Malaysia, which represents more than 600 pig slaughterhouses nationwide, claimed most farmers have been using another type of beta-agonist, Paylean, since sabultamol was banned several years ago.
Federation secretary Sim Ah Hock was quoted as saying that pork found to contain the banned drug could have come from illegal pig farms and urged pork sellers to check their sources of supply. Pigs given beta-agonist grow faster and can be slaughtered 20 days earlier than the usual 26 weeks and produce leaner meat, making it more marketable. Consumers who eat pork tainted with sabultamol could get headaches, dizziness, palpitations and breathing difficulties, the New Straits Times said. It can be fatal for those suffering from asthma and heart disease, it said. The Star newspaper said the Agriculture Ministry had issued warning letters to 83 pig suppliers and blacklisted nine others in the past three months over the use of the banned drug, which is cheaper than Paylean. It quoted Health Minister Chua Soi Lek as saying the government would strengthen enforcement, which has been weak due to religious obstacles. Chua urged authorities to raid pharmacies that import and supply the drug.
Ministry officials were not immediately available for comment.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Health Ministry planning shorter hospitalisation for some cases

Star: MIRI: The Health Ministry is to implement plans whereby patients with not too serious ailments and those undergoing minor surgeries would be discharged six to seven hours after admission so that they need not have to stay overnight in the hospital.
The ministry is now working out details on how to implement this plan. It would outline criteria to ascertain those patients who can be discharged without having to stay overnight.
They will be allowed to go home after they have rested for seven hours in the hospital ward, but they would be given more intensive and comprehensive follow-up treatment thereafter.
This "very short time spent in hospital, but more intensive and comprehensive follow-up treatments idea" may be the solution to clearing the congestions experienced in hospitals in the country, said Ministry Parliamentary-secretary Datuk Lee Kah Choon.
The ministry feels that through this method, both the patients and the hospitals would benefit, he said.
"This way, they can recuperate in the comfort of their home surroundings and we won't have to clog up our hospitals.
"Hospital beds can then be reserved for more urgent and serious cases and for patients who come from far away places," he told a press conference here on Friday.
Lee was here to start a four-day visit to Miri and surrounding areas as part of inspection of health facilities in various regions in the country.

Hospital damper in fight against food poisoning

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: For 10 years, doctors could have done something to spare thousands of Malaysians the agony of food poisoning — if not for government hospitals.
Not a single hospital has sent stool samples to Universiti Malaya’s Institute of Biological Sciences to ascertain if viruses were the cause of the ailment.
It was not that doctors could have treated the problem: Antibiotics do not work on viruses.
But they could have stopped family and friends of victims from contracting gastroenteritis which causes up to three days of pain, diarrhoea and vomitting.
Patients could have been advised to isolate themselves for the duration of the problem so as not to infect others and cause, among other things, loss of productivity at work.
Associate Prof Dr Nassar Banu Ghulam Rasool is particularly unhappy by the lack of response from hospitals.
The virologist at the institute has been waiting for 10 years to use more than RM100,000 worth of equipment and diagnostic tools bought specially to identify the cause of food poisoning.
Isolating the cause of the food poisoning could have prevented the children from suffering, she said.
"Of late, many adults and children have been suffering from acute food poisoning."
Noroviruses, which cause food poisoning, are especially tough on the patients.
It was named after Norwalk, Ohio, where an outbreak of what was then called "winter vomiting disease" occurred at an elementary school in November 1968.
A test on stool samples in 1972 identified the virus.
People can become infected with the virus in several ways, such as eating contaminated food or drinks, touching contaminated surfaces or having direct contact with victims.
But it is still not too late to put the equipment to good use.
Nassar said it was important to use the technology to determine the diversity of Norwalk-like virus strains in children and adults.
"It will be a pity if we do not use the equipment that we have to help Malaysians tackle food poisoning."

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Malaysia fights looming AIDS epidemic

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 25 (Reuters) - Ex-convict Jonah Chan is a casualty of Malaysia's losing battle against AIDS.
In 1984, he was jailed for three years for robbery. He came out a drug addict and is now infected with the AIDS virus.
"I contracted HIV by injecting drugs. I shared needles," said 41-year-old Chan who has been in and out of a home for reforming drug addicts and convicts in Kuala Lumpur for the past 15 years.
"Drugs were cheaper in prison because there were a lot of big pushers," he explained, sitting in the living room of an old double-storey brick house he shares with 23 other residents.
Malaysia, a conservative, mainly Muslim country, has some of the world's toughest anti-drugs laws. But the HIV virus is spreading rapidly due to illegal drug use and a lack of sex education, raising fears of an epidemic.
Delivering a loud wake-up call to the government, the World Health Organisation warned last year that Malaysia was on the brink of an HIV epidemic.
Until recently, Malaysia refused to adopt policies proven successful elsewhere -- including in fellow Muslim countries Iran and Pakistan -- such as providing clean syringes to drug addicts.
At the start of 2006, HIV cases in Malaysia totalled 70,559 in a population of about 26 million, while 10,663 patients had full-blown AIDS, official data showed.
The numbers are much lower than Thailand which has 560,000 HIV patients, but Malaysian health officials are worried by the exponential rise in HIV cases.
In 2005, new AIDS cases in Malaysia totalled 1,221 compared with 233 in 1995.
By contrast, neighbouring Thailand has more than halved the number of new HIV infections over the past decade, thanks to aggressive promotion of condom use among sex workers.
"For HIV, the trend has been always upward in Malaysia and we're getting very worried," Malaysian Health Minister Chua Soi Lek, who was appointed to the post in 2004, said in an interview.
"People are in a state of denial," he added.

Only last year did the government start handing out free condoms and needles -- a move it had earlier opposed on grounds that it promoted free sex and rampant drug usage.
It now plans to spend 500 million ringgit ($136 million) on programmes to combat AIDS, including needle distribution.
HIV is most commonly spread in Malaysia by drug users, with male AIDS patients outnumbering females by about 10 to 1.
About 60 percent of those believed to have HIV were Malays -- the largest and most religiously conservative of Malaysia's ethnic groups. Most of them were unemployed.
AIDS activist groups blame inadequate enforcement of drug laws and a lack of sex education for the rapid rise in cases.
"The reality is we're losing the war," said Pax Tan, a leader of a Christian group involved in combating HIV and drug use.
The government is starting to fight back.
HIV education will soon be taught during the national service programme for youths, Chua said, after surveys showed a rise in unprotected sex and widespread ignorance about HIV among youth.
Government data showed that about a quarter of AIDS cases from 1986 to 2005 involved those between 13 to 29 years of age.
"With the funding promised by the government, we are very confident that we'll be able to see a plateau in the rate of increase, maybe by 2010 or 2009," Chua said.

