Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Free AIDS drug therapy next year

All those infected with HIV will be given free life-prolonging drugs next year, as soon as the drugs can be locally produced.
This puts Malaysia among the few countries in the world to provide the drugs, used in the Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART), for free.
The drugs are already free for a limited number of HIV-infected people, among them mothers and babies, said Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek.
Currently, the three generic drugs cost from about RM290 to RM525 a month. Making the drugs here will reduce the cost to less than RM200 a month, he said.
Fully subsidising the drugs would cost the Government between RM15 million and RM26 million a year.
"We are currently waiting for the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry to approve the matter before we can proceed to produce the three drugs locally," Chua said.
It is a sign the Government was "serious in fighting this epidemic", he said.
"There are 20 new cases of HIV cases reported daily of which three are confirmed cases of AIDS, while two people die of the disease on a daily basis," he said Malaysian AIDS Council president Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir said the move meant the country was "very much in the forefront" of the global battle against HIV/AIDS.
Some 58,000 Malaysians are infected with HIV. Of these, 6,545 have died of full-blown AIDS, Chua said today.
Some 1,500 HIV sufferers currently get the HAART free. Aside from mothers and babies, it extends to those infected through tainted blood or blood products, health workers infected through occupational exposure, and Government servants.
Chua estimated that next year, another 4,000 people will be infected with HIV.
In 2003 alone, 6,756 cases were detected. Three-quarters of these were aged between 13 and 39 years. Some 869 of these sufferers have died. Eighty per cent of them contract AIDS through intravenous drug use, and 13 per cent by heterosexual transmission.
Roughly 0.7 per cent were due to mother to child transmission.
"Since we started HIV screening at our antenatal clinics in 1998, almost 1.8 million mothers have been screened whereby 619 mothers were found infected with the disease up to the end of last year, " he said.
No Plan For Mandatory HIV Screening

TUMPAT, Nov 29 (Bernama) -- Deputy Health Minister Datuk Dr Abdul Latiff Ahmad has dismissed suggestions for mandatory screening of pregnant mothers for HIV, saying the present tests at maternity clinics can adequately screen all diseases.
"These preliminary tests can detect whether a pregnant mother is infected with HIV, and we can then take the necessary steps including medication to reduce the risk of transmission to the baby," he told reporters.
A total of 1.8 million mothers nationwide have undergone these tests, he said.
Official figures show some 58,000 HIV patients in Malaysia, mostly male drug addicts aged 20-39, but the number of sexually transmitted HIV patients is on the rise.
Dr Abdul Latiff was asked to comment on the reported plan by the Singapore government to make HIV screening for pregnant mothers compulsory following a rise in HIV cases in the republic.
The Sunday Times reported that if a woman is tested positive and receives medication, the risk of transmission can be reduced from 25 percent to two percent.
Private Hospitals May Pay More For Blood

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 29 (Bernama) -- Private hospitals may have to pay more than the current RM20 for a pack of blood bought from government hospitals.
Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek said the price of blood sold to private hospitals would be revised as the government currently bore the handling cost of RM80 for a pack of blood, which includes screening it for infectious diseases like syphilis, hepatitis and HIV/AIDS, labelling it and storing it.
The government was suffering losses by selling blood at RM20 a pack to private hospitals, he told reporters today after launching the HIV/AIDS HV-7 screening kit created by local researchers with the research cost bourne by the TH Koid Foundation.
Dr Chua said the government would review the Fees (Medical) Order 1982 which sets the price of blood sold by government hospitals to private ones at RM20 a pack.
Besides that, the ministry's Parliamentary Secretary Lee Kah Choon would also discuss with private hospitals their practice of re-selling a pack of blood which they bought at RM20 for RM200, he said.
"They should not be profiting from the blood. We understand the cost to be borne for testing and storage but to increase the price manifold is just unreasonable," he said.
Dr Chua reminded private hospitals that their actions might discourage the public from donating blood.
He suggested that private hospitals create their own resources to get blood supply to meet their patients' needs instead of depending on government hospitals and the National Blood Centre.
"Every year in the Klang Valley, 40,000 units of blood (from government hospitals and the National Blood Centre) are given to private hospitals.
"Although there are no legal provisions to prevent the private sector from over-charging, they should have been more considerate," he said.
Sibu Kidney Foundation Embarks On A-ringgit-a-month Donation Drive

SIBU, Nov 30 (Bernama) -- The Sibu Kidney Foundation has embarked on a- ringgit-a-month donation campaign to raise funds for its 47 patients and to meet operational costs.
State Urban Development and Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Wong Soon Koh appealed to the town's population of 221,000 people to donate a ringgit a month.
"The amount is small and very affordable. If our people can generously pass the hat around, we can come up with something," he said when launching the campaign here last night.
Wong said the foundation, a voluntary organisation, heavily relied on public donations for its operations.
He said 41 organisations out of 200 had responded to the campaign so far and he expected more to come forward soon.
Earlier, its manager Ivy Lau said the foundation planned to buy five more new dialysis machines costing RM250,000 as soon as the fund was available to replace the old ones.
She said the foundation spent about RM1 million every year for treatment and public health awareness campaigns.
"From next year, we will have to spend RM1.2 million annually," she said.
She said the foundation had to subsidise poor patients heavily for the three-times-a-week dialysis treatment.
"A normal treatment costs RM750 per week or RM250 per visit but we can only charge them RM50," she said
Donors willing to contribute to the foundation can call 084-343500 or 084-346500 or e-mail: skfsibu@po.jaring.my., she added
Probe into safety of jelly products

PETALING JAYA: The Health Ministry will be taking a closer look at jelly products following the death of a three-year-old girl who choked on a piece of the sweet recently.
Deputy Health Minister Datuk Dr Abdul Latiff Ahmad said the ministry was in the midst of finding out the actual type of jelly little Wong Poh Yan choked on.
Clarifying the ministry’s position on mini-cup jelly, he said the Food Quality Control Division had issued a ban on the import of ‘konjac mini-cup jelly’ in 2002, stressing that the ban still stood.
“We've also learnt that the European Union has banned konjac as an ingredient in making jelly and other countries have banned a multitude of additives used in mini-cup jellies like sodium alginate, potassium alginate, agar and carregenan, among others,” he said in a statement yesterday.
Konjac, also known as konnyaku, conjac, yam flour or glucomannan, is an additive used in making jelly.
According to the Food and Drug Administration in the United States, jelly made with konjac is firm, does not dissolve easily and with the way it is shaped, it can result in the jelly being stuck in the throat.
Two HIV-Infected Patients Die Daily

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 29 (Bernama) -- Daily, two infected HIV patients die while 20 new HIV cases and three AIDS carriers are reported to the Health Ministry.

If this figure continues on the upward trend, it will be a new epidemic for Malaysia, Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek said Monday.
He said currently there were more than 58,000 HIV-infected cases in the country, and 80 per cent comprised young people aged 13-39 years.
"Three-quarters of the reported cases were infected through intravenous drug use, 13 per cent by heterosexual transmission, and 0.69 per cent from mother-to-child transmission," he said at the launching of HV-7, a seventh generation rapid test kit for HIV/AIDS developed by Malaysian researchers funded by TH Koid Foundation.
Young Malaysians the biggest group to pledge organs

KUALA LUMPUR: Young Malaysians aged 21 to 30 are the biggest group of donors for organ transplants, which have been done in local hospitals since the 70s.
Stating this, Health Ministry parliamentary secretary Lee Kah Choon said organ donation pledges had increased in the last seven years.
The number of pledges in 1997 was 2,056 but this had increased to 81,379 by October this year, he told reporters after launching an organ donation campaign organised by a group of graduates at Sunway Pyramid here yesterday.
The Chinese made up 66% of those who had pledged to donate their organs, followed by the Indians (22%), the Malays (9%) and other communities (3%). Penang and Selangor each contributed 18% of the donors while Perak had 11.4%, which is the lowest.
The organisers of the campaign, among others, submitted a petition to the ministry proposing that Malaysians be given an option to pledge their organs via their MyKad or driving licences.
Lee said there had been 7,730 transplants carried out in the country since such surgery started in Malaysia in the 70s.
He warned that it was illegal to sell organs, adding that he assumed all pledges were made by relatives of the patients and individual donors.
“We have high ethical rules and assess and counsel the donor and recipient before we allow a transplant to go ahead if they are not related,” Lee said, adding that this prevented organ-selling.

