Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Wired News: Herbicide Ban Faces Challenges: "Herbicide Ban Faces Challenges"

Wow. A Malaysian health related item makes it to Wired!

TELUK INTAN, Malaysia -- Six years have passed since Malaysian plantation worker Eswari last used the herbicide paraquat, but she still loses fingernails because of what she says is residual poisoning damage.

Ex-colleagues still spraying paraquat and other chemicals on Malaysian oil palms complain of rashes, nosebleeds and irritation of the skin, eyes and reproductive organs.
They pin their hopes for relief on a phased, national ban of the popular weed killer due to take complete effect by 2005.

Planters and paraquat makers, which include Swiss chemicals giant Syngenta, are contesting the ban with media ads and studies on the product's merits and costs of its withdrawal.

Anti-paraquat campaigners want other developing states to follow Malaysia's lead, particularly those in the tropics.

Their case got harder in October, when an EU committee voted to re-register Syngenta's paraquat product Gramoxone in the face of objections from a minority of the bloc's 15 nations. EU members Austria, Denmark, Finland and Sweden all have bans on the chemical, while Germany has severe restrictions.

The Pesticides Action Network, or PAN, says the vote was a blow for tropical farm workers facing riskier conditions than those in Europe's tighter-regulated, temperate climes.

"It's so different in tropical countries, the conditions of work for plantation workers in Asia in general are very hazardous," PAN Executive Director Sarojeni Rengam says.

Western peers, driving closed tractor cabs, do not face the same prolonged exposure to pesticides. "These are poisonings that can be prevented. It's exposure that with the ban can be easily prevented," she adds.

Paraquat is fatal if swallowed, causing painful death by crippling the lungs and central nervous system. While that makes for grisly suicide headlines, says Sarojeni, the main issue is one of insidious poisoning.

"When you look at the statistics, it looks very skewed toward suicides but that's not the reality on the ground, where the problem is occupational exposures."

Syngenta, which declined to provide someone for interview, said in written replies to questions that surveys of long-term paraquat users in the tropics showed no ill-effects to health. It said the chemical could be employed safely by following straightforward handling norms applying to all pesticides.

Paraquat, as a highly soluble salt, was rapidly excreted, meaning regular sprayers faced no risk of cumulative poisoning.

PAN says the product, which acts by direct plant contact, is used on about 50 crops in more than 120 countries worldwide. The group estimates as much as 70 percent of all paraquat sales are to developing countries, with Asia taking 40 percent.

Syngenta would not give details on annual sales, although its 2002 annual report put revenue from sales of non-selective herbicides such as Gramoxone at $650 million. The United States was the largest consumer of the chemical, followed by China, it said.

M.R. Chandran, chief executive of the Malaysian Palm Oil Association, has decades of experience on plantations. He says paraquat is rapidly rain fast and quick to act, making it particularly suitable for use in the tropics. The MPOA wants the ban reversed, saying its impact over 10 years will be $710 million in revenue losses and higher costs to estates and small holders.

Chandran says workers often have only themselves to blame for exposure, ignoring basic hygiene such as hand washing.

"They take it for granted that they are immune to the chemical. It's not just paraquat that will give you this, other chemicals will also cause similar symptoms."

He points to health monitoring systems required for all workers, including regular checkups, a system he says depends on companies following the rules. But he adds that no one should spray paraquat all the time.

"Continuous use of paraquat, of course, we do say we do not advocate it."

He also criticizes chemical companies that give away baseball caps, golf balls and drums of free product with large purchases.

"What they should be doing is to give safety equipment for free and to work on safety equipment for the tropics. They have the means to do so, these big companies."

Syngenta said its checks with plantation owners and small holders showed suitable equipment was available for hot climates. It said the company had helped develop a poncho garment for use in countries like Malaysia. Local sprayers reject protective kit as unwearable.

Outside Teluk Intan, a country town on the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia surrounded by oil palms, the soft-spoken Eswari says sprayers must defend the ban or see it fail.

"If people like us give support for the ban it will survive," says the 34-year-old mother of one, an ethnic Tamil whose family came to Malaysia a couple of generations back. "Otherwise, it will be dropped."