Despite Malaysia's growing affluence and western trappings, the country remains outwardly conservative on sex.
Kuala Lumpur -- which started in the mid-19th century as a tin settlement with brothels, gambling booths and opium dens -- is packed with clubs brimming with drugs and alcohol but is also a place where kissing and hugging are forbidden in public parks.
With no sex education at schools, some youths believe that HIV can be transmitted by mosquitoes, fleas or bedbugs.
Religious leaders are deeply opposed to the distribution of free needles and condoms.
"(It) will encourage people to have free sex. We must address the root of the problem," said Ahmad Awang, a spokesman at the Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS), the country's largest Islamic opposition party.
Instead he suggested tightening government controls on entertainment outlets and night-time curfews for youths.
Wong Kim Kong, of the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship Malaysia, believes traditional values may stop the spread of AIDS rather than free condoms and needles.
"Abstinence is the most important habit that we need to develop," he said. ($1=3.6700 ringgit)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Novartis AG Keen To Invest In Malaysia's Biotechnology Sector

PUTRAJAYA, Oct 20 (Bernama) -- Novartis AG, one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies, is interested to invest in Malaysia's biotechnology sector involving health products.
This was conveyed by its chief executive officer Daniel Vasella during a meeting with Science, Technology and Innovations Minister Datuk Seri Jamaluddin Jarjis here Friday.
Jamaluddin said the company which has expertise in the biotechnology field would carry out studies on possible products from Malaysia's rich natural resources.
"We have many plants with qualities that can enhance human health. So, we can discuss how to make health products from them," he told reporters after the meeting.
Novartis AG is one of the largest pharmaceutical and life sciences companies in the world, with core businesses in pharmaceuticals, consumer health, generics, eye-care and animal health.
Headquartered in Basel, Switzerland, the group employ about 97,000 people and operate in over 140 countries around the world, including Malaysia.
Jamaluddin said Vasella was expected to have a meeting with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
He said discussions would also be held with scientists, entrepreneurs and others involved in the biotechnology field.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Mercy M'sia President Conferred 'Gandhi, King, Ikeda Award'

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 20 (Bernama) -- Mercy Malaysia president Datuk Dr Jemilah Mahmood was conferred the 'Gandhi, King, Ikeda Award' Thursday, making her the first Malaysian to receive such recognition by the Martin Luther King Jr International Chapel of Morehouse College, United States.
According to a press statement released here, the institute's dean, Dr Lawrence E Carter Sr presented the award which was accepted by Dr Jemilah's husband, Datuk Dr Ashar Abdullah, on her behalf.
Dr Jemilah is currently attending a United Nations training programme in Sweden.
"We are proud to link Dr Jemilah's name with our highest honour as she is an exemplary human being who has caught our attention with her undying efforts in providing medical and humanitarian aid through Mercy Malaysia to those suffering, regardless of race, colour and creed," said Carter.
The Gandhi, King, Ikeda Award symbolises the tradition of peace-work based on non-violence that Mahatma Gandhi, Dr Martin Luther King Jr and Dr Daisaku Ikeda shared.
Previous recipients include former US Ambassador to the UN Andrew Young and 1998 Nobel Peace Laureate John Hume.
The conferment also marked the launching of the Gandhi, King, Ikeda - A Legacy of Building Peace Exhibition, that is presently being held by the Soka Gokkai Malaysia organisation.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Hospitals using non-FDA approved stents

Sun2Surf PETALING JAYA (Oct 18,2006): All medical implants used in surgical or clinical procedures must be registered with the Ministry of Health.
"There are laws against the use of unregistered medical equipment and interventional implants," the ministry's director-general Tan Sri Ismail Merican told theSun.
He said the Medical Devices Act prohibits clinicians and medical specialists from implanting in patients, any form of mechanical device that has not been approved by the ministry or has not been registered.
Ismail said this after he was informed that several public and private sector hospitals were implanting non-FDA approved stents in patients with clogged arteries.
theSun learnt from several cardiologists, who declined to be named, that they have been using non-FDA approved stents to fix clogged arteries of patients with very unstable angina (chest pain) or who have already suffered a cardiac event.
One cardiologist said he decides on the stents to be used based on the financial status of the patient and the urgency of the situation.
"Non-FDA approved stents are a lot cheaper and within the means of the poor," he said, adding that all angioplasty procedures have attendant risks whether or not they are FDA-approved.
Boston Scientific Corporation, a global developer of interventional medical implants, clarified in a statement on Tuesday that its drug-eluting stent (DES) was not used in the widely reported case of a failed angioplasty performed on a Myanmar national in Singapore in early 2004.
The company provided an assurance that anyone who has used or is planning to use its brand of Taxus Express or second generation Taxus Liberte DES implants may do so confidently as they are safe.
"We assure the medical community that our DES implants were not used in any orm or stage during the afore-mentioned (Singapore) case," its statement said.
The procedure in the said case involved the implanting of an FDA-approved stent in a 64-year-old woman, Daw Tin Nyunt.
In the ensuing court dispute between Daw's family and the Parkway Hospital Group, it was claimed that complications arose when the cardiologist failed to extract the balloon (see graphic) in the stent after the stent was put in place.
The procedure had to be aborted and an emergency by-pass surgery performed instead, due to the balloon having been retained.
The Singapore Sunday Times in a report, quoted a cardiologist in the city-state describing the incident as a "freak accident".
The cardiologist said the number of times the balloon is unable to deflate is one in a million.
Boston Scientific, whose stents are FDA-approved, told the newspaper that the incidence in the case of its stents is 29 in 3 million, whereas Johnson & Johnson - another leading manufacturer of stents - told the paper that of its three million Cypher stents implanted worldwide since 2002, there were only three reported cases of embedded balloons.

Haze sends more to the doctors

NST JOHOR BARU: As the haze index here remains at the "unhealthy" level, the number of patients at several clinics is also increasing.
A random check with several doctors in town have shown that there was an increase in the number of patients due to the haze.
Veteran surgeon Datuk Dr K.L. Siow, who runs a private practice in Taman Johor Jaya said he had about 30 per cent more patients consulting him.
"Those suffering from chronic lung disease, the older generation and children are most vulnerable to the haze. If the API readings were to increase, wearing a mask would be advisable," he said.
He said patients also complained of dry eyes. He claimed that the haze was worse than second-hand smoke from smokers.
Dr C.H. Boo, who has a private clinic in Taman Universiti said most of his patients complained of respiratory problems.
He said the number of patients at his clinic rose by about 25 per cent since the haze hit Johor.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Return of Paraquat - Activists Aghast