Monday, November 29, 2004

MRCS To Send A Team To Iraq

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 28 (Bernama) -- The Malaysian Red Crescent Society will send a team to Iraq early next year to assist in the redevelopment of the Baghdad Hospital complex damaged in the Iraq War.
Its Deputy Chairman Hisham Harun Hashim said the team, comprising four or five members, including a specialist, would be at the war-torn country between two and six months.
"We are awaiting security clearance from the Malaysian Government and Iraqi authorities. If everything goes on smoothly as planned, the team will leave for Iraq in February," he told reporters after attending a Hari Raya Aidilfitri function hosted by the society here Sunday.
Hisham said sending the team to Iraq was an initial step of the society's long-term plan to assist in the rebuilding of Iraq, including providing training to nurses and health workers of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society.
"We are not only sending representatives to Iraq but staff of the Iraq Red Crescent Society are also invited to Malaysia for training," he said.
This is the third time a team is being sent to Iraq after the Iraq War. The first and second teams focused their activities outside Baghdad.
For a start, the team would help revive the midwifery and paediatric sections of the hospital, the main requirement in Iraq, he said.
The society had allocated RM3 million for the mission, he said.
Asked on the MRCS' planning for the next five years, Hisham said it aimed to collect between RM50 and RM60 million for its fund.
He said the society spent between RM5 and RM6 million a year from the fund, much of it raised through public donations and contributions.
"Our five-year plan is divided into four main activities -- disaster management, healthcare planning, community service and promoting human values and development of MRCS.
"We also planned to hold first-aid training programmes in government offices and companies," he added.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Herbs to help increase income of Felda settlers

Felda plans to develop 20,000ha of marginal land in its schemes to cultivate herbs.
The land mainly located in deep valleys and swamps had been left idle for many years as it was unsuitable for oil palm.
Felda chairman Tan Sri Dr Mohd Yusof Noor said Felda hoped to tap the big money in the industry which was estimated to be worth RM20 million.
"If the land is found suitable for herbs then it will provide a new source of income for Felda settlers," he said at a Hari Raya function here today.
A pilot project on herbs is being carried out in Felda Tekam, Jerantut in Pahang since early this year.
Around 200 herbal species, including the Tongkat Ali, Kacip Fatimah and Dokong Anak were planted on the 80ha land at the Felda scheme.
Another 120ha of marginal land at other Felda schemes in Pahang have also been identified as suitable for herbs.
A factory will also be set up soon at Felda Tekam to process the herbs into herbal remedies and fragrances.
1,200 Benefit From Free Cataract Operations In Sarawak

SIBU, Nov 28 (Bernama) -- More than 1,200 people in Sarawak have benefited from free cataract operations sponsored by the Sarawak Society for the Blind.
The service, introduced in 1990, complimented the efforts of the government, said Deputy Minister of Housing and Local Government Datuk Robert Lau Hoi Chew.
He said the society had also screened more than 11,000 people in the state's central region for glaucoma, an eye disease that can cause partial or complete loss of vision.
Opening the society's Sibu Division branch annual open house cum food fair today, Lau advised people not to treat their local centre for the blind as another old folk home.
He said such centres were established to provide temporary accommodation for the blind and help them acquire skills to earn a decent living on their own.
Upon the successful completion of their training, their relatives should take them back and help them to adjust to living among normal people, he said.
The food fair's organising chairman, Clarence Ting Ing Horh, said RM124,000 was collected from the sale of coupons.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Long wait at hospital draws complaints

THE Health Ministry has been urged to upgrade services and reduce the waiting time for patients at the Kajang Hospital in Selangor, reported Tamil Nesan.
According to the daily, even those going to the emergency unit needed to wait for a long time.
It cited a case on Monday where a patient who arrived at the unit at 5pm was attended to only at 10pm.
The daily quoted the patient, R. Krishnamoorthy, as saying that he had gone to the hospital as he had high fever.
It also quoted another patient, S. Arokiamary, who complained that those in outpatient clinics frequently had to wait very long to see the doctors.
Medical Faculty Capacity To Be Upgraded To Ease Docs' Shortage

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 25 (Bernama) -- Efforts are underway to upgrade the capacity of medical faculties in local universities by increasing the number of lecturers, laboratories and apparatus in a move to tackle doctors' shortage in the country, the Dewan Rakyat was told Thursday.

This would enable every faculty to increase medical students' intake, Higher Education Ministry Parliamentary Secretary Datuk Dr Adham Baba said.

"This is only an alternative to building new medical faculties as the construction will incur huge cost," he said when replying to Datuk Liow Tiong Lai (BN-Bentong) during question time.

Replying to Liow's supplementary question, Dr Adham said the government would consider applications from foreign universities and private higher learning institutions to set up medical faculties in Malaysia.

"The ministry will consider their applications after studying the justification in terms of requirement, location, suitability and the applicants' affordability before granting approval," he said.

Dr Adham said the government also encouraged local private tertiary learning institutions with university status to offer the courses.

He said there were also private colleges offering the courses on a twinning programme between local and foreign universities.

"Nevertheless, it must be stated that upgrading training is only one of the solutions to doctors' shortage.

"The factors that encouraged doctors to remain in the government service should also be given attention," he said.

Replying to a supplementary question from Baharum Mohamed (BN-Sekijang), Dr Adham said currently the ministry did not control the intake quota of medical students by private universities as applicants apply directly to the universities of their choice without having to go through the ministry.

Baharum had asked whether the government controlled intake of medical students by private universities as they are found to favour foreign students than locals to offer the courses.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Ruse to obtain cheap medical treatment

SANDAKAN: Illegal immigrants are now using the identity cards of Malaysians to obtain cheap medical treatment at government hospitals.

The ruse had been detected at the Duchess of Kent Hospital whose management have not ruled out the possibility that illegal immigrants might have “borrowed” or used lost identity cards of Malaysians to register as patients.
Ban this killer jelly

A consultant pathologist has urged the authorities to ban cup jelly candy as it poses a high suffocation risk among children.

Prof Dr Kasinathan Nadesan of the University Malaya Medical Centre told The Malay Mail that most children sucked the jelly straight from its container after lifting the tab.

Due to the texture of the jelly, it gets sucked straight into the throat and this may cause children to choke.

"If the blockage is not cleared quickly the victim may die within minutes," Dr Nadesan said when asked to comment on the death of three-year-old Wong Poh Yan on Sunday.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Smoking to be banned in workplaces

PUTRAJAYA: Smoking will be banned in all workplaces under a new regulation on indoor air quality to be drawn up in six months.

The regulation would stipulate what constitutes indoor air quality in office and office buildings and is aimed at clamping down on smoking in workplaces.

Human Resources Minister Datuk Dr Fong Chan Onn said at present, there was a general provision under the Occupational Safety and Health Act that required employers to maintain air quality.

Ministry Sacks 46 Foreign Doctors

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 24 (Bernama) -- The Health Ministry terminated the contracts of 46 foreign doctors for poor performance and indiscipline this year, the Dewan Rakyat was told Wednesday.

Health Ministry Parliamentary Secretary Lee Kah Choon said those dismissed were 19 Pakistanis, 12 Indians, 12 Egyptians, two Indonesians and a Bangladeshi.

He said their services were terminated after evaluations by department heads found they had disciplinary problems and had not achieved the standard of work required.

"Since many doctors recruited on contract from these countries have been terminated, we will reduce the intake from those countries in future," he said in reply to Dr Mohamed Hayati Othman (PAS-Pendang) who wanted to know the action taken against foreign doctors who performed below expectation.

Replying to a question from Mohamed Yusop Majid (BN-Setiu), Lee said the Ministry employed 728 foreign doctors on contract and 94 per cent of them did their jobs well.

India supplied the most foreign doctors with 271, followed by Pakistan (167), Egypt (122), Myanmar (85), Bangladesh (29), Indonesia (23), Iraq (8), Canada (5), Singapore and Iran (4) and Australia (2).

Nepal, Sri Lanka, Japan, Somalia, Mauritius, Jordan, Syria and the Philippines provided one doctor each.

Lee said the Ministry would continue employing foreign doctors to ease the shortage in the country.

Replying to Datuk Dr Junaidy Abdul Wahab (BN-Batu Pahat), Lee said foreign doctors were recruited after they passed an interview conducted in their home countries.

He said they would be placed in a hospital here and evaluated by their department head before being sent to hospitals that needed their services, he said.

Bird flu again detected in Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR — A recent discovery of bird flu among some 200 poultry has dashed Malaysia's hope of declaring the country free of the disease, the Veterinary Services Department said Tuesday.

The department had been expected to make the much-awaited announcement this week. It has been more than 21 days since the last case of the H5N1 strain of the virus was detected on Oct 10. The 21-day period has been set as the criteria by the World Organization for Animal Health. (Kyodo News)

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Over 80% of blindness preventable, says group

SUBANG: About 80% of 500,000 Malaysians who are visually impaired could have avoided being inflicted with the handicap.

Unfortunately, said Malaysian Association of the Blind president Datuk Dr Ismail Mohd Salleh, due to lack of awareness and preventive measures, visual impairment was becoming a serious problem.