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Indonesia, Malaysia Ban U.S. Beef Imports

KUALA LUMPUR, December 28 (IslamOnline.net) - The Malaysian and Indonesian governments banned beef imports from the U.S. because of the discovery of the Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) or mad cow disease in the country, news agencies said Sunday, December 28.

The two countries also ordered shops selling U.S. imported beef and U.S. processed beef products to withdraw the commodity from the market with immediate effect.

Malaysia’s Health Ministry’s Food Quality Control Division Director Dr Abdul Rahim Mohamad asserted that ban was effective since last Wednesday, reported the Bernama news agency on Sunday.

He said from last January to September, the country imported 120,126.01 kg of frozen boneless meat of bovine animals from the U.S., 0.21 per cent of the total import of frozen boneless meat of bovine animals.

Dr Abdul Rahim added that the ban was imposed under Section 13(1) of the Food Act 1983 and the statement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on the BSE presumptive sample taken last December 9.

A British laboratory said Thursday that a Holstein cow in the U.S. state of Washington was found to have the BSE, which eats away brain tissue, causing madness and death in cows.

The ban would not affect Malaysia’s supply of beef as U.S. imports only made up about 0.3% of the total imports.

Malaysia’s main supply of beef comes from India and Australia, said the Director General of Malaysia’s Veterinary Services Department Saturday, December 27.

"Malaysia’s main supply of beef comes from India and Australia, so the effect of the ban will be very little," he said.

Asked when the ban would be lifted, he said the department would monitor the situation and react accordingly.

U.S. Embassy public affairs counselor Karl Stoltz said the U.S. would be working closely with local authorities to ensure restoration of public confidence in its beef products.

Malaysia Bans

Meanwhile, Malaysian authorities cautioned all government agencies as well as the beef industry and public to adhere to the ban to ensure Malaysians were not exposed to the deadly disease.

"We have asked the customs and excise office to prevent the import of processed beef products from the U.S. indefinitely, starting Saturday," Antara news agency reported quoting a statement by the Indonesian Food and Drug Control Agency (BPOM).

The ban is indefinite and importers, traders, supermarkets and other retail stores were given severe warning of stiff actions if the ban was not respected.

"We will take legal measures against those who defy the order," BPOM said, adding that it was confident importers, distributors and retail stores would abide by the ban, which is a blow to the U.S. exports to Indonesia.

Indonesia imports U.S. $9 million of fresh U.S. beef annually and processed beef products worth $62 million a year.

Processed beef products include canned beef and other preserved foods and drinks such as sausage, milk and cheese.

Indonesia also imports beef and processed beef products from Australia and New Zealand.

According to the BPOM, the last direct import of U.S. processed beef products, some 440 kilograms of beef powder, was on September 2003 and was destined to be used in some sausage and burger patties.

Government officials are said to be conducting field observations on U.S. beef and processed beef products starting next week.

The consumers were also warned to check the labels of products to know the country of origin before buying beef products.

Other countries that have temporarily banned U.S. beef include China, Thailand, Malaysia, Russia, South Africa, Jamaica, Chile, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, and Mexico.

Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines have not given any indication that they may ban U.S. beef.

BSE ravaged Europe's cattle industry in 2001 and is thought to have caused the fatal variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans who eat infected meat.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Govt to look into S’wak’s concern

PUTRAJAYA: Deputy Home Minister Datuk Chor Chee Heung Thursday said concerns expressed by the Sarawak Government over claims that criminals from the peninsula are being banished to the State will be looked into.

However, he said the Federal Government would not put criminals under restricted residence to Sarawak and Sabah unless they lived there.

“I do not think this (claims by the Sarawak Government) is what has taken place,” he said at a media conference after receiving a delegation from China’s Labour and Social Security Ministry at his office, here.

Chor said he had, in fact, had a discussion on the matter with the Secretary of Security and Public Order Division Datuk Hamzah Md Ros.

He said this when asked to comment on a statement by the Member of Parliament for Lambir, Aidan Wing, at the State Legislative Assembly sitting recently that banishing of criminals from the peninsula to the State should be stopped on security grounds.

On reports that a man in Taiwan had come down with the feared Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), he said this should not cause alarm.