PENANG, Oct 18 (IPS) - The Malaysian government has stunned activists by ‘‘temporarily lifting'' a ban on the toxic weed-killer paraquat so that ‘‘an extensive study'' can be carried out.
The move, this month, follows an intensive lobbying campaign by the Swiss agrochemical giant, Syngenta, which markets the herbicide under the brand name Gramoxone, and other industry groups.
It has been a classic lobbying battle with ups and downs for both the industry groups and anti-paraquat campaigners in recent years.
In 2002, anti-paraquat campaigners were jubilant when, after a 10-year campaign, they succeeded in persuading the Malaysian government to clamp down on the substance. The government issued a circular that year saying that pesticides containing paraquat and calcium cyanide would not be re-registered and all forms of advertising of the two substances would be banned.
The government justified its decision saying that more cost efficient and less dangerous alternatives were readily available in the market.
It was a major setback for Syngenta and other transnationals. The decision by Malaysia, the world's largest producer of oil palm with a long plantation tradition, sent shockwaves among giant agrochemical transnational corporations that have thrived on the sales of such herbicides, especially in developing countries. Paraquat sales in China especially have been soaring in recent years and the Asian market is considered hugely important.
Global sales of paraquat exceed one billion US dollars annually at end-user level and Malaysia's ban would have sparked fears among the agrochemical firms that a chain-reaction to introduce similar bans in other Asian countries would follow.
But victory for anti-paraquat campaigners lasted only four years. The government's decision now to ‘‘temporarily lift the ban'' swings the lobbying war in Syngenta's favour. ‘‘We want to do an extensive study on paraquat, its harmful effects and positive aspects, before the set date for its total ban in November next year,'' Pesticide Control Division director Nursiah Tajul Arus was quoted as saying.
The Pesticides Board is now allowing registration of paraquat for all crops ‘‘to facilitate the study''.
Syngenta's public relations offensive, complemented by lobbying campaigns by associations representing plantation owners and the agrochemical industry, began soon after the decision to phase out paraquat was made in 2002.
The following year, IPS witnessed how the firm's Malaysian arm, Syngenta Crop Protection Sdn Bhd, feted journalists to a five-star hotel dinner in Penang after holding a briefing on the benefits of using paraquat. Also present was the chairman of the Malaysian Crop Care and Public Health Association, which represents the agrochemical industry.
During the briefing, Syngenta Crop Protection's general manager, John McGillivray, famously described paraquat as a ‘‘dream product'' even as, unbeknown to him, a young man lay dying in hospital in Kuala Lumpur in another paraquat suicide case.
Syngenta has sought to counter the findings of anti-paraquat activist groups. It has come up with a summary rebuttal to a report entitled ‘Paraquat - Syngenta's controversial herbicide', produced by the Pesticide Action Network and the Berne Declaration. In its rebuttal, Syngenta said in its Gramoxone fact sheet that it is usually serious misuse or abuse situations that have been responsible for creating the wrong impression that occupational exposure to paraquat can lead to long-term health problems.
Syngenta said paraquat is ‘‘so remarkable'' and ‘‘so well known'' that it is a prime target for groups opposed to the use of pesticides. ‘‘One such group, PAN (Pesticide Action Network), has published a document that uses anecdotes and irrelevant references in an attempt to vilify paraquat,'' it said, adding that if PAN's proposals were taken seriously, food production could fall and local economies that depend on farm output would suffer.
The Swiss transnational firm also pooh-poohed a report launched in 2002 by workers' rights group Teneganita and PAN titled ‘Poisoned and Silenced: A study of Pesticide Poisoning in the Plantations'.
The two-year in-depth study conducted among 72 women sprayers in 17 plantations in three states on the peninsula revealed a host of symptoms. Among them were fatigue, vomiting, back pains, giddiness and nausea, breathing difficulties, skin disorders, eye irritation, headaches, tight sensations in the chest and burning sensations in the vagina.
But in an appraisal of the study's findings posted on the firm's website, Syngenta retorted that the design of the study did not meet even the basic requirements for a proper assessment of exposure and related effects. ‘‘Because of the inadequacies of the Pesticide Exposure Study and lack of other sufficient credible scientific evidence, several of the conclusions in the report are not justified.''
The PR offensive continued with the setting up of a website www.paraquat.com by the ‘Paraquat Information Centre' to provide ‘‘comprehensive information on Paraquat, its uses in agriculture, and its profile on human and environmental safety.'' The site is ‘‘powered by Syngenta and sponsored by the Global Paraquat Community'', whose members ‘‘represent leading agricultural and environmental organisations''.
Activists groups had also warned that industry lobby groups were trying to persuade the government to reverse its ban. In addition, plantation owners took out full-page advertisements in the English-language press extolling the benefits of paraquat while downplaying the health risks.
PAN is now fighting back. It is a well-known fact that paraquat is one of the most highly toxic herbicides to be marketed over the last 60 years, said PAN in a statement. ‘‘As little as 17 mg/kg has been known to kill a human, and there is no antidote.''
It pointed out that its latest joint report, ‘‘Paraquat - Unacceptable Health Risks for Users'', contains extensive reviews of the impact of paraquat, largely from peer-reviewed studies, which found that large numbers of farmers and workers suffer daily as a result of the herbicide.
The World Health Organisation classifies paraquat as ‘‘moderately hazardous''. But because of its serious long-term effects on plantation workers, Malaysia had classified it as Class 1 B (extremely hazardous). Moreover, paraquat has not been approved for use in Syngenta's home country, Switzerland, since 1989.
So why did the Malaysian government buckle under and lift the ban, albeit ‘‘temporarily''? The ban was put in place a year before Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi took over the reins in late 2003.
Since then, his administration has aggressively promoted agribusiness û rather than sustainable traditional farming to promote self-sufficiency û in its bid to rejuvenate the agriculture sector and reduce income disparities in the country. He even renamed the Agriculture Ministry the Agriculture and Agro-based Ministry as part of this endeavour.
Moreover, one of the nine thrusts in Malaysia's biotechnology policy unveiled last year is for the country to become a centre of excellence for agro-biotechnology. This ties in with the move to industralise the agricultural sector.
‘‘There was a lot of pressure from the plantation owners,'' Sarojeni Rengam, executive director of PAN's Asia Pacific office, told IPS. She also pointed out that bio-fuel derived from palm oil was also being pushed in a big way.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Integrating T/CM into the health system

Star: WHEN corporate climber Sarah doubled in pain over a shooting pain in her back, she didn't hesitate to book herself a Yoga holiday. Unlike her peers, Sarah who grew up amid her mother's incense and vegetarian diet was a firm believer of alternative healing. The destination was a far-off island in the east of Thailand. The programme was a rigorous, almost austere five-day activity of yoga, meditation and wheatgrass juice.
Rising everyday at dawn and enjoying the sweet air devoid of cell phone beeps and MTV beats did much to calm Sarah's soul. Forget make-up and perfume, everybody was at their barest self and plainest clothes.
Before the emergence of modern medicine, traditional medicine has always been the main source of cure in our country. In a multicultural country, like Malaysia, you can get Chinese, Indian, Malay and even indigenous traditional medicine from almost anywhere.
Today, traditional and complementary medicine (T/CM) remains as an important cure for diseases as well as supplement to maintain good health.
Despite the rising global popularity and widespread use of T/CM, the practice of T/CM in the country is still very much informal and unregulated. Realising the potential for growth in this industry, the government has devised a new approach to the development of T/CM.
This new approach will ensure the quality and safety of T/CM for the consumers through continuous evaluation and formulation of policies with appropriate regulations. Subsequently, the government hopes to integrate T/CM with modern medicine and into the national health system.
Based on the National Policy on T/CM 2001, one of the new approaches is the regulation of T/CM practice to enhance the professionalism and development of practitioners. Hence, practitioners will have to register with one of the T/CM bodies to ensure quality and safe practices.

These practitioners will have to comply with the standards and criteria that have been set by the bodies and endorsed by the MOH. Currently, there are seven T/CM bodies that practitioners can registered with, namely:
# Persekutuan Perubatan Tradisional Melayu Malaysia;
# Federation of Chinese Physician and Medicine-Dealers Association of Malaysia;
# Chinese Physician's Association of Malaysia;
# Federation of Chinese Physician and Acupuncturists Association of Malaysia;
# Pertubuhan Perubatan Tradisional India Malaysia;
# Malaysian Society for Complementary Therapies; and
# Majlis Perubatan Homeopathy Malaysia.