“Blindness has profound personal and socio-economic consequences. The loss in productivity, and the cost of rehabilitation and education of the blind burden the economy.

“The key in avoiding the problem is to create awareness,” he said at the launch of the Orbis flying hospital at the Terminal 3 tarmac here yesterday.

Deputy Health Minister Datuk Dr Abdul Latiff Ahmad said about 90% of the world’s blindness was avoidable, preventable and treatable with available interventions.

“According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), every five seconds one person in the world is going blind and a child goes blind every minute,” Dr Abdul Latiff said, in a speech at the launching, read out by the ministry's deputy director of medical development, Dr Mohd Raili Haji Suhaili.

“An estimated 180 million people worldwide are visually disabled and 40 million to 50 million of them are blind,” said Dr Abdul Latiff.

WHO estimated that by the year 2020, the number of blind people in the world would double, unless something was done to stop the trend.

“Blindness knows no boundaries, borders or barriers. It cuts across continents, countries and cultures,” he said.

He commended Orbis for flying around the world and saving people’s sight and minimising incidents of blindness by offering hands-on training for eye care professionals.

The flying hospital’s doctors screen patients with difficult eye problems, referred to them by hospitals and clinics. Some cases are surgically corrected.

CCM turning to pharmaceuticals

CHEMICAL Company of Malaysia Bhd (CCM), already a stable company with a solid earnings base in the fertiliser and chemicals business, is turning to pharmaceuticals as its next growth contributor.

Managing director Dr Mohamad Hashim Tajudin said plans were already in place to expand the pharmaceuticals business, which was expected to contribute strongly to earnings in the near future.

“We intend to achieve an optimum 40% contribution from pharmaceuticals and 30:30 equally from fertiliser and chemicals. That is the long-term aim of the company,” he told StarBiz in an interview.

Hashim said the company had started on a RM50mil expansion of its pharmaceuticals factory, Upha Pharmaceuticals in Bangi, to be completed by 2006 and fully operational by 2007. “With the expansion, we hope to increase the capacity by 50%,” he added.

Hashim said CCM would now concentrate on the manufacturing side after selling off its retailing outlets, undertaken through Prima Health Pharmacy.

The sale, completed recently, is expected to boost CCM's bottom line as Prima Health is running at a loss of RM3mil a year.

Apart from manufacturing generic drugs and vitamins, CCM is also venturing into the distribution of drugs manufactured by Impax Laboratories of the United States, where CCM has a small stake in the Nasdaq-listed counter.

The stake was purchased in 1997 at US$2 per share and is now hovering at about US$15 per share.

But Hashim said the distribution rights with Impax held a lot of potential as it would enable CCM to distribute and market the drugs produced by Impax in Malaysia and other South-East Asian countries.

It is also looking at collaborating with Impax to produce generic drugs in Malaysia to be sold in this region.

Other than Impax, CCM also holds shares in another biotechnology start-up in Vancouver, Cardiome Pharma, which is developing drugs to treat cardiac diseases.

CCM's initial investment in Cardiome is C$2 per share and is now estimated to be worth between C$5 and C$6.

Despite the focus on pharmaceuticals, Hashim said the two other divisions, fertiliser and chemicals, would continue to be developed.

“For instance, we are looking at doing more business within the PNB group of companies. And together with other non-PNB plantation players, we are hoping of increasing the sales volume of our fertiliser by about 20% to 30%,” he said.

Hashim said the company's chemical business was also doing well, with stable demand from the oleochemicals and water treatment sectors.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Expired Chinese Traditional Medicines Being Sold

JOHOR BARU, Thurs. - Negligence and the failure of retailers to keep an inventory of their stocks have led to expired traditional medicines being sold in Chinese medical halls.

Most of the medicines are imported from China.

According to the Federation of Chinese Physicians and Medicine Dealers' Associations of Malaysia, most of the over 5,000 Chinese medical halls in the country do not keep an inventory of their traditional medicines.

Its secretary, Thong Choong Khat, said such medicines had a shelf life ranging from two to three years like the Western medicines registered with the Health Ministry.

"However, most of the retailers do not keep an inventory of their stocks with regards to the manufacturing, purchase and expiry dates like what their counterparts in pharmacies are doing.

"As a result, it is common for them to accumulate stocks of traditional medicines after some time and unknowingly sell them to their customers even after the expiry date.

"This may not be a problem in cities as most consumers usually check the date. The problem occurs in rural areas as most villagers do not know about expiry dates."

Thong said retailers selling expired medicines were projecting a bad image.

This was especially so if the products were manufactured by factories which did not adhere to good manufacturing practices, he added.

He urged all the retailers to keep an inventory of their stocks so that they could easily monitor the shelf life of their medicines.

He also wanted the local agents of traditional medicines to liaise with the retailers on removing medicines from the shelf several months before the expiry date.

He said the public should exercise extra caution when buying traditional medicines.

There were also cases of fake traditional medicines with fake registration numbers, he said.

"To check the authenticity of a medicine and whether it has been registered with the ministry, look at the website of the National Pharmaceutical Control Bureau.

"If the name cannot be found on the website, it is either because the medicines have yet to be registered with the ministry or they are fake products," he added.

The website address is www.bpfk. gov.my.

Deadline on labels extended

PETALING JAYA: Hologram labels on medicine and health supplements will only be made mandatory in May.

The Health Ministry’s Pharmaceutical Services Division director Datuk Mohd Zin Che Awang said the ruling was supposed to be enforced from January for all OTC (over-the-counter) products, controlled items containing poison, traditional medicine and health supplements.

However, he said an industry association and several individuals had at a recent meeting appealed for a delay.

“The association asked for more time to adjust their machinery for labelling their products,” he said on Friday.

He said the ministry understood their concerns and had granted a longer grace period.

Mohd Zin said enforcement would be carried out from May to ensure that the products had the security labels, which was meant to protect consumers from counterfeit and unregistered products.

However, the hologram label deadline for injectables (products used in the form of injections) by July stays.

“Details on the hologram labels will be made available to the public by the end of this year as they need to know how to differentiate genuine and unregistered products,” he said.

Industry players were initially afraid that genuine hologram labels could be placed on fake products, he said.

“Each label will have a running number on it, which makes it easier for us to monitor who bought them.

“We will ensure that only registered and licensed importers and manufacturers buy these labels for their products,” Mohd Zin said.

He said some companies had volunteered to stick the labels earlier than the deadline and that was not a problem.

The ministry had signed a contract with a French hologram manufacturer and a local agent, Mediharta Sdn Bhd, and will be responsible for distributing and selling the hologram labels as well as keeping records of buyers.

Go places with nursing

DISCARD the stereotype of the student nurse as the young female school leaver.

Today, nursing is a profession which is attracting even men and people from diverse backgrounds.

If you think you have a calling to care for the sick and the wounded, and that nursing may be the right vocation for you, just head over to Nilai International College to check out its nursing diploma. Recruitment for next January’s intake is on.

Nursing offers a world of opportunities in clinical practice, research, education and management. Aspirants can even move on to become executive directors of nursing, clinical specialists, researchers or lecturers.

Besides serving in hospitals, surgeries, nursing or residential homes and hospices, nurses can also serve in the prison service, the armed forces or even large manufacturing concerns.

The career opportunities are endless and can prove rewarding for individuals with compassion and good communication skills.

Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek said recently that there is a current shortage of about 40,000 nurses in the country. The three-year nursing diploma programme has been introduced to try and meet the demand for more nurses and to achieve the government’s target of about 170,000 nurses in the country.

The diploma programme is approved by the Education Ministry and the internationally-recognised Nursing Board of Malaysia.

Upon completion of the diploma, students can sit for the Nursing Board Examination to qualify as a registered nurse or proceed to a bachelor’s degree in medicine, nursing or hospital management in Malaysia or overseas.

Minimum entry requirements are three SPM credits or equivalent including credits in Mathematics, Science (General or Pure Biology) and one other subject, and a pass in Bahasa Malaysia.

The nursing diploma programme comes with a stint in clinical training at selected hospitals towards the end of each semester.

Nilai International College’s Nursing Unit head Norashikin Abdullah, a lecturer with more than 17 years of experience, said: “The curriculum emphasises critical thinking and information skills, community service as well as lectures and tutorials.

The course aims to prepare top quality nurses who can provide comprehensive care to individuals and families in hospitals as well as elsewhere in the community.”

Course content is 50% theory and 50% practical. In the first year, students are taught basic principles in caring for individuals and families. Later, they can choose to concentrate on specialties such as mental health or learning disabilities nursing.

“Nurses are the backbone of our healthcare system. Caring for the sick is only one aspect of what a nurse does,” said Norashikin.

“Nurses have the opportunity to do good in the world everyday and there are many exciting and rewarding opportunities in nursing,” she added.

Two More Pre-Schools For Visually Impaired

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 20 (Bernama) -- The Malaysian Association for the Blind (MAB) will build a pre-school for the visually impaired each in Klang and Kota Baharu, bringing to five the total number in the country, MAB president Prof Datuk Ismail Md Salleh said.

The existing pre-schools are in Kuala Lumpur (at Jalan Batu and at the MAB centre on Jalan Tun Sambanthan) and in Penang, built under the Assistance to Blind Children (ABC) programme.

Ismail said besides the new pre-schools, the association plans to build more such facilities to meet the increasing demand.

He was speaking after the launch of the ABC programme by Yayasan Budi Penyayang (Penyayang) chairman Datin Seri Endon Mahmood, who is also the Prime Minister's wife.

Penyayang donated RM100,000 to the programme.

The Klang pre-school is expected to open early next year, while the Kota Baharu one is still in the planning stage, he said.

Of 215,000 disabled Malaysians, 10 per cent are not getting the proper education because of their parents' lack of concern, he said.

"In Malaysia, facilities for the disabled are not a problem, but many parents are ignorant or unwilling to send their special children to get help," he said.

Earlier, Endon in her address said Malaysia was on par with developed countries in the provision of facilities for special people including educational opportunities, vocational training and care centres.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

UMMC to ensure drug supply by Tuesday

PETALING JAYA: Patients who need medicine from the University Malaya Medical Centre’s (UMMC) pharmacy will be ensured of supplies from Tuesday after the hospital rectifies its current drug shortage.

UMMC acting director Prof Chua Chin Teong said the shortage was a result of increased demand from patients and miscommunication within the centre’s administration.

He said after a discussion yesterday, the administration found that the pharmacy had run out of drugs such as Simvastatin, CoAprovel and Fenofibrate since Thursday.

“We look at this seriously and have taken measures to ensure this problem will not occur again,” he said in a statement yesterday, adding that the shortage was only temporary.

Prof Chua was responding to a news report on a shortage of drugs in the UMMC’s pharmacy. The medication included cholesterol-controlling drugs such as Zocor, CoAprovel and Lipanthyl.

The shortage was pointed out by several patients and a pharmacist has said there was no budget to purchase the drugs by the end of the year.
Check on banned substances in cosmetic products

PETALING JAYA: A cosmetic surveillance group is to be set up to provide information on the use of banned ingredients or harmful substances.

Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association of Malaysia (CTFA) president Muhammad Zain Ibrahim said this would tackle the problem of unregistered or counterfeit cosmetic products being sold.

He said consumers should know about the substances or ingredients that go into making the products or certain treatments such as sheep placenta injections and botox treatments.

“This will promote better understanding of beauty products as people can learn if certain ingredients are banned or harmful to their health,” he said in an interview.

He said a hotline was also proposed for those who come across suspicious products to inform the group.

“We can then share the information among the industry players and authorities for the necessary action to be taken,” he said, adding that CTFA was still finalising the workings of the surveillance group.

He was responding to reports that the Health Ministry had started to crack down on those who do not register their products with the ministry.

On the registration of cosmetic products, he said CTFA members have complied with the deadline with about 80% of their products already registered or were waiting for approval.

“Initially, the cosmetic registration process faced some “challenges”, but we have seen improvements in terms of processing time,” he said adding that approvals were given within a month now.

CTFA has more than 70 members and their products make up about 60% of the Malaysian market which has about 65,000 types of products.

Consumer Association of Penang (CAP) welcomed the ministry’s move to step up enforcement to ensure that manufacturers register all their products.

Its president S.M. Mohamed Idris said apart from compulsory registration, existing guidelines to govern cosmetic advertising and manufacturing practices should be converted into laws.

“Presently CAP finds that some products on the market have all kinds of claims, ranging from anti-aging to skin whitening, without any apparent evidence to back them,” he said.

Mohamed Idris said the ministry should also consider limiting the number of items registered for certain cosmetic groups or those cosmetic groups with certain functions.

“This way the ministry has more control and is able to manage these products within realistic means of surveillance and enforcement,” he said.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Database To Understand Genetic Differences In The Offing

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 19 (Bernama) -- In an effort to help researchers better understand the scope of genetic differences among Asian population, a group of scientists is to conduct a study of genetic diversity in the region.

The study themed "The Human Genome Organisation Pacific Pan-Asian SNP Initiative", is expected to provide detailed and comprehensive genetic picture of Asian population.

The Pan-Asian SNP Initiative secretariat said results of the study would be fed into a public database to help researchers understand better the genetic differences in the Asian population.

The Pan-Asian SNP Initiative was established by scientists from China, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Nepal, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Taiwan.

"Just as families share certain genetic characteristics, Pan-Asian scientists believe regional Asian populations share unique genetic variations that go back to thousands of years," Executive Director of Genome Institute of Singapore Prof Edison Liu said in a statement Friday.

He said the study would give scientists a genetic map of human history in Asia, showing how nearly half the world's population migrated through the region and settled to form distinct cultures known today.

President of HUGO Pacific Dr Yoshi Sakaki said data from the study would provide the platform for researchers in this region to investigate why some populations were prone to certain diseases or did not respond to certain drugs.

"The initiative will also provide training in population genetics for young researchers in this region and foster additional health studies," he added.
Injury Main Cause Of Child Deaths, Disability, Says Chua

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 18 (Bernama) -- Child injury is now a leading cause of child deaths and disability in the country, says Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek.

He said according to the Malaysian Vital Statistics Bulletin, road accidents alone killed 1,232 children in 2001.

"This means three children dying each day," he said in his speech at the launching of the Progress for Children Global Report by United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef), here Thursday.

The text was read out by the ministry's Director of Family Planning Unit, Datuk Dr Narimah Awin.

Dr Chua said apart from that, there was an emerging issue of HIV/AIDS which had the potential of becoming major public health problems.

"Learning from other countries, the Ministry of Health has responded with several programmes which include prevention of mother to child transmission and free antiretroviral treatment for HIV-positive children and pregnant women who have undergone antenatal screening in our clinics," he said.

Dr Chua also said changes in food consumption due to changing socio-economic development, led to other problems such as malnutrition, obesity and chronic diseases linked to dietary imbalance, namely hypertension and coronary heart diseases.

However, the government introduced programmes such as the "Applied Food and Nutrition" programme in the 70s and the "School Supplementary Feeding Programme" to provide children from low income families with food supplements including milk.

"As a result, acute malnutrition is no longer a problem in our country," he added.

But, he said the Malaysia had begun to experience the emergence of overweight and obesity in both children and adults.
Ensuring healthy children by remaining vigilant

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia will continue to be vigilant of new threats facing children despite ranking second in its efforts to reduce under-five child mortality rates in a United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) report.

Health Ministry family health development director Datuk Dr Narimah Awin said it was important to counter existing problems to avoid recurrence and new threats such as obesity, over-nutrition, mental illness, HIV/AIDS, disabilities and injuries.

“There is always room for improvement although we have achieved all these.

“There are always problems like obesity and over-nutrition. Our children are not underweight. We don’t want them to be obese and have them develop hypertension when they are adults,” she said yesterday after launching the Unicef “Progress for Children” Global Report (Vol 1 2004).

According to the progress report, Malaysia achieved an 8% rate of reduction for under-five child mortality rate in the last decade.

Malaysia ranks first in the East Asia and Pacific region and second in the world. Malta tops the list with 8.6%.

Both countries’ accomplishments surpass developed nations like Norway (6.8%) and Denmark (6.8%).

Malaysia is also one of 13 countries in the region that is on track to meet its obligation in reducing under-five mortality rates by 2015.

Dr Narimah said more children were experiencing mental illness, which resulted from modern living.

The second National Health and Morbidity Survey 1996 showed that 13.6% of children below the age of 12 suffered from mental illness.

“This is something to worry about. Children do have depression and anxiety but the numbers are no different from other countries,” she said adding that domestic violence and gender-based situations contributed to the problem.

The ministry, Dr Narimah added, had started intervention and health education programmes at its clinics.

Among other things, the ministry is changing its way of treating illnesses like allowing patients to see doctors at clinics instead of going to hospitals, prevention by having counselling services and early detection.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

No extension of grace period on cosmetics registration

KUALA LUMPUR: All cosmetic products for sale must be registered as there is no extension of the grace period for unregistered cosmetic products.

Rumours among certain quarters that the grace period, which expired on June 30, has been extended are untrue, Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek said.

The ministry had given the industry up to Dec 31 last year to submit their applications for registration and a six-month grace period thereafter for them to use the products pending approval.

He said in an interview that his ministry would continue with its nationwide crackdown on offenders, which began with raids on cosmetics salons in Penang earlier this month.

Earlier this month, Dr Chua announced the setting up of a 35-man enforcement team to crack down on beauty salons nationwide following complaints.

These included the use of unregistered products, unsubstantiated claims on the efficacy of some hi-tech treatment like sheep placenta injections and handling of equipment by unqualified personnel.

Describing the situation as serious, Dr Chua said seven of the 13 salons checked in Penang on Nov 4 – the first of the nationwide raids – were caught using unregistered products.

He said the ministry's enforcement team seized various goods, including capsules, syringes and cream which

were worth between RM20,000 and RM30,000.

During a random check by The Star in the Klang Valley earlier this month some retailers said they were unaware of the registration exercise while others claimed they had submitted their applications for registration and were still waiting for approval.

A beautician in the Klang Valley, who provides anti-ageing treatments costing thousands of ringgit, using imported animal placenta and vitamin C injections,said her products were still awaiting approval.

Another beautician in Kuala Lumpur, who is providing plant cells injection for anti-ageing treatments costing nearly RM20,000 claimed that her plant-based products were very safe.

“My products have international recognition,” she said, insisting that there was no need to register with the ministry.

Under the Control of Drugs and Cosmetics Regulations Act, 1984, all cosmetics, imported or local, must be registered by June 30, failing which they will be classified as illegal.

Anyone found guilty under the Act could be fined up to RM25,000 or jailed up to three years or both for the first offence.

Those convicted for the second time face fines of up to RM50,000 or a maximum imprisonment of five years or both.

As for companies, they can be fined up to RM50,000 for the first offence and up to RM100,000 for the second.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

She’s RM7,000 lighter after taking slimming pills

A 37-year-old hair stylist was told that who took slimming pills for two weeks ended up with severe side-effects that required medical treatment costing RM7,000.

To make matters worse, she did not lose any weight after taking the pills which she had bought from one of her customers.

Although she filed a police report on Oct 28 on the matter, she said that all she wants is a refund of the RM325 she paid for the box of capsules, and to warn others about the dangers of such weight-reducing drugs.

Lai Yet Sar, 37, a mother of four from Jinjang, said she was introduced to the product by a customer who, in August and September this year, came thrice to the salon she worked for.

She was told to consume a packet of eight capsules a day — two in the morning with a special tea that came with the slimming product, two with water in the afternoon, and four at night with water.

"Two weeks after taking the capsules regularly from Sept 5, I developed severe chest and stomach pains and began vomiting. I also suffered giddy spells and was unable to eat," said Lai at a Press conference yesterday. She then sought treatment at Selayang Hospital and Hospital Kuala Lumpur before visiting a gastro-enterology centre in the city several times.

"I spent a total of RM7,000 in medical fees as I have been in and out of the hospitals the past two months due to problems caused by these drugs," claimed Lai, who weighs 79kg.

She said she then asked for a refund of RM325 from the woman who sold her the pills, but the woman said it was not possible.

"When I asked her about the box not having any label to indicate that the product has been approved for sale in Malaysia, she told me that the product was imported from Singapore and that she got it from a distributor based in Petaling Jaya," said Lai, whose husband is a house renovator.

"When she was coaxing me to buy the slimming product, she showed me a picture of her boss claiming that her boss looked slim and youthful after taking the same products."
Malaysia sets the example with lowest regional child mortality rate

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia can show the rest of the region that it is possible to achieve low maternal and child mortality rates even as a developing nation, said Gaye Phillips, the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) representative to Malaysia.

She said Unicef was launching a new booklet entitled Progress of the Nations with the Health Ministry tomorrow in celebration of the country’s “amazing success” in reducing the number of deaths of children under five and also for its low maternal mortality rate.

Phillips said Malaysia had the second lowest maternal mortality rate in the world with only 40 deaths in 100,000 during childbirth.

“The number of children under five who have died has also been reduced to eight in 1,000. Comparatively, in the United States it is about nine to 10,” she said when met at the Cabinet's Hari Raya open house at the PWTC on Sunday.

Phillips said the ratio was also lower compared to countries in the region, namely Cambodia, which has 193 deaths in every 1,000, Thailand (12 to 14 deaths) and Indonesia (30). Singapore and Brunei had figures similar to Malaysia.

“Malaysia has good numbers because its health system is very good, it’s affordable and everyone has access to it.

“This gives great impact to the children, as they survive better with improved healthcare,” she said.

She said Malaysia managed to build a good health system whilst in the development stages because children were made a high priority.

“The good thing is that Malaysia can show the rest of the region that it achieved this kind of numbers in the 70s, 80s and 90s, by allocating resources to the right things.

“If Malaysia can do it, so can other countries,” she said.

Phillips, who started her duties here last December, said her first Hari Raya celebration was an amazing experience as “it is wonderful to see people coming together in this kind of friendship all under one roof.”

“We don’t have this back home in Australia. This is a wonderful custom in Malaysia,” she added.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Malaysia set to be declared free of bird flu

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia will be declared free of the fatal avian flu as early as next week if there are no new cases detected in Kelantan, Veterinary Services Department director-general Datuk Dr Hawari Hussein said.

He said although Malaysia had fulfilled international health requirements with no new cases detected within 21 days of the last case, local health authorities were doing tests “to be absolutely sure” that the state was free from new cases.

Under the World Organisation for Animal Health standards on the declaration of a zone or a state as free from bird flu, there should be no new cases within 21 days of the last case was detected or the last day of culling.

“The threat is still there, from neighbouring countries. The tests are part of our own initiative to be sure,” Dr Hawari said yesterday.

He said the authorities have completed ground tests and samples had been sent to the laboratories, adding that results should be out “in one or two weeks' time.”

“If the tests are positive, meaning that there are new cases, then we have to start from scratch again,” he said.

He said 24-hour checks were still being conducted at all exit routes in Kelantan to prevent poultry from being taken out of the state and the ban of poultry from neighbouring countries was still being enforced.

The dreaded “H5” bird flu virus strain, first traced at Kampung Baru Pasir Pekan in Tumpat on Aug 17, is believed to have originated from an infected fighter cock brought in from Thailand.

Federation of Livestock Farmers Association of Malaysia adviser Datuk Francis Lau said the industry was looking forward to the declaration and poultry breeders “were happy” with the control measures taken by the authorities.

“The authorities have been able to control the movement of poultry in the affected state and worked hard to allow the export of poultry to Singapore from farms in Johor and Malacca,” he said.

He added that the department should be lauded for their close co-operation with the Singapore Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Medical volunteers head for the interior

A long and hazardous journey to get medical help two years ago resulted in the death of a pregnant woman.

She had complications and was advised to seek medical assistance at the nearest clinic, the Penampang Polyclinic, which is about 30km away.

To get there, it was 15km by foot and another 15km by road. She died while walking along the 15km footpath from Kampung Terian to the nearest road in Kampung Timpangoh here.

Since then, Malaysian Medical Relief Society (Mercy) Sabah chairman Dr Helen Lasimbang has made it a point to provide whatever medical assistance she could in remote villages such as Terian — even if it means walking 15km up the Crocker Range to reach them.

Today, Dr Lasimbang is leading a team of about 20 volunteers from Mercy Sabah and the Penampang Rotary Club to carry out medical check-ups and conduct health care lessons and computer classes during a four-day mission.

They will set camp in two of the five villages, Tiku and Terian, and expect to serve some 400 people.

The other villages are Kalanggaan, Kionob and Longkogungan.

"We will set off on foot from Timpangoh to Tiku where we will spend two nights, followed by another night at Terian.

"We will return on a route that will lead us to Kibambangan, which is another point where there is a road link, by Tuesday."

Dr Helen said the villagers needed help and the volunteers included four doctors.

Leading the Rotarians is Dr Helen’s sister, Jennifer, and their task is to teach children dental care and service several computers that were donated to the Terian community.

"We also have five students from institutions of higher learning to conduct computer classes besides doing some repair work."

The computers are powered by solar energy.

Dr Lasimbang, who is with the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kota Kinabalu, said the mission was Mercy's seventh medical relief project in Sabah this year.

The volunteers had earlier reached out to people in remote villages in Pitas, Kudat, Kota Marudu, Kiau and Tinangol as well as the islands of Mantanani and Bambangan.

Dr Lasimbang’s brother, Phillip, who is Moyog Assemblyman, said it took about three to four hours to walk to either Tiku or Terian from Timpangoh.

There were more than 1,000 people in the five remote villages which were connected by a footpath, he said.
RM8mil to treat hospital fungus problem

KUALA LUMPUR: Rehabilitation work to treat the fungus-infested Sultan Ismail Hospital in Johor Baru will cost RM8mil, Works Minister Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu said.

He said he would ask for the allocation from Cabinet next week.

“We have finalised the treatment programme needed to overcome the fungus problem,” he told reporters at the Cabinet Hari Raya open house at Putra World Trade Centre on Sunday.

He said the amount would cover the complete treatment at the hospital before it could be reopened by Jan 1 next year.

The cost would also include a three-month "stabilisation period" to ensure that the problem would not recur, he added.

“After that, we will sign a maintenance contract with the same contractor,” he said.

The brand new RM500mil specialist hospital was closed in September, barely after two months in operation following the discovery of fungus on the walls and in some of the clinical equipment.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Critical shortage of forensic pathologists

Malaysia needs at least 50 forensic pathologists but has only 19. Five States have none, said a health official.

When a forensic pathologist is required, one of the four on the Kuala Lumpur Hospital's staff is flown out, the official told the New Straits Times. The shortage has reached a critical stage, due to growing workloads and the need for more detailed examinations of bodies, said the official, who declined to be named.

This situation reflects Ipoh High Court judge Datuk V.T. Singham's recent comment that he had dealt with three murder cases where a pathologist had not been available to conduct post- mortems on the victims.

In the latest case, decided on Wednesday, of a mother accused of strangling her five-year-old daughter, the time of death could not be determined because there was no forensic pathologist at the Ipoh Hospital.

Yesterday, Deputy Health Minister Datuk Dr Abdul Latiff Ahmad said there were enough forensic pathologists, and each State had a chief pathologist who was assisted by pathologists from other disciplines.

Forensic pathologists are specialists trained to examine bodies for trauma and to determine cause, manner or mechanism of death.

The health official said there were no forensic pathologists in Perlis, Kelantan, Terengganu, Sarawak and Negri Sembilan. Of the four on KLH's staff, one is on long leave.

Pahang's forensic pathologist is overseas; Sabah, the second largest State, has only one.

In Sarawak, the largest State, a haematologist, who specialises in blood examinations, is sometimes roped in for forensic work.

Selangor, the most populated State, has three forensic pathologists, while the other three States have one each.

The official said Malaysia also needed more lecturers in forensic pathology.

Aside from handling post-mortem, criminal investigations and court appearances, forensic pathologists serving in hospitals also teach in universities.

Malaysia should have at least one pathologist for every 75,000 people, or about 330 pathologists of all disciplines, according to the Malaysian Academy of Medicine's College of Pathologists.

It has just 217, both working in government hospitals and teaching, said its president, Professor Lai-Meng Looi.

Australia, with a population of 20 million, has 1,290 pathologists.

"We are short of pathologists and overloaded with work," contended Dr Looi.

Most of the country's 217 pathologists are involved in diagnostics, and most of them were histopathologists who analyse tissue from living patients.

"Forensic pathologists are the smallest group," she added.

Action against medical students refusing to serve the country

PUTRAJAYA: Legal action will be taken against government-sponsored medical students who refuse to return and serve in the country.

In a statement posted on its website on Wednesday, the Public Services Department (JPA) said it would refer such cases to the Attorney-General's Chambers for further action.

For medical students furthering their studies abroad, they had to sign the Akujanji (a pledge to serve) before they were allowed to do so, it said.

“JPA will consider each application according to the merit of each course and approval is not automatic,” it added.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

The Launch of HV-7 Rapid Test Kit

TH Koid Foundation, a private and independent foundation incorporated in Malaysia, today confirmed the date of the launch for the HV-7, an enhanced version of Home Rapid Test Kit for HIV-Antibodies 1 & 2 on November 29, 2004. The Minister of Health, Malaysia, YB Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek will officiate the event on Monday November 29, 2004, at The Legend Hotel, KL at 3.00pm. This event is held two days before the World's AIDS Day on December 01, 2004. This will follow by a talk on The Next Level - Challenging Mindset.

The introduction of the latest generation of HIV rapid test kit, HV-7, said to be in the seventh (7th) generation marks a success for Malaysia in the areas of Research & Development. The HV-7 would be a very meaningful product for Malaysia and humanity. The problems of HIV/AIDS and its rampant spread are threatening and we have yet to arrest it to a desired parameter.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

New ways to tackle ‘ballooning’ problem

KOTA BELUD: Faced with a literally ballooning problem of more overweight Malaysians, the Health Ministry is taking a different approach in getting people to lead healthy lives.

Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek said current campaigns were largely targeting the “converted,” who were already practising healthy lifestyles.

“The programmes that we have been doing have not been really effective. We are going to reach out to schoolchildren and we will also use television more to send out the message,” he said yesterday after opening a RM500,000 haemodialysis centre at the district hospital here.

He also said there were about 2,500 new end-stage renal failure patients in the country every year, who would require haemodialysis treatments thrice a week. This health problem was brought about by diabetes, hypertension and infection.

“We need to send the message home that the people must take the responsibility for their own bodies and not leave it to God and their doctors only,” Dr Chua said, adding that 25% of Malaysians were overweight.

He said three out of every 10 Malaysians were suffering from hypertension while 8% were diabetic.

“It would be more prudent for the Government to effectively promote a healthy lifestyle among the people instead of building more and more dialysis centres,” Dr Chua said.

He added that of the 10,000 people nationwide, who needed to go for dialysis, 40% did so at hospitals, 35% at centres run by NGOs and 25% at centres operated by the private sector.

He said the Government was spending as much as RM20,000 per patient to provide haemodialysis treatments at hospitals and subsidised RM8,000 for every person seeking treatment at NGOs centres.

He revealed that 45 district hospitals in the country would be equipped with at least four dialysis machines each by the middle of next year at a cost of RM30mil.
Tests indicate e.coli in water

TANAH RATA: Tap water in Cameron Highlands has been found to be contaminated with the e. coli bacteria normally found in the faeces of animals and humans.

Tests carried out by the Health Ministry and the Regional Environmental Awareness Cameron Highlands (REACH) over two years indicated the presence of “bacteria too numerous to count” in the water.

REACH president R. Ramakrishnan said 12 treated water samples showed high counts of e. coli in residential and commercial properties in Brinchang, Tanah Rata and Ringlet.

“Our tests showed a 46 count per 100ml at certain points. Our drinking water should not even have e. coli.

“We have been complaining to the authorities about this for almost two years now,” he said.

It is understood that the bacteria is of the H0157 strain, found in the intestines of animals and humans.

Ramakrishnan said there had been a higher number of diarrhoea cases reported at private clinics in the highland resort.

He said authorities narrowed down the source of the contamination to improperly processed chicken fertilisers and human faeces.

“Chicken fertiliser for use in vegetable farms are getting into our river system.

“Even human faeces, as a result of improper sanitation, are getting into the rivers, some of which are used by the Waterworks Department to extract water,” he added.

A check in Kampung Raja and Kuala Terla showed sacks of chicken fertiliser stacked along the roadsides and next to streams, with many exposed to rain.

Cameron Highlands MP S.K. Devamany said the matter had been brought to the attention of the local development committee three months ago.

“I am still awaiting their recommendations on the next course of action.

“We need to get to the source of the contamination,” he said.

A Department of Environment spokesman said the department’s river water quality monitors showed high counts of e. coli.

“Tests showed a high 12,000 counts per ml of e. coli in Sungai Terla which is where the Public Works Department water intake point is located,'' he said.

The permissible level for e. coli in rivers is 100 counts per ml in a Class II river. Water extracted from Class II rivers requires conventional treatment – using lime and chlorine only.
Ministry to crack down on errant beauty salons

KUALA LUMPUR: The Health Ministry will crack down on beauty salons nationwide following numerous complaints on the use of unregistered products and the handling of equipment by unqualified personnel.

Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek revealed that in the first raid in Penang on Nov 4, seven out of 13 salons were found to be using unregistered products.

“We have confiscated products, including syringes, capsules and cream valued at between RM20,000 and RM30,000.

“The owners of the premises and individuals involved will be charged in court,” he said at Wisma MCA here yesterday.

Dr Chua said the ministry's enforcement team would conduct the next raid before Hari Raya but did not reveal which state.

He said the ministry would also come up with a Medical Device Act to control the use of medical devices as many unqualified people were using them to carry out beauty treatments.

“Beauty salons are mushrooming all over the country.

“Some people claim they are plastic surgeons. There are also others who use equipment like laser machines and inject stem cells and botox into patients, claiming that such treatment will make them young again,” Dr Chua said.

He urged those wanting to seek beauty treatment to check with the ministry's National Pharmaceutical Bureau whether the products which would be used were registered.

He said they should also consult their family doctors.

Anyone found guilty under the Control of Drugs and Cosmetics Act 1984 could be fined up to RM25,000 or jailed not more than three years or both for the first offence.

“Those convicted the second time can be fined not more than RM50,000 or jailed not more than five years or both.

“As for companies, they can be fined up to RM50,000 for the first offence and up to RM100,000 for the second,” he said.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Two more haemodialysis machines for S'kan hospital: Chua
Sandakan: The Health Ministry is committed to providing various types of healthcare facilities as among the Government's efforts to improve service quality, apart from upgrading hospitals in the country including Sabah.

Its Minister, Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek, said provision of systematic and sophisticated medical facilities would continue to cater for the needs of patients.

He said this after visiting the Duchess of Kent Hospital here Saturday, accompanied by Infrastructure Minister DatuK Raymond Tan Shu Kiah, Batu Sapi MP Edmund Chung, Beluran MP Datuk Ronald Kiandee, Elopura Assemblyman Au Kam Wah and State Health Director Dr Zainol Hamzah.

Under the Ninth Malaysia Plan (9MP), Chua said the Ministry would provide two more haemodialysis machines, apart from installing a CT Scan worth RM2.4 million at the hospital here.

He said construction of 48 units of quarters for the hospital's personnel was expected to commence next year.

According to him, he was making visits to hospitals in the country to gain first-hand knowledge on the development, equipment as well as services provided by his Ministry.

"At the same time, the visits will enable us to identify and resolve problems as well as gather feedback for the 9MP," he said.

Chua, who was given a briefing by the hospital Director, Dr Zorina Khalid, assured that he would look into the proposals by the director.

Among the proposals approved by Chua were construction of a staircase to connect the parking area at the specialist clinic to the ward building, creating an ENT and ophthalmology ward, a roofed walkway from the gate to the car park at the specialist clinic and a radiology specialist room. ' In a related development, Chua urged all hospitals to provide people-friendly and efficient services, in line with the call by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

"We hope all hospitals in the country, including those in Sabah, will interact with the international bodies to enhance knowledge in medical technology.

"This has been done by the hospitals in Kota Baru, which have been interacting with those in Britain and France. It is a success that directly fulfils the aspirations of the people," he said.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Govt To Relaunch Nationwide Health Awareness Campaign

KOTA BELUD, Nov 8 (Bernama) -- The Health Ministry will relaunch a nationwide health awareness campaign, this time targeting a wider section of society including those at the grassroots level, Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek said Monday.

The previous campaign had not been very effective because it was more like "preaching to the converted", he said.

"The previous campaign seemed to be targeted at those who already understood the importance of taking care of their health," he told reporters after launching the Kota Belud Hospital's haemodialysis unit here.

"We need to promote healthy living among the population so that they too would do their part in taking care of their body, and not merely depend on doctors to treat them when problems arise," he said.

Dr Chua said the new campaign would be more informative for the people, including details such as the food they need to take or avoid, the amount of exercise they had to undergo each week, how much rest the body needs as well as ways to handle stress.

"There are many people who take things for granted, thinking that all these things would come automatically and they need not be informed about it," he said.

Dr Chua said the government could not go on providing healthcare and treatment facilities without care for its prevention.

"That is why we need to promote healthy living among the people," he said.

Dr Chua also spoke of the need to install more dialysis machines in rural areas as compared to towns or cities.

"As we see it, in towns or cities there are many non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that are helpful enough and set up haemodialysis centres of their own. We seldom see this type of initiative in the rural areas," he said.

There are about 10,000 kidney patients in the country, of whom 40 per cent receive dialysis treatment in government hospitals, 35 per cent in centres set up by the NGOs and another 25 per cent from the private sector.

In his speech, Dr Chua said more haemodialysis units would be set up in governments hospital in the country.

"We plan to equip 45 government hospitals with haemodialysis centres by next year. Of these, 35 are already completed while the remaining 10 units would be ready by the middle of next year," he said.

The RM500,000 unit for the Kota Belud Hospital is equipped with four dialysis machines for use by 22 kidney patients in the district.
Mercy better able to help Darfur children now

PETALING JAYA: Efforts by Malaysia Medical Relief Society (Mercy Malaysia) to help the children of Darfur will proceed smoothly because of the tremendous support from Malaysians in the past six weeks.

“You (the public) together with The Star have helped us realise one of our biggest dreams and we are very grateful for the support,” said Mercy Malaysia president Dr Jemilah Mahmood.

“Sudan was one of the greatest humanitarian challenges for us because of the lack of basic infrastructure, but our task has been eased because we have almost reached the targeted amount of money,” she added.

Dr Jemilah will be heading a team to West Darfur, Sudan, on Nov 19. Their job will be to oversee Mercy Malaysia’s operations there such as the start of the school and nutritional feeding programme, and the continuation of specialist medical care.

An educationist and a psychologist from Mercy Malaysia were sent to Darfur late last month and, together with the Sudanese ministry of education, they have successfully trained teachers in the Kerinding Two camp for internally displaced people in El-Geneina.

About 400 five- and six-year-old children will begin school on Nov 26.

The feeding programme will also involve the children of the school. They will be given milk and special nutritional biscuits during their meals.

Dr Jemilah is a specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology and there is a paediatrician in the team that is leaving on Nov 19.

Chief operating officer Shareen Shariza said they would be based at the El-Geneina hospital and would handle cases that cannot be handled by the general practitioners in the camps.

Shareen added that the World Health Organisation had recognised Mercy Malaysia as the only non-governmental organisation in Darfur to offer specialist care.

Mercy Malaysia also stressed that there was a need for volunteers who are specialists in gynaecology, obstetrics and the administering of tropical medicine, as they expected to be in Darfur for at least a year.

Thank you for caring and giving so generously

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Sandakan hospital to be upgraded

SANDAKAN: The Health Ministry has identified several critical facilities for upgrading next year at the Duchess of Kent Hospital here to further improve its services.

Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek said the ministry had approved a plan to furnish the hospital with a CT scan unit at a cost of RM2.4mil and to build 48 units of staff quarters next year.

Dr Chua, who visited the hospital yesterday, said the ministry had also given the green light for the hospital to buy two haemodialysis machines.

He said four of the 12 projects listed in the Ninth Malaysia Plan to be implemented next year had also been approved.

Among the projects are the setting up of a daily treatment centre and an ear, nose and throat (ENT) and ophthalmology ward that will cost a total of RM100,000.

He said the hospital would also have a radiology specialist's room and a waiting area.

Dr Chua also called on the hospital staff to provide good service to those seeking treatment so as to complement the Government’s efforts in equipping the hospital with the latest facilities.

He said while his ministry spent about RM6.8bil a year, its revenue was only RM125mil.

“About 79% of the health cost is subsidised by the Government,” said Dr Chua, who will be visiting the Tawau and Kota Belud hospitals over the next two days.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Enough forensic pathologists in the country

There are enough forensic pathologists in the country, Deputy Health Minister Datuk Dr Abdul Latiff Ahmad said today.

He said there was one chief pathologist in every State, supported by other pathologists specialising in different medical disciplines.

"We are not suffering from any major shortage. In fact, we have enough pathologists nationwide," he said during a visit to the Balik Pulau Hospital here.

"The ministry is also training new pathologists to meet future demands."

Dr Abdul Latiff, however, could not provide the exact number of pathologists in the country.

He was asked to comment on a statement by Ipoh High Court judge Datuk V.T. Singham, who said there was an acute shortage of forensic pathologists at the Ipoh Hospital.

Singham said this after acquitting a 42-year-old mother accused of fatally strangling her five-year-old daughter. He did not even call for her defence because of the failure of the prosecution to provide any evidence, direct or circumstantial, linking the mother to the crime.

In his judgment, Singham had said future murder investigations in the State would suffer if the hospital did not address the shortage.

He had said there was no forensic pathologist available to conduct a post-mortem on the dead child, Winnie Chew, in December last year. The child’s body had to be stored in a freezer for 24 hours while waiting for a pathologist from Alor Star Hospital to arrive.

As a result, the time of death could not be ascertained.

Dr Abdul Latiff said the case was an "isolated" one.

"We have to understand that pathologists are human beings too," he said. "There are occasions when they need to go on leave or attend conferences.

"But I can assure you during those times, we do have people on standby. Whatever it is, we have ample pathologists to serve the whole nation."

Earlier, he presented more than 40 hampers to patients at the hospital.

Dr Abdul Latiff also said he would consider proposals to upgrade the Balik Pulau Hospital as and when the need arose.

"At present, I am satisfied with the hospital’s performance," he added.
Private Hospitals Say Their Blood Costly To Cover Test Expenses

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 5 (Bernama) -- Private hospitals charge up to RM200 per bag for blood to cover the costs of testing the blood for diseases, the Association of Private Hospitals of Malaysia said.

"The RM100 to RM200 includes the costs of tests that need to be done to ensure that donated blood is safe from diseases such as HIV, venereal disease and Hepatitis A, B and C," it said in a statement faxed to Bernama Friday.

"The consequence of giving blood which may carry the diseases is obvious. Hence, for the protection of the public, it is necessary," the statement said.

The association was responding to newspaper reports quoting Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek as saying that some private hospitals charged between RM100 and RM200 for a bag of blood which they had bought for only RM20 from government hospitals.

The association also said that blood stocks purchased from public sector healthcare institutions other than the National Blood Bank were priced at RM80 per bag.

Meanwhile, Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations (Fomca) president N. Marimuthu said it was unfair for private hospitals to charge such a high price.

"Most of blood (stocks) are donated by caring Malaysians and it is totally unacceptable if private hospitals are selling the blood to patients at an exorbitant price," he told Bernama.

"The public donated the blood free of charge and NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and the ministry are helping to carry out blood donation campaigns. It is a shame if private hospitals are doing this," he added.

Some private hospitals overcharging for blood

KUALA LUMPUR: Patients at some private hospitals are paying up to 10 times more for blood supplied from government blood banks.

Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek said that certain private hospitals were charging up between RM100 and RM200 per unit of blood, which costs them only RM20.

“We hope private hospitals who are getting blood from government hospitals should not become profiteers and we understand this is happening even though we are charging the minimum to private hospitals. The Government and ministry consider it a humanitarian service and necessity.

He said the RM20 was to cover storage and testing charges at the 112 government run bloodbanks in the country.

“When private hospitals require blood, we give it to them. There is no profit orientation. But some hospitals charge highly after they get it from us,” he told reporters yesterday after launching the Tunku Abdul Rahman College blood donation campaign.

He said, however, that such incidents were not rampant.

To a question, he said : “We cannot take action because there is no law. It is a free market.”

Dr Chua also said blood supply were sufficient for the coming holiday period but urged the public to continue donating as plasma (a blood component) could only last five days.

He said Malaysia was ranked among the top countries in the region in terms of voluntary blood donation and had surpassed the World Health Organisation requirement that 40% of donors should be voluntary.

“Some 98% of blood donors in Malaysia are volunteers.” During the press conference, he said that the ministry would investigate the case of a body which was stored in a freezer for 24 hours at the Ipoh Hospital while waiting for a forensic pathologist to arrive from Alor Star last December.

He also said that there was no shortage of forensic pathologists but clinical pathologists were insufficient with only 90 of the 150 vacancies in the government service filled.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Pregnancy test included in free NS health screening

PETALING JAYA: Pregnancy tests will be part of the free health screening for youths selected for national service (NS) from now on.

“To prevent untoward incidents, such as miscarriage, we offer deferment of training to pregnant trainees and will send them home right away,” said NS Training Department deputy director-general Omar Abdul Rahman.

Married female trainees are, therefore, advised to take the pregnancy test ahead of the three-month NS training as previously, some pregnant female trainees had unknowingly enrolled themselves, he said.

“Some pregnant trainees became unwell in the camps or some used pregnancy as an excuse to stay away from certain activities.”

All NS trainees are required to go through the health screening at appointed public hospitals before reporting for training.

Those certified with health complications will be exempted from the programme or have their training deferred to a later date depending on the seriousness of their illnesses.

Omar said trainees due to undergo NS training in December should receive the list of government and military hospitals for the free health screening next week.

Notices to inform trainees about which camps they were assigned to, locations of the pick-up points and preparation instructions for NS training would be sent out by Friday, he said.

“The notices will include advice on the dos and don’ts at NS training camps, a list of things to bring and prohibited items at camps.

“For trainees scheduled to begin training in December, they can call up the NS Training Department from late next week onwards if they have yet to receive the notices, “ he said.

The second year of NS programme will see 85,000 youths born in 1987 undergo training in three batches.

The first batch of about 28,000 will begin training from Dec 13, the second from March 14, and the third from July 10.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Plan for private wings in hospitals scrapped

The plan to build private wings in public hospitals has been scrapped, due to the high cost and space constraints, said Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek.

Instead, he is banking on the recently-approved locum scheme to keep government doctors from leaving for private practice.

Allowing full-fee patients, another recent decision, will also help the Government keep its healthcare bill down, he said.

When he first announced the plan in May, Dr Chua had said private wings would have separate facilities from public hospitals.

"The (alternatives) are suitable, and easier to implement than the private wing concept," he said in an interview with the New Straits Times.

Dr Chua said that these moves are addressed at reducing the ministry's operating budget which has risen more than four times from RM1.6 billion in 1990 to RM6.8 billion this year.

Full-fee patients would be charged according to the scheduled rates of the Malaysian Medical Association, he said. Some minor changes are expected to be made to the schedule, as the Government's motive was to complement, and not compete with, private sector services.

Dr Chua said he expected more people would seek treatment at government hospitals, in light of rising private health care costs.

Meanwhile, doctors would be allowed to take 20 hours of locum, or substitute, work a month, standing in for doctors who were off or on leave.

Locum work, currently allowed for emergency units, will also be allowed at outpatient departments. The current rate is RM30 an hour, the same as in private practice.

Four sub-committees, headed by Health secretary-general Datuk Ismail Adam have four months to draw up clear guidelines and a fee structure for doctors taking locum work.

Aside from hours and payments to both doctors and support staff, issues such as monitoring mechanisms were still outstanding. Close monitoring was necessary to ensure treatment was based on clinical factors, not fees, and there was no abuse of the system, he said.

Dr Chua said eventually patients would end up using both private and government hospitals, especially when the Government outsourced more treatment like radiotherapy, nurses' training and laboratory work.

"We even allow private doctors to come and work in government hospitals with payment of RM40 per hour for doctors and RM100 to RM120 for specialists," he added.
Endon To Help Cancer Patients Through Penyayang

PUTRAJAYA, Nov 1 (Bernama) -- Datin Seri Endon Mahmood, wife of the prime minister, has agreed to be included in a cancer support group called "Penyayang Pesakit Kanser" (PPK) that was formed to provide much-needed moral and counselling support for cancer patients.

She said it had always been her aspiration to be part of an effective cancer support group.

"As a cancer patient myself, I fully understand the importance of the support group for patients and family members alike," she said here when handing over a van donated to PPK, a sector under Penyayang, of which she is the patron and chairman.

The RM91,000 Mitsubishi Delica van, donated by the DRB-Hicom Group, will be used to ferry cancer patients from the half-way house to the cancer treatment centre in Nilai, Negeri Sembilan.

Endon said counselling was very important for a cancer patient, especially during the post-operation/treatment period.

On the formation of PPK, she said Hospital Putrajaya director Dr Naginder Singh had agreed to serve as its chairman. PPK's task is to man and support the activities of the cancer support group.

Endon said Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) would also be part of the PPK when two of its academic staff, Dr Mazanah Muhamad and Dr Othman Omar, agreed to participate as consultants.

"With the inclusion of UPM as a partner, I am sure there will be meaningful programmes (undertaken by PPK)," she said.

Endon also said that the PPK would bring over to Malaysia in early December a physiotherapist whose services she had used for her breast cancer in Los Angeles.

"She (the physiotherapist) and her husband will be an asset to our support group (PPK)," she said.

Later, at a press conference, Endon said the physiotherapist would be in Malaysia for two years to share her expertise and knowledge with PPK in handling cancer patients.

80% cancer diagnosed at a late stage

PUTRAJAYA: Eighty per cent of cancer cases in Malaysia were diagnosed only at the advanced stage due to lack of awareness, Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek said.

He said the patients had sought treatment from unprofessional medical practitioners such as bomoh and sinseh (traditional Chinese medical practitioners) during the initial stages of cancer.

“Forty thousand cancer cases were reported last year, which is a serious issue, and about 80% of them were diagnosed at a late stage.

“Most of the patients also feel too embarrassed to go to the hospital and would rather seek traditional treatment,” he said.

Dr Chua said the number of cases was rising due to factors such as family history, ageing, food and polluted environment.

“Among the common cancers are breast, cervix, uterus, tongue and nasopharyngeal cancers,” he said at the Putrajaya Hospital after witnessing the handing over of a van by DRB-Hicom Bhd to Penyayang Pesakit Kanser yesterday.

DRB-Hicom donated a Mitsubishi Delica van costing RM91,000 for Penyayang to ferry patients from the Putrajaya Hospital halfway house – a place for patients and family members to stay during treatment – to the Nilai Cancer Centre.

Present were Penyayang chairman Datin Seri Endon Mahmood and DRB-Hicom group chairman Tan Sri Saleh Sulong.

Dr Chua said creating public awareness about the disease would help to prevent the increasing number of cases.

“Educating the public is an important step to help prevent late-stage diagnosis and moral support from family members and non-governmental organisations is also important for the patients.

“Studies done in the United States have shown that cancer patients who receive counselling and moral support from family members have a higher survival rate,” he said.

Under the Ninth Malaysia Plan, Dr Chua said, the ministry would place a Positron Emission Tomography