“This is a very special case and it does not mean that SARS is coming back to threaten the safety and health of our community in this part of the world,” he said.

He said governments in the region would surely have taken adequate measures to prevent the spread of the disease.

Chor expressed confidence that the spread of the disease would not reach the scale that was seen earlier this year and put full faith in the Government to handle the situation.

Taiwan health authorities said a 44-year-old SARS researcher at a military hospital had tested positive for the virus and was probably infected in the laboratory where he worked.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said the case appeared to be isolated.

The man was in Singapore from Dec 7 to Dec 10 for a medical conference. Hours after returning to Taiwan, he started to run a fever - one of the first symptoms of the virus.

On Thursday’s visit, the Deputy Minister told the visitors from China to spread the message that Malaysia welcomed with open arms tourists and students from the republic with the understanding that they would abide by the law of the land when in this country.

In particular, Chor said he drove home the point that Chinese women should stay away from criminal activities such as prostitution when in Malaysia, with the excuse that they needed money after overstaying. - Bernama

Free antiretroviral treatment for AIDS patients: "PETALING JAYA: The Health Ministry will provide free antiretroviral (ARV) treatment for AIDS patients once the Government starts bringing in cheaper generic drugs from India next year.
Health Minister Datuk Chua Jui Meng said his ministry was in the last stages of drawing an agreement with Indian drug producer, Cipla, to buy the generic ARV medicine.
“The Cabinet has decided to buy the drugs where it is cheapest. Once we have access to those drugs, we want to give it free. Beginning from January, we should start buying. We would like to extend it to all those who cannot afford it,” said Chua during a media briefing yesterday on Malaysia's HIV/ AIDS situation.
ARV treatment or HAART (Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy) was introduced in 1996, and has been shown to suppress the replication of the virus.
The lower the viral load of the individual, the lesser the risk of transmitting HIV to others. Although not a cure, treatment has enabled HIV-positive people to live longer and lead healthy lives.
Patients on the treatment usually take a combination of three drugs.
At present, the Government is providing one free ARV drug to AIDS patients treated in government hospitals, subject to certain conditions such as adherence to their drug regime.
Chua said that the details on the rollout of the free ARV treatment had not been worked out yet, but it was based on the principle of accessibility.
The first step, he said, would be to make cheaper anti-HIV drugs available by bringing in generic drugs under governmental rights.
It costs the Government about RM800 a month to treat an AIDS patient, but using the Indian generic drugs will reduce the cost to RM188 a month for a patient. It now costs the Government RM3mil to treat 1,500 HIV/AIDS patients a year.

Malaysian AIDS Foundation (MAF) executive director Indra Nadchatram said: “Treatment offers hope. It allows our HIV-positive people to live healthy, productive lives. It will also encourage people to come forward to be tested, which will offer opportunities for counselling as well as preventive education.

“The MAF looks forward to the Government's new initiative to expand its current one-drug policy to a coverage of two-drugs and eventually, all three drugs that are required for the HIV treatment cocktail,” she said.

The MAF has been complementing the Government's treatment efforts with their “People Living with HIV/ AIDS Drug Assistance Scheme”, which helps patients buy ARV drugs.

Only two developing countries are currently offering free ARV treatment to its people –Brazil and Bostwana. South Africa has announced that it intends to give free ARV treatment, but the rollout has yet to be implemented. "

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Race to control cancer in 12 years

PENANG: The Health Ministry aims to control or even eliminate certain types of cancers by 2015, as the major types of malignancies affecting Malaysians are preventable and curable.

Health Minister Datuk Chua Jui Meng said it was alarming that Malaysia recorded among the highest rates of nose, throat and cervical cancers in the world.

“For instance, lung cancer, the leading cancer among Malaysian men and fourth major cancer among women, can be significantly reduced if more people heed our anti-smoking call,” he said, adding that tobacco also caused other tumours including cancers of the throat, kidney and mouth.

Top priority would be given to prevention through health education as well as early detection and treatment, he said in his speech that was read out by parliamentary secretary S. Sothinathan at the launch of the first five-year report from the Penang Cancer Registry (PCR) yesterday.

Chua said cervical cancer could be prevented through good sexual hygiene and that breast cancer could also be prevented through a diet rich in fruits and vegetable and low in saturated fats.

Similar to the findings of the National Cancer Registry Report (NCR), he said the five-year PCR report (1994-1998) also showed that the incidence of cancer was highest among the Chinese and that stomach cancer was most prevalent among Indians.

“This interesting observation should be further investigated to determine the reason behind the ethnic differences,” he said.

He said the ministry would collaborate with the National Cancer Institute of the United States to reduce suffering and deaths due to cancer.

Based on the data from the NCR and PCR, the ministry would now look into identifying sub-groups in the population that were at high risk of cancer and the local risk factors involved in various cancers, he said.

Two foreign firms keen to set up vaccine plants

KUALA LUMPUR: Two foreign companies have expressed interest to set up vaccine production plants in the country to address the shortage of vaccine supply in future, said Health Minister Datuk Chua Jui Meng.

He said the two companies from South Korea and India would brief Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi about their intention to set up high-tech vaccine plants.

“Currently, the amount of vaccines produced in the world is limited.

“We have to look into our own vaccine production, as we don’t have any vaccine manufacturing plants. This will be done through participation of foreign companies,” he said during a visit to witness a demonstration on the use of a microwave endometrial ablation machine at the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Department in Kuala Lumpur Hospital yesterday.

He said the Government would encourage the companies to set up the plants in the Biovalley in Dengkil, Selangor.

Chua said the plants would complement research and development projects by the National Institute for Natural Products and Vaccinology so that the country would become self-sufficient in the production of vaccines.

On the Fujian flu that swept through Europe and the United States and hit Hong Kong, Chua said the World Health Organisation had informed him that Malaysia and other parts of the Asian region were free from the Fujian flu virus.

He said the public should not be duly alarmed over the outbreak in the United States.

However, he said Malaysians, particularly children and the elderly, planning to travel to Hong Kong, China and Taiwan should get the flu vaccine.

He said the ministry was aware that there was a shortage of flu vaccine in the country as the amount produced was limited and the vaccine was mostly used in countries that experience a flu season such as those in the northern hemisphere.

“For example, the United States requires 70 million to 80 million doses every year but when there is an epidemic, more people would go for vaccination,” he said.

He added that when a flu epidemic occurred in the United States, the supplier could not export the vaccine.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Consider alternative medicines, says Chua

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 12: Health Minister Datuk Chua Jui Meng today called on medical specialists and practitioners in Malaysia not to turn off their minds to alternative

Praising those who had included alternative medicine in their practice, he said the different modes of medicine could fill the gap that Western medicine could not cure.

"International pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline has revealed that pharmaceutical drugs for various illnesses, including cancer, are effective for only 30 to 50 per cent of patients due to the different genetic make-up of people.

"This shows that between 50 and 70 per cent of the people will not benefit from Western medicines, which are very advanced and able to cure many diseases," he said after meeting with Phang Man Vui, nine, who suffers from acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, at his office.

The terminally sick boy had exhausted all forms of western medicines to treat his illness. Now, his case will be referred to a team of experts in modern and traditional medicine in China.

In this respect, Chua stressed the need for Malaysia to integrate modern and traditional medicines.

It was reported that 123 of the 191 countries registered with World Health Organisation (WHO) had reported an increased use of traditional medicine.

Studies in developed countries such as Britain, Australia, the United States and Belgium have shown that 30 per cent of their medical practitioners were using traditional medicine.

Chua said the traditional medicine industry in China was far more advanced compared with Malaysia's own sector, which was still "in the first milestone".

Asked if the ministry would allow the selling of traditional medicines from China with the endorsement only of the Chinese Government, he said all foreign traditional medicinal products were subject to Malaysian authorities' evaluation, studies, clinical trials and approval.

On the Fujian Flu outbreak, he said the ministry did not receive any recommendation from WHO to check travellers at the country's entry points for such illness.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Fujian flu vaccine ready by next year

KUALA LUMPUR: Vaccine for the Fujian strain of influenza will be ready by next year, said Health Minister Datuk Chua Jui Meng.

“The Fujian vaccine will be ready for the winter season starting July in the Southern Hemisphere, but it won’t be ready for the current winter,” he said after attending the Hari Raya celebration at his ministry.

World Health Organisation (WHO) executive director of communicable diseases Dr David Heymann and WHO's representative for Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore Dr Sigrun Roesel also attended the event yesterday.

Chua added that he would be discussing with Dr Heymann and Dr Roesel on Malaysia's preparation in facing health challenges that might occur during the current winter season.

It was reported earlier this month that six children in England and Scotland had died from the Fujian strain.

Dr Heymann said WHO's network of 110 laboratories in 84 countries worldwide were constantly examining people with symptoms of flu and isolating the viruses for making vaccines.

He added that the virus would change every year and new vaccines must be made because of that.

Later, Chua said Dr Heymann was here to discuss polio eradication in Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) member countries where the disease was still prevalent in Nigeria, Egypt, Afghanistan, Somalia, Niger and Pakistan.

He said the OIC had resolved to eradicate polio in member states and wanted them to allocate resources to ensure all children were protected from the crippling disease.

In Johor Baru, state health director Dr P. Prathapa Senan said samples from patients with serious bouts of influenza would be sent to the Institute of Medical Research to determine if they were suffering from the Fujian flu.

However, there had been no reported cases of the flu and there was no cause for alarm, he said.

“It is advisable for those who wish to travel to the United States and Europe to be vaccinated before they leave the country,” he added.

Among the symptoms of the Fujian flu are fever, headache, fatigue, sore throat and nasal congestion.

Although most victims will be cured within one to two weeks, complications can arise for those above 65 years and those suffering from chronic lung disease as well as those suffering from immune-deficiency, such as people living with HIV/AIDS and cancer patients.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Malaysia issues alert against killer Fujian flu
: "Malaysia has issued an alert to hospitals and clinics to watch out for cases of the virulent Fujian strain of flu that has killed people in Britain.

Health minister Chua Jui Men says cases of Fujian flu were reported in three boarding schools in the northern state of Perak a few months ago, but the spread was contained.

Seven children in Britain are reported to have died after getting the flu.

The World Health Organization had reported a rise in influenza cases in Europe and North America, mostly caused by the virus from the Fujian strain."

Saturday, December 06, 2003

M’sia has potential for medical tourism

Kota Kinabalu: Malaysia has the potential to become a major “medical tourism” destination as the cost for surgical treatment and recuperation in this country is lower than in the advanced Western countries.

Chief Minister, Datuk Seri Musa Aman, said state-of-the-art medical and surgical treatment centres in major cities including here could also enable local surgeons and other medical specialists gain practical skills of international standard.

He said the State and country would also derive economic benefits from foreign patients coming here to seek treatment.

“The time has come to reverse the trend of Malaysians going abroad for expensive surgical treatment Ö we should now get others to come to our country for such treatment,” said Musa.

I hope the state medical authorities and private sector practitioners, especially surgeons, will take my suggestions in a positive light and build on these ideas, he added.

He said this in a speech presented by his Deputy Datuk Tham Nyip Shen, who is also Resource and Information Technology Development Minister, at the opening of the Asian Surgical Association’s 14th Biennial Congress here on Thursday.

The three-day congress is being held in conjunction with the Annual Scientific Meeting of the College of Surgeons, Malaysia.

“On the part of the State government, we will do all we can to encourage the advancement of our public health system and specialist medical services, including surgical treatments,” said Musa.

He said there was much to be gained from working together towards that objective “as the local people in need of surgical treatment can get it done at a reasonable cost and convenience, and the local economy will also benefit.”

“Under such a scenario, I see this Biennial Congress of the Asian Surgical Association here as a landmark occasion Ö this is an excellent opportunity for our own fraternity of surgeons to optimise and set themselves in new directions,” he said.

Musa said the State government was fully supportive of efforts by the Federal government to raise the standard of medical services in Sabah.

“We are very much aware of the fact that the ratio of doctors to the general population in Sabah needs to be improved. We are nowhere near the national average of one doctor to every 4,000 people, and efforts are being made to address the situation,” he said.

In terms of medical facilities, he said Sabah had made tremendous progress under the Barisan Nasional (BN) administration.

“Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan and Tawau have well-equipped and well-staffed general hospitals while there are district hospitals to serve the more remote areas of the State, including rural and mobile clinics.

“With continuing improvements in the State’s communication network, particularly roads and telecommunications, almost everyone in Sabah has some access to medical treatment when needed. The focus now is on making this access easier, faster and cheaper,” said Musa.

He said the government realised that adequate trained manpower is vital for maintaining an efficient public health and medical service.

“Therefore, the State and Federal governments are working closely with one another to establish training facilities for medical personnel at all levels,” he said.

Beginning with the training of nurses locally more than three decades ago, he said Sabah had moved to the stage where the State will soon be producing locally trained medical doctors at Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS), which only recently set up its own Faculty of Medicine.

He added that the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) here has also established a Postgraduate Medical Centre where doctors can pursue medical studies at Master’s level, including advanced training in surgical disciplines.

“Work has also started on the construction of an Allied Health School at Bukit Padang for the training of paramedical staff, along with a Public Health Laboratory that will vastly improve the quality of public health services in the State, particularly in the detection, diagnosis and control of epidemics and contagious diseases.

“All these developments augur well for the progress of Sabah’s health and medical sector.

“The basis has been established for the further progress of this sector. It remains for the State to move on to a new level of healthcare and medical services Ö this includes areas of treatment beyond those provided by general physicians. Surgery is one such area,” said Musa.

I am aware of the spectacular advances in surgical techniques and procedures in other parts of the world, he said, adding that Malaysia is not far behind as Kuala Lumpur is already a favourite destination for patients from many countries.

This includes those coming from developed Western countries and the Middle East, he said, pointing out that the National Heart Institute (IJN) is internationally renowned for its high standards and that Malaysian surgeons have proven to be on par with the best in the world in many instances.

“It remains for us now to turn this success into something bigger to benefit our people and the country,” said Musa.

Meanwhile, four renowned surgeons namely Datuk Dr Hussein Awang, Prof Sir Ara Darzi, Prof David John David and Prof Takada Tadahiro, were named Honorary Fellows of the Asian Surgical Association during the event.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Sime to keep SJMC

Sime Darby Bhd has now decided to keep its healthcare operations with expansion plans for this business following the failure to sell its subsidiary Subang Jaya Medical Centre Sdn Bhd (SJMC) early this year.

As part of its initial expansion plans, SJMC will invest some RM8 million to build a nuclear medicine centre, which will be completed by the end of next year.

“With the nuclear medicine centre, SJMC will become a complete tertiary healthcare hospital,” SJMC executive director Dr Jacob Thomas tells FinancialDaily yesterday.

Besides the nuclear medicine centre, SJMC has recently built a RM15 million Cancer Treatment Centre in Subang Jaya, Thomas says, adding that the new facility will be located next to the cancer treatment centre.

In March, Sime Darby announced plans to sell SJMC by way of a bidding process. However, the disposal was aborted as it was learnt that the conglomerate failed to get the price it wanted.

It was learnt that the asking price was at least RM200 million but the bidders, including Pantai Holdings Bhd and Singapore Raffles Medical Group, were offering between RM150 million and RM180 million.

Sime Darby had earlier said its intention to dispose of SJMC was to free capital not directly related to its core businesses.

On this case, Thomas says: “We decided to keep the hospital and healthcare is going to be a core business of the group.”
SJMC will be able to provide a wide range of specialised medical treatment, including intervention radiology, with the new facility that is part of the company’s master plan to upgrade its services, Thomas adds.

“Sime Darby, our parent company, has been supportive (of our upgrading progamme),” he says.

Earlier today, SJMC signed a memorandum of understanding with AD-MACS Corporate Consultants (M) Sdn Bhd to implement an automated customer satisfaction gauging system.

The system allows SJMC to process and systematically measure the level of its customer satisfaction based on their feedback.

On the healthcare industry outlook, Thomas is confident that it has “excellent opportunity” in Malaysia with the development of health-related tourism given its low cost for medical treatment.

“We are (offering) half of the cost (for treatment) that of some of our neighbouring countries,” he says.
Asked about SJMC’s growth prospects, Thomas says it is “doing well” and “growing at a steady pace”.

SJMC, Sime Darby’s only investment in the healthcare industry, posted a net profit of RM6.7 million in the financial year ended June 30, 2002.

Monday, December 01, 2003

10 states get blood from disease-free donors, says Chua

KOTA TINGGI Nov 30 - Ten states have achieved the target of receiving 100 percent blood donation from those certified free of infectious diseases, said Health Minister Datuk Chua Jui Meng.

He said with the presence of volunteer blood donors, the states need not look for replacement donors in cases of blood shortage or emergencies at their respective hospitals.

The states are Kuala Lumpur Federal Territory, Melaka, Negeri Sembilan, Perlis, Kedah, Penang, Pahang, Perak, Terengganu and Kelantan.

Chua said Selangor, Johor and Sarawak were moving towards achieving this target and had recorded 99.9 percent blood from volunteer donors, with Sabah at the 86.7 percent mark.

The Health Ministry was taking steps to ensure that 100 percent blood at public hospitals nationwide was from volunteer donors, he told reporters after launching the blood-donation drive organised by the Tenggara MCA division here Sunday.

"We (ministry) want to ensure that there is no blood from replacement donors as there is no guarantee that this blood is safe," he said.

He said 418,118 units of blood were collected from donors nationwide last year and out of this, only 4.1 percent was found to be contaminated with, among others, HIV, Hepatitis B, C and syphilis.

"This is due to the donors not disclosing their personal information," he said.

He also said there was enough blood supply at hospitals nationwide despite the alarming number of 7,532 accidents reported in the current festive season.

MEANWHILE, on another matter, Chua expressed disappointment over the delay of the construction of the referral hospital for cancer diseases in the southern part of the country, the Sultan Ismail Hospital (HSI), at Pandan.

He added that the RM557.8 million project had been delayed three times since works started in 1999.

"It should have been completed last Oct 31. Now it's been delayed again," he told reporters after launching a blood donation campaign organised by MCA branches in Tenggara Division at the Che Teng Khor Moral Uplifting Society Hall here Sunday.

Chua said he had directed the Johor Health Department to find out from the contractor involved the reason for the delay.

"Sufficient time has been given to the contractor to complete the project ... yet it is still not ready," he said.

He said only one or two percent of the project had yet to be completed, such as finishing and installation of hospital equipment which had yet to be delivered.
Malaysia fights a losing battle against AIDS

KUALA LUMPUR : Malaysia has posted sharp increases in HIV-AIDS patients, a senior minister said, prompting calls on Sunday from AIDS activists for more aggressive measures to contain the disease.

"In terms of AIDS awareness, it is very high in Malaysia. But HIV cases continue to increase because of drug addiction," Health Minister Chua Jui Meng told AFP in a recent interview.

"As long as drug addiction continues in this country, this will pose a problem in terms of increasing numbers of HIV patients," he added.

Despite draconian laws including death for drug traffickers, Malaysia - which describes all proven drug users as addicts - recorded 31,556 addicts in 2001.

Chua said almost 80 percent of new HIV/AIDS cases were drug addicts.

"As long as drug problems increase in this country, you are going to have HIV. We are not going to be able see a plateau. The numbers keep on increasing. It is a curse very directly linked to drugs," he said.

Chua said prostitution accounts for a smaller number of infections.

In conjunction with World AIDS Day Monday, the office of the United Nations in Malaysia and Malaysian AIDS Council would organise a series of AIDS awareness events.

Some 17 years after the first HIV infection case was reported in the country, Malaysia had around 54,000 reported cases of HIV/AIDS as of June.

By December 2002, 5,424 people had died of the disease.

Marina Mahathir, president of the Malaysian AIDS Council said Malaysia lacked a meaningful action plan to prevent the spread of AIDS.

"How else do you explain the constant increase in infections every year. And like everywhere else in the world, the epidemic will move from certain groups to the general public," she was quoted as saying by the Sunday Mail newspaper.

"We need realistic prevention programmes that deal with the real issues. We have to stop being squeamish when we talk about sex and condoms to young people," she said.

"In fact, I once heard a deputy minister say that AIDS is a blessing because it kills off drug users," she added. - AFP