Another approach is the education and training of practitioners in the field of T/CM.
Currently, there is no formalised system of education and training as well as standardization and accreditation of overseas training programmes in the country.
Hence, there is a need to develop proper education and training curriculum for T/CM practitioners.
Commenting on this issue, Dr Ramli Abd Ghani, Director of Traditional and Complementary Medicine Division of the MOH said, “To ensure quality education and training system, we will work with the Ministry of Education and the National Accreditation Board (LAN) to develop the syllabus as well as standards and criteria on T/CM.”
Besides that, the government plans to establish T/CM training programmes with the help of overseas institutions that will further contribute to the development of T/CM in the country. In addition, the MOH plans to visit hospitals and universities in China and India and organise discussion with practitioners from developed countries like the UK and US on the education and training syllabus.
China and India are two countries that have established education and training system in the field of T/CM, in particular the Chinese medicine, acupuncture and ayurveda.
The new approach will also include the development of research on T/CM through collaborative research and development with both local and international health institutes. For instance, collaboration with the Institute of Medical Research (IMR) can be formed to carry out clinical research.
Collaboration can also be formed through bilateral agreement with countries that have been practising T/CM formally in their health system. These collaborative efforts will contribute and boost the development of T/CM in the country.
The government has recently approved the establishment of integrated hospitals, which integrates the practice of T/CM to the current national health system.
The MOH has selected three hospitals to implement this integration, namely Hospital Kepala Batas, Pulau Pinang, Hospital Putrajaya, and Hospital Sultan Ismail, Johor. Some of the T/CM practices that would be introduced in phases with these hospitals include acupuncture, reflexology and masseur, just to name a few.
Dr Ramli said: “We are conducting pilot tests on these three integrated hospitals. We will need the appropriate infrastructure to launch it effectively and subsequently incorporate it into the national health system officially.”
“As for the human resources, T/CM practitioners in these hospitals will be hired on a contract basis and must be trained under the MOH.”
Although the government is optimistic on the new approach and plans in the development of T/CM, there are several challenges that may deter the implementation of its plan successfully.
One of the challenges is the cooperation and support from the local T/CM practitioners as well as the modern practitioners in promoting and creating awareness on T/CM in the country.
There is also a need to increase the human resources in the field of T/CM. With the provision of a formalised education and training system on T/CM, the government aims to increase the number of practitioners in the country in the long-term.
When asked about the future direction of T/CM development in the country, Dr Ramli commented:
“I believe that there will be a positive reception on T/CM and its new plans. There is a huge potential to develop T/CM and in the future we hope that it can become a source of income for the country through health tourism.”
Five days later, as Sarah boarded a wooden boat leaving the idyllic island behind, her limber body and glowing skin convinced her to make this getaway an annual event.
Serenity enveloped her. That and a non-aching back.

Answering the call of nature in style

Star: SIBU: While you may not get a “royal flush” in the loos of Sibu, you can certainly feel like an “ace” when you use the five-star public restrooms that cost RM100,0000 to RM200,000 each to build.
Many visitors think the folks in Sibu, which aims to be the next city after Kuching and Miri, are a lucky and privileged lot.
They are getting better public toilets than most towns in Sarawak.
Sibu Municipal Council deputy chairman Daniel Ngieng said residents attending public functions at the Sibu Gateway could use the new toilets.
“They are special because they are user- as well as environmental-friendly.
“They are the first to be built under the open-design concept recommended by the council’s toilet committee,” he said.
“As they are not enclosed within a building, there is more fresh air circulation and better ventilation to get rid of foul smells,” he told reporters after inspecting the toilets with council chairman Datuk Seri Tiong Thai King.
Ngieng said the design allowed much natural light to cut down on electricity use.
“We are still looking for an operator to maintain the toilets, for which users will be charged a minimal fee,” he added.
On suggestions that the toilets are costly, he said they were built via open tender.
“If there are people who feel the toilets are unjustifiably expensive, we will be happy if they can introduce us to contractors who can build them at a cheaper price without compromising on quality,” he said.
“The toilets are something Sibu folks can be proud of. The council will look into building more such toilets when we have more funds."

Customs D-G: Officers prone to health problems

Star: KUANTAN: Customs officers are more prone to develop chronic diseases due to an unhealthy working environment, its director-general Datuk Abdul Rahman Abdul Hamid said.
He said his enforcement officers were among those most likely to fall ill from heart-related ailments as a result of the surroundings and odd working hours.
“For example, most officers stationed at the Johor causeway are exposed daily to dust and work at irregular hours.”
He said that many of them also lacked sleep due to the working environment.
He said this after handing over a contribution to a state Customs officer’s widow Norhafizah Ismail in Kampung Permatang Badak here on Sunday.
Norhafizah, 32, lost her husband Abdul Jalal Abdul Rahman to cancer six years ago.
Abdul Rahman said a detailed study would be conducted on why many Customs personnel died while in service and its contributing factors.
He said they were also collecting information on the number of staff suffering from chronic diseases and the nature of the illnesses nationwide.
Abdul Rahman said that efforts were being made to strengthen the Customs Foundation to provide financial assistance to widows and orphans of former staff.
He said that all state directors had been told to submit reports on all former staff who required urgent assistance.
He said the foundation had allocated RM100,000 to help the staff but the limited fund was causing concern.
Abdul Rahman said the department would start recruiting some 1,000 personnel from next year to fill up existing vacancies.

Survey finds 8% of Malaysian drivers have bad eyesight

Star: EIGHT of every 100 Malaysian drivers suffer from poor vision, which contributes to the increasing number of road accidents, especially during the festive season.
This was one of the findings of a recent survey by the optometry department of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), Road Transport Department, Road Safety Department and the Malaysian Opticians Association, according to a report in Utusan Malaysia.
The survey, involving 4,000 respondents, deduced that 8% or 800,000 of 10 million registered drivers did not have good driving vision.
UKM optometry department head Dr Haliza Abdul Mutalib said one of the requirements for driving licence holders was to have a vision level of at least 6/10 on the Snellen Chart.
Dr Haliza claimed that the present JPJ computerised vision-checking system for new drivers allowed even nearly blind people to pass.
“Many drivers are seen stopping by the roadside during heavy rain, and this is not because their vehicle wipers are not working well,” she was quoted in the report as saying.
“Other drivers are able to drive along without trouble in similar conditions.”
She urged drivers, especially those wearing glasses, to attend eye tests from time to time.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Chicken 'guards' to stop bird flu entering Sabah

NST: KOTA KINABALU: Sabah has "hired" chickens to stop bird flu from entering the state.
The chickens form the "sentinel flock" which will be the first line of defence against bird flu brought in by migratory birds.
Migratory birds, which fly more than 25,000km to escape the winter, will be allowed to mingle with the "sentinel flock" in a specially erected shed.
The shed has openings to allow the birds to enter and share food with the poultry.
Experts will monitor the chickens to see if they get infected with the virus, and thus take quick measures to stop the avian flu from spreading to other areas.
State Agriculture and Food Industries Minister Datuk Abdul Rahim Ismail, who opened the shed at the Kota Kinabalu Wetlands Centre yesterday, said there had been no reports of the virus in Sabah.
"There were 52 deaths in Indonesia, and many of these happened in Kalimantan. We border Kalimantan, so we have to take steps to keep the virus away.
"If any of the chickens get infected, we will immediately destroy all poultry within a five-kilometre radius."
Rahim said the "sentinel flock" method was used in France and Thailand.
The "sentinel flock" initiative is a collaborative effort of the Veterinary Services and Animal Industry Department, Health Department and the Sabah Wetlands Conservation Society.

15 More Days To Registration Deadline For Clinics

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 16 (Bernama) -- Private clinics have 15 more days before the Oct 31 deadline to register under the Private Healthcare Facilities Services Act 1998 (PHFSA) or face action.
Director General of Health Tan Sri Dr Mohd Ismail Merican said that by Nov 1, the focus of the ministry's enforcement would be on unregistered clinics run by registered or unregistered doctors or quacks.
Until Oct 11, about 30 per cent of the estimated 8,000 clinics had applied for registration and the government would not defer the implementation of the regulation, he said in a statement issued, here Monday.
He said: "Our priority in enforcement is to rid the country of healthcare premises or services run by unregistered medical practitioners, bogus doctors or quacks providing modern healthcare services.
"We will raid such premises and take the owners, practitioners and quacks that provide such services to task, with the help of the public," he said.
Dr Mohd Ismail said those running unregistered clinics could face a fine of up to RM300,000 or six years jail, or both.

Monday, October 16, 2006

M'sian Cardiologist President Of World Medical Association

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 16 (Bernama) -- Cardiologist Datuk Dr N. Arumugam has been elected president of the World Medical Association (WMA), the first Malaysian to hold the post.
Dr Arumugam, the immediate past president of the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA), was elected at the WMA's general assembly in Sun City, Pilanesburg, South Africa on Oct 10-14.
MMA president Datuk Dr Teoh Siang Chin described the installation as a glowing international accolade for the Malaysian health service and due recognition for all its doctors.
"The recognition of a Malaysian cardiologist as the president of the global body of doctors will surely promote the branding of health Malaysia," he said in a statement, here Monday.
In his inaugural address at the assembly, Dr Arumugam pledged to work towards better health of all citizens including doctors.
He said to keep the population healthy, doctors themselves must be healthy.
The WMA has more than 80 member countries and is recognised as an important advocate and leader for health by the World Health Organisation.

Ministry Agrees To Assist Damai Hospital Trainee Nurses, Suhakam Says

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 16 (Bernama) -- Seventeen trainee nurses who alleged that they were forced to work as staff nurses at the Damai Service Hospital (DSH) in Taman Melawati even before graduation, may be able to complete their training at recognised private medical colleges.
Suhakam (Human Rights Commission of Malaysia) commissioner Datuk N. Siva Subramaniam said the Health Ministry had expressed its willingness to accommodate the trainees according to their qualifications as soon as possible.
"The trainees have undergone a nursing course at the DSH for a year and six months, so the Health Ministry will assess whether the course they have taken achieves the standard and is recognised to allow them to continue their studies for another six month," he said.
He told reporters this after meeting 12 of the 17 trainees at the Suhakam office, here Monday.
Siva also urged the Health Ministry to take firm action on the DSH for offering nursing courses without a licence.
"A private hospital is accountable for each of its offers and services rendered and not take advantage by making use of trainees to do the work of staff nurses," he said.
Last month, the 17 trainee nurses alleged that the DSH had offered them a nursing course and forced them to work as staff nurses including in assisting doctors in receiving births, taking care of women who had just given birth and giving medicine intravenously to newborn babies.
One of them, Farah Nur Syuhaida Borhan, 20, said they had been suspended after reporting the matter to Suhakam and the media.
"Normally, we would work for five days and attend classes two days, and sometimes without off days. But since early January to June, we did not attend any class and had to work full time with a RM450 monthly allowance.
"Then, we lodged a complaint with the Malaysian Nursing Board over the matter and tried to get clarification from the hospital but they refused to meet us.
"Last July, we were suspended and now, we are jobless," she said.

Belted Rear Seat Passengers Can Protect Drivers In Accidents

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 16 (Bernama) -- Rear seat passengers who wear the safety belt can prevent themselves as well as the driver and front seat passenger from being killed when a car is involved in a road accident, according to an expert on road safety.
Prof Dr Radin Umar Radin Sohadi said the impact during an accident could be "very harmful" to the people not wearing the safety belt.
"During the impact, rear seat passengers can not only be killed (if they do not wear the safety belt) but they can even cause the deaths of the people in the front seats because the impact during a crash can be equivalent to two tonnes," he told Bernama Monday.
Radin Umar, who is deputy vice-chancellor (Academic and International Affairs) of Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM), said that during a crash, the weight impact would increase tremendously and this could be harmful to the passengers not wearing the safety belt.
Therefore, he said, it was advisable for the rear seat passengers to wear the safety belt although it was not mandatory for them to do so at the moment. Currently, only the driver and the front passenger are required to wear the safety belt.
Radin Umar also said that there was a close relationship between the volume of traffic and the number of road accidents because when the volume of traffic increased, the roads would reach their capacity and there would be congestion.
"This will really test the patience of road users," he said, adding that impatient drivers were prone to make errors, experience lapses in concentration or violate traffic rules.
"When under pressure, such as frustration due to the length of a journey, drivers tend to disregard traffic rules.
"That is why we request everybody to respect the system. If we fail to respect the system, the system will fail. Failure to respect the system will encourage people to make more mistakes, which will contribute to accidents," he added.
He said reduction of the speed limit had been scientifically proven to contribute to fewer road accident fatalities, provided there was ample enforcement.
"Some countries even achieve up to 36 per cent reduction in road accidents when the speed limit is reduced and there is stricter enforcement," he said.
Radin Umar also advised motorists returning to their hometowns during the coming festive season to exercise extra caution when on the road.
"There is a need to respect the whole system, particularly during the 'balik kampung' rush as they will pass through small towns along the way. In these small towns, there are pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists," he reminded.

StemLife banking on local cell market

The Star STEMLIFE Bhd, en route for listing on the Mesdaq market this month, plans to grow its business locally before expanding abroad.
Set up in 2002, StemLife is the first homegrown Malaysian biotechnology company to provide stem cell banking or storage to about 7,000 subscribers, mostly locals.
Managing director Sharon Low said stem cell banking was not new and the process of storing human cells for future use had been practiced for over 40 years in mature economies like the United States, parts of Europe, Japan and Hong Kong.
“We believe the business of stem cell banking has good growth potential in South-East Asia, including Malaysia,” she told StarBiz.
Low said in some developed countries, the number of subscribers in stem cell banking could be as high as 40% to 50% of the people under private healthcare.
“Based on the current level of subscription in Malaysia, there is still a lot of room to expand,” she said, adding that with growing public affluence and education, stem cell banking was expected to become more popular.
The company also hopes that demand for stem cell banking, especially for infants, would increase in tandem with increasing birth rates, which currently stood at about half a million a year.
Low said there were two types of stem cell banking: adult stem cell and umbilical cord blood stem cell storage.
She said when the company started about five years ago, there was no such facility in the region, except Singapore.
“We want to make stem cell banking more affordable to the public,” she said, adding that it was still cheaper in Malaysia than in most countries.
The initial outlay for stem cell storage per person is about RM2,500 and an annual fee of RM250 to keep them frozen.
The cost of the initial outlay includes testing and processing of the stem cells for storage.
Low said StemLife started with funds of RM2.5mil from partners and later managed to get additional funds of RM1.8mil through the MSC fund.
“It was very challenging in the early years. We had to manage our cash flow, besides managing the business, which was still relatively new in the country.
“Slowly but surely, we were able to attract more subscribers and revenue started improving until we managed to double our revenue each financial year,” she said.
Asked if she had planned for the listing, Low said: “Not really. We were just focusing on growing our business year-to-year and realised that StemLife was able to fulfil the Securities Commission and Bursa requirements for Mesdaq listing.”
Low said the company also realised that it needed to tap public funds to expand its business faster.
“Most of the funds from the listing will be used to expand our operations in Malaysia,” she said, adding that funds would be used mainly to buy equipment, technology and hire individuals with special skills.
Low said StemLife was optimistic that its plans and future strategies, together with opportunities provided by the initial public offering, would not only propel the company to new heights but also enable it to take stem cell banking and related-therapies to the next level.
She said besides the MSC funding in the early stages of the company's development, StemLife had depended solely on the investment of its partners and business revenue to grow. “We are looking at other options seeing that we are now better profiled,” she said, noting that the Government was also supportive of the Malaysian biotechnology industry.
The Government announced in Budget 2007 that a special fund worth RM100mil would be set up to promote the industry.
Low said the company was encouraged by the Government's support for the industry via grants, special loans and/or tax exemptions.
“But we will also do our part to expand by tapping into public funds as well as boost revenue streams through greater efficiency and introduction of new health products and services,” she said.
On overseas expansion, Low said it was important for StemLife to establish a stronger brand presence and market share in the country before making a regional play.
While the company had expanded its operations to Thailand last year via a joint venture, she said StemLife would still focused on strengthening its Malaysian operations.
Low said StemLife would be more aggressive in marketing its business through seminars and educational programmes as well as working with related parties to provide stem cell therapies.
Recently, the company announced that 9,717 applications for 103,628,700 shares were received from the public for a total of 8,250,000 shares available for its public subscription, representing an over subscription of 11.56 times.
For the half year ended June 30, 2006 StemLife posted an after-tax profit of RM1.49mil on revenue of RM5.6mil.

More Benefits Must Be Given To Mentally-ill Workers

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 15 (Bernama) -- The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (Niosh) Sunday called for more benefits for mentally-ill workers such as insurance coverage which is now denied to them.
President Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said income tax relief for parents or relatives who have to take care of them and better healthcare services in government hospital are other benefits that should be considered for them.
"(We) have to remove all forms of discrimination against people who have recovered from mental illness so that they can be successfully reintegrated into society just like we want to see rehabilitated drug dependants get back into the mainstream of society," he said in a statement.
Lee pointed out that mental health problems, especially stress-related ones among Malaysians, were a matter of serious concern and need to be addressed urgently to avoid problems like sudden anger and road rage.
"Niosh shares the Health Ministry's views and advocates that urgent steps be taken to address mental health issues at workplaces involving employers, employees and the relevant authorities," he said.
He said the neglect of mental health and psychosocial factors at workplaces was not only detrimental to the individual worker but also directly affects efficiency, effectiveness and output of any enterprise.
"Mental health is not just about mental illness. It is a feeling of well-being, ability to cope with life's many challenges and to have positive attitude towards oneself," he said.
Lee said mental health would affect employee performance, frequent illness, absenteeism, accidents and staff turnover.
"Mental health should no longer be ignored in our community. On the contrary it should be given adequate attention in relation to other health problems," he added.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Spare Your Time To Go Rural, Doctors Told

MIRI, Oct 14 (Bernama) -- Doctors and medical personnel in Sarawak have been asked to spare their time to care for the health needs of the rural population.
In making the call, Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr George Chan said Government efforts alone were not enough to address malnutrition and other health problems in the state considering the size of the areas to be covered.
"With about 124,000 square kilometre area to cover and over 7,000 villages spread out throughout the state, with some inaccessible except by air, it's difficult to provide sufficient medical care and other supplies," he said.
Proper organisation was also needed for complementary efforts to work out, he said when launching the Fly Care Programme, a community service jointly initiated by Fly Asian Express and a local newspaper "Eastern Times" last night.
Dr Chan said: "We do have a pool of generous people who are always ready to help carry out social services for the rural population but they need people who can come forward to organise them in channelling assistance."
Praising the Fly Care Programme as a commendable effort, he urged corporate bodies and the public to contribute towards the project.
Meanwhile, Fly Asian Express chief executive officer Raja Azmi Razali said the airline's involvement in the programme stemmed from the realisation on the importance of air connectivity for the people in Sarawak.
Under the programme, the airline would provide airlift services free of charge to fly medical personnel, equipment and supplies to targeted areas, while Eastern Times would publish public messages to garner support and participation.
The programme's first target area is Pulau Bruit, an island settlement in Sarawak's central region, next month.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Bogus doc did ops on VIPs at clinic

The Star PUTRAJAYA: A bogus doctor is believed to have performed surgery on his patients, who include VIPs and foreigners, at a clinic in Shah Alam, Health Ministry director-general Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican said.
The “doctor” was alleged to have performed various surgeries, supposedly without using anaesthesia.
He was said to have removed tumours, ovarian cysts and kidney stones, charging fees of between RM350 and RM4,000.
Believed to be a traditional healer, he also provided treatment for diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol cases.
Speaking to reporters here yesterday, Dr Ismail said a raiding team from the ministry went to the clinic armed with a search warrant on Wednesday but found only the back door open.
No one was there.
“The team confiscated various surgical instruments and took pictures of the premises which had an operating room complete with lights, a couch, and instruments for diagnosis as well as items to clean surgical instruments,” he added.
Several documents were also confiscated.
Dr Ismail said the team also took down statements from people who knew about the activities at the clinic and those running the place, and a report would be submitted to the Attorney-General's Chambers.
He advised traditional healers to stick to their areas of expertise and not encroach into professional medical treatment.
Those who know of bogus doctors are urged to contact the ministry at 03-8883 1363.

Malaysia to host international seminar on infectious diseases

People's Daily Online Malaysian Scandinavian International Conference on Infectious and Tropical Diseases 2006 will kick off in Sabah state in eastern Malaysia next month.
The seminar will bring together health and medical experts from Norway, the United Kingdom, the United States, Sweden and the World Health Organization, said spokesman of University Malaysia Sabah campus on Friday.
Representatives from Malaysia, Thailand, India and other countries will also participate in the conference slated for Nov. 16- 19, said senior consultant physician and infectious/tropical diseases professor Georg on Friday.
"Among the papers to be presented are mostly on tropical diseases which affect Malaysia such as dengue, hepatitis, AIDS, infectious diarrhea, tuberculosis and avian influenza," Gossius said in a news conference in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah state capital.
The conference aims not only to promote the university's School of Medicine on the world academic map, but also functions as a public relations campaign for Sabah as well as Visit Malaysia Year 2007, said Gossius.

Asthmatics fear for their lives

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: It started as a slight sore throat but ended with her being rushed to the hospital and admitted.
B. Shayamala Devi had spent Monday running errands in Seremban, all the while breathing in the smoggy air.
By the end of the day, she had a scratchy throat and a runny nose.
That night she could not sleep and by 6am the next day, she was feeling so awful, her husband had to take her to the clinic.
"My throat was really burning and my nose was runny. There was also a tightness in my chest," Shayamala Devi, who has been able to keep her asthma under control in the last three years, said.
A doctor at the clinic put her on a nebuliser, but two hours later she was having breathing difficulties again.
This time, the 39-year-old part-time insurance salesperson knew she had to go to the hospital.
Her worried husband rushed her to the hospital as her breathing became more laboured.
"I was put on the nebuliser every five hours and slowly, the tightness in my chest subsided.
"The phlegm is still there but I’m so glad to be home now," she said.
Shayamala Devi is a casualty of the haze, her doctors told her.
"During the earlier haze, I did not feel anything, but this time around, it is so bad.
"My 12-year-old son also has asthma and I am more worried about him but so far he is okay."
Discharged yesterday after spending three days in hospital, she is not looking forward to stepping out of her house.
"My kids’ final exams are next week and I will have to go out and send them for tuition and to school, but if you give me a choice, I definitely will not do any sightseeing right now."
For Elizabeth Chrisostom, every time the haze season comes around, she says goodbye to good health.
"The doctors told me I have to fight it this time and I cannot let it take over," said the 40-something clerk who was discharged on Wednesday after spending six days in the hospital after suffering from respiratory problems.
"I am so traumatised. I cannot do this again. Why can’t somebody do something?
"Nobody seems to take us asthmatics seriously enough."

Unqualified practice of medicine will not be condoned

Star: PETALING JAYA: The Health Ministry will not condone any unqualified practice of medicine even if there are claims of positive results.
“It is not responsible and we will not condone any of it,” Health Ministry director-general Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican said yesterday. “We will not validate hearsay.”
He stressed that people were risking their lives when they sought treatment or were operated on by unlicensed practitioners claiming to be doctors.
It was reported yesterday that a man claiming to be a doctor, who only registered as a traditional medicine practitioner, had his clinic raided by health authorities who found a fully-equipped operating theatre inside.
The man had fled by the time the authorities arrived.
“He is not a doctor. If you are prepared to be treated or operated on by him, then you must be very brave,” added Dr Ismail.
“There is nothing much we can do if gullible the public want to fraternise with 'doctors' who are not trained.”

Friday, October 13, 2006

300 Medical Practitioners To Attend Tropical Disease Conference

KOTA KINABALU, Oct 13 (Bernama) -- Some 300 medical practitioners are expected to attend the Malaysian Scandinavian International Conference on Infectious and Tropical Diseases (MSIDT) 2006 to be held at the Universiti Malaysia Sabah campus from Nov 16 to 19.
Its School of Medicine senior consultant physician and Infectious/Tropical Diseases professor, Dr Georg Gossius said the seminar would bring together health and medical experts from Norway, the United Kingdom, United States, Sweden and the World Health Organisation (Switzerland).
Speakers from Malaysia would include the Health Ministry's director-general Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican, while there would be representatives from Thailand, India, Indonesia and Australia at the conference, he told a news conference here Friday.
"Among the papers to be presented are mostly on tropical diseases which affect Malaysia such as dengue, hepatitis, AIDS, infectious diarrhoea, tuberculosis and avian influenza."
However, he said, the conference would not be solely meant for medical experts and practitioners to discuss serious issues, but also for them to enjoy the adventure and nature offered by Sabah through its World Heritage site, Mount Kinabalu, Sipadan Island and the wildlife reserves as well as marine parks.
"There will be about 50 Scandinavian doctors at the event and they will bring along their companions. Many of them will extend their stay and go round Sabah.
"This conference is also not only aimed at promoting the university's School of Medicine on the world academic map, but is also indirectly a big public relations campaign for Sabah as well as Visit Malaysia Year 2007," he added.

Follow-up study on urban men’s health

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: After the successful Subang Jaya Men’s Health Research 2006 study on the state of urban men’s health, a follow-up study will begin in December.
Consultant urologist Datuk Prof Dr Tan Hui Meng, who also co-ordinated the first study, said the follow-up cross-sectional community study would be divided into two phases.
The first phase, a qualitative study on men’s perceptions of health, family and social well-being and the impact of disease on their families, will be followed by a quantitative study on men’s quality of life and their health perceptions, health-seeking behaviour and lifestyle.
All the men in the earlier study – from both Subang Jaya and Kelana Jaya – will be involved in the follow-up study and their spouses will be included in the second phase.
“The men and women will be divided into five groups to share their perspectives on men’s health. We want to find out men’s role in the family and how women can influence men to improve their health,” Dr Tan told a press conference yesterday.
The follow-up study is initiated by the Malaysian Society of Andrology and the Study of the Ageing Male and University Malaya Medical Centre, and funded by the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry.

More Than 70 Per Cent Of Men In Urban Areas Are Overweight

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 12 (Bernama) -- More than 70 per cent of men in the urban areas are obese or overweight due to the environmental factor and the unhealthy lifestyle especially eating habits, according to a study.
They run the risk of contracting chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart ailments and the trend is besetting men below 55 years old, said Subang Jaya Medical Centre Urology Centre consultant Datuk Prof Dr Tan Hui Meng.
He said these were the findings of a two-year study carried out by the Malaysian Society of Andrology on the ageing male in collaboration with the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry in Subang Jaya and Petaling Jaya which ended in July.
Of the 1,046 respondents, 49 per cent were Chinese, 34.3 per cent Malays, 14.9 per cent Indians and 1.7 per cent other races, he told a news conference to announce the findings, here Thursday.
Present was Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil.
Dr Tan said random samplings were taken among male smokers and drinkers aged 40 years and above with protruding waistline and high blood pressure.
He said the town dwellers had the wrong notion they would not develop the symptoms of chronic diseases and that they were healthy and would live healthily to a ripe old age.
"Ironically the trend is the opposite, with men as young as 55 years old already suffering from chronic diseases which should be besetting 70-year-old men," he said.
Shahrizat quipped that as family heads, unhealthy men could cause a lot of problems to their wives and as such the problems ought to be resolved.

Fear Of Hospitalisation And Pain Deter Women From Pap Smear

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 12 (Bernama) -- The fear of hospitalisation and pain has deterred many Malaysian women from undergoing the pap smear test to detect cervical cancer, the second most common cancer affecting the group after breast cancer, according to a gynaecologist.
President of the Obstetrical and Gynaecological Society Malaysia (OGSM) Dr Abdul Aziz Yahya said this negative perception discouraged them from undergoing this important test as an early detection for cervical cancer.
Early detection of cervical cancer was important as the survival chance via treatment was the highest because cervical cancer usually does not cause pain or other symptoms, he told reporters after launching a media campaign "Tell Someone" here Thursday.
The campaign is aimed at creating awareness and disseminating vital information about cervical cancer as well as ways to protect against the disease.
Dr Abdul Aziz, as gynaecologist for over 18 years, said: "The majority of cervical cancer cases in Malaysia are detected through pap smear test at the final stage, which is too late for any treatment."
He said that according to the National Cancer Register, Malaysian's crude incidence rate of cervical cancer was 16.5 female per 100,000 population.
In developed nations, the pap smear test had been widely used as early detection against cervical cancer since the 1950s and between 1950 and 1970 the test had significally reduced cervical cancer death in United States by 70 per cent, he said.
The nationwide campaign, jointly organised by OGSM and Merck Sharp & Dohme Malaysia, a global research-driven pharmaceutical company, involves advertisement via print and radio, website, social activities and hand-out of in-clinic support materials.
"Women need to be proactive in taking measures to protect themselves from this unwanted disease," Dr Abdul Aziz said.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Thalassaemia Patients Get Govt Attention, Says Chua

PUTRAJAYA, Oct 12 (Bernama) -- The government has started to bear in stages the cost of thalassaemia-related treatment, including the procurement of chelating agent needed by patients to remove excessive iron due to continuous blood transfusion.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek said that previously it was the patients and their families who had to bear the expensive cost of treatment.
He said that the ministry, in collaboration with the Federation of Malaysian Thalassaemia Societies, had started a thalassaemia prevention programme which included free blood screening and educational campaign.
"All of these will cost the government RM25 million annually," he told reporters after launching a thalassaemia awareness campaign here.
The minister said that a pilot blood screening scheme was being conducted in Penang, Melaka and Sabah targeting groups like secondary school children, relatives of known thalassaemia patients and couples intending to get married.
For thalassaemia carriers wishing to get married, he said, they would be given counselling on the risk of their children becoming thalassaemia major cases.
Dr Chua said that Malaysia had about 3,000 thalassaemia patients with between 120 and 350 thalassaemia major babies being born each year.
Thalassaemia major cases happen when both father and mother are thalassaemia carriers.
Dr Chua said an estimated one million Malaysians were carriers of thalassaemia.
To get a clearer picture of the situation nationwide, he said that the ministry was in the process of setting up a national thalassaemia registry.
Thalassaemia is a hereditary disorder where there is insufficient haemoglobin in the red blood cells, leading to a condition known as anaemia. Patients need to undergo continuous blood transfusion on a monthly basis.

Govt Should Capitalise On Local Innovation, Says Award Winner

PUTRAJAYA, Oct 12 (Bernama) -- Dr Fikri Abdullah, a consultant cardiothoracic surgeon from Ampang Puteri Specialist Hospital should be the happiest man today after winning the Medical Innovation category for The Outstanding Young Malaysian Awards.
However, he was not in the mood for celebration as he felt that his "Made in Malaysia" innovation had yet to be used worldwide.
"I don't have the money to go global with my innovation. The government should take advantage of my innovation and capitalise on the indigenous technology," he told Bernama.
Dr Fikri, 40, has developed an alternative technique of superior vena cava obstruction bypass using bovine pericardial conduit, the first of its kind in the world compared to a common practice using the spiral vein graft.
He carried out the operation successfully on a Sudanese patient at the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Hospital in 2002 and the new technique was published in the American Medical Journal.
"I have to find other alternative as his spiral vein graft could not be used," he said in explaining how he came out with the innovation.
"We have a lot of cows in this country and by combining biotechnology and my innovation, I believe we can enhance our country's technology capability," he said.
Dr Fikri said he had approached Malaysian Venture Capital for help in selling his ideas but "it died half way" as there was no follow-up by the body later.
"I feel so frustrated that our own technology cannot benefit people through out the world although the technology has been proven successful," he said.
He cited dedication, passion and discipline as his principles of success.
"I have the passion to continue to improve the treatment of my patients using new techniques and new technology," said Dr Fikri, the father of three children aged between four and 12 years old.
However, all these frustrations did not mean that Dr Fikri did not appreciate the award given by the Junior Chamber International Malaysia.
"I am thankful for the award. I didn't expect to win as there are many contenders. Actually, it was my sister who nominated me for this award. She sent the nomination forms," Dr Fikri said.
Dr Fikri is also known for his off pump coronary artery bypass grafting in a high-risk dextrocardia patient.
"It is the first heart by-pass operation in the world where the heart was still beating and situated on the right side," he said.
Normally, the heartbeat temporarily stops during the by-pass and it is usually situated on the left side.
"It is just like driving a car with the right hand or left hand but you have to adjust the technique. The way we drive is still the same but the technique is different. But performing an operation with the heart still beating is totally a new thing," he said.
The operation was performed on a HUKM pharmacist in 2003.

Ministry Coming Down Hard On Unregistered Private Clinics

PUTRAJAYA, Oct 12 (Bernama) -- The "doctor" has been operating at a so-called clinic in Shah Alam for quite some time, charging patients between RM350 and RM4,000 for procedures like removal of tumours, kidney stones and ovarian cysts.
Besides modern medical treatment, the clinic also offered traditional mode of treatment like "urut" and "bekam" to local and foreign patients, including VVIPs.
The Health Ministry got wind of its suspicious activities and decided to check on it on Sept 27, before raiding the premises with a search warrant Wednesday.
It would be this sort of premises that the ministry will go after when the Oct 31 deadline for registration of existing private clinics expires.
"By Nov 1, the focus of enforcement will be on unregistered clinics run by registered doctors, unregistered doctors or quacks," Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Mohd Ismail Merican told a press conference, here Thursday.
Explaining that offenders could face a fine of up to RM300,000 or six years' jail or both, he stressed: "Our priority is to rid the country of healthcare premises or services run by unregistered medical practitioners, bogus doctors or quacks providing modern healthcare services."
"We will raid such premises and take the owners, practitioners and quacks who provide such services to face the full brunt of the law," Dr Ismail warned.
The registration is required under the Private Healthcare Facilities and Services Act 1998 with Oct 31 set as the end of a six-month transitional period for clinics to apply for registration. The law was enforced on May 1 2006.
As of yesterday, Dr Ismail said about 30 per cent of the estimated 8,000 clinics have applied for registration.
"There is no deferment of the implementation of the Act and regulations. The Oct 31 deadline for registration of existing private clinics remains," he said.
Dr Ismail said registered doctors operating unregistered clinics could still apply for registration after the deadline but their applications would be subjected to a premise inspection. He, nevertheless, said several types of healthcare facilities were exempted from the registration exercise.
They are factory and hotel in-house clinics, estate and offshore clinics as well as those run by voluntary organisations and the Federation of Malaysian Family Planning Associations.
Referring to the Shah Alam case, Dr Ismail said in yesterday's raid, the so-called doctor and his patients have fled, noting that the authorities knew his particulars based on their first visit to the premises last month.
He said they seized various equipment and documents from the clinic whose location he refused to identify.
"We'll investigate the case and send a report to the public prosecutor so that the person involved can be charged in court," he said.
Qualified traditional medicine practitioners should stick to their trade and refrain from indulging in modern healthcare services, he added.

World Sight Day: Diabetics need to take care of eyes

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: When Osmah Saad was driving home from work one day, her vision suddenly blurred. Within minutes, she was nearly blind.
Although Osmah, a diabetic, had been struggling with poor eyesight for nearly two months, she did not expect to lose her sight completely.
"No one told me my eyesight would go because I’m a diabetic. Even before the incident, I was having problems when I used the computer or taught my students," said Osmah, who lectures at the Sultan Abdul Halim Teaching Institute in Alor Star.
Osmah, 57, had been suffering from cataracts since she was 46 years old. She had been on diabetic medication for three years but instead of taking her prescriptions, she turned to herbal products.
"The medicine the doctor gave me made me tired so I took mangosteen shoots and my strength returned," she said when met at Hospital Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia where she was due for a vitrectomy surgery to remove a blood clot from the eye.
While her strength may have returned, her eyesight has worsened because she did not take her prescribed medications.
"If only you had taken your medication properly, your eye problem would have been better controlled," HUKM consultant ophthalmologist Professor Dr Muhaya Mohamad told her, adding that it was rare to get cataracts at the age of 46.
Dr Muhaya’s frustrations are understandable as there is a lack of awareness among diabetics that they are 25 times more likely to become blind than non-diabetics.
"This means that more people are going to lose their eyesight because they are not aware of the link," she said.
Currently, there are 3.5 million diabetics in the country. Every year, 10,000 become blind.
In an interview in conjunction with World Sight Day today, Dr Muhaya, who is the chairman of the Ophthalmological Society of the Malaysian Medical Association (OSMMA), said diabetic retinopathy and other retinal problems, including blindness, were growing problems which were set to become worse as the country was on the brink of a diabetes epidemic.
Diabetic retinopathy is an eye disease that can cause decreased vision and blindness. Depending on a patient’s condition, diabetic retinopathy can progress quickly or slowly. Factors that may hasten the progress include heavy smoking and poorly controlled hypertension, diabetes and hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol).
Diabetic retinopathy occurs when the eye vessel leaks and the retina becomes ischaemic, or half-dead. Since the retina lacks oxygen, it produces a substance which induces the formation of new blood vessels which are abnormal.
These abnormal blood vessels can bleed suddenly and lead to immediate blindness.
"It is not easy to reverse this as it requires major surgery. However, people usually come to us too late," Dr Muhaya said.
In 1999, a study on insulin-dependent diabetics showed that 10 per cent suffered from diabetic retinopathy. The figure rose to 43 per cent a few years later.
Dr Muhaya said it was frustrating that diabetics were becoming blind in their productive years. This could be avoided if people managed their lives better, she said.
"The roti canai, teh tarik, rice and nasi lemak are our staple diet but these are such damaging food.
"There was a patient in his 30s who used to skip lunch and have a carbonated drink instead. Five years later, he developed diabetes. His kidney is now failing and he is blind in one eye."
The problem is compounded when doctors fail to send diabetic patients for eye tests.
Such was the case of former vegetable seller Lee Yoke Kien, 66.
"I have been a diabetic for 20 years but in the early days, the doctor did not tell me that it could lead to blindness," he said.
He was finally referred to HUKM by a different doctor five years ago for a cataract surgery.
Dr Muhaya said doctors should refer all diabetic patients to an ophthalmologist at the time of diagnosis. They should also ensure that diabetic patients have a yearly follow-up.
Even if a diabetic’s vision is not affected, they should still go for regular eye check-ups.
Among the treatment options is laser therapy which is done as outpatient treatment. It is a painless and effective way of correcting eyesight.
In conjunction with World Sight Day, the OSMMA’s Eye Fund and the Association of Wives of Petronas Officers and Petronas Lady Officers will be putting up 100,000 posters on diabetic blindness at Petronas stations around the country in three languages — English, Bahasa Malaysia and Tamil.