Monday, January 26, 2015

Women's healthcare in Malaysia is the weaker rights



Women may be the fairer sex, but not the weaker one. Still, there are plenty of issues to address over women's healthcare in Malaysia.
A woman plays many roles in a family – daughter, sister, wife, mother – throughout her life. When she becomes a mother, she inevitably takes the reins as the guardian of health and carer to the family. But who is there to safeguard her interests?
Women are often depicted as the weaker sex. I beg to differ.
In terms of health, women have a lower mortality rate compared to men at any age group. It’s safe to say women are the stronger sex from womb to tomb. Women have conquered more than 60% of varsity places in Malaysian universities, and are a vital workforce for the nation. 
Because of their varied roles, women will prioritise others in a family before themselves. But women should also be provided with better access to health and care for themselves.
Let's start with contraception – not all women have access to it. A woman's right to contraception is determined by national policies on their age, marital status, and other factors that may not be relevant to the woman herself.
Women should be allowed to decide – if they want to – what form of contraception they want and when to use it after being counselled on the various options available. Healthcare professionals should not use their own values in deciding for women when they should start their family and how to space them. 
In this aspect, Malaysia is failing miserably as less than 50% of eligible women of childbearing age have access to contraceptives.
Women should also receive the necessary information for them to make their decisions. Health education, including sex education and inculcating awareness of their sexuality and the consequences of their actions, needs to be imparted early for women to make choices compatible with their own plans for their lives. 
Women should be educated about the necessary preparations for getting pregnant, pregnancy itself, and the care of their babies before they embarked on this journey. 
In addition, an underaged girl should not be forced into marriage and starting a family. Even though she is physically capable of performing the functions, she may not be mentally and physically ready for the responsibilities that come with this. There are many stresses and pressures that need to be balanced in life.
Female foreigners have the shorter end of the stick when it comes to healthcare in Malaysia. They are not provided for adequately, even with mandatory medical coverage (Skim Perlindungan Insurans Kesihatan Pekerja Asing), when they come into the country legally to work. It's even worse when they are illegal.
In addition, healthcare staff at clinics and hospitals are required to report such “illegals” when they seek care, when they are at their most vulnerable state. This has become an ethical issue for healthcare personnel.
We understand that the government cannot give free healthcare to non-Malaysians. This has been clearly demonstrated in the recent increase of medical fees for foreigners in the government sector. We also know that this will seriously impact the health of the foreigners, especially women who become pregnant.
We hope that healthcare is treated differently from other forms of assets and services. We need to ensure that the right to health is not denied to any group, including those that do not have their full rights. The government, as the ruling body of the country, has this responsibility and needs to address these issues seriously.
■ Dr H. Krishna Kumar is president of the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA). For further information, email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care.

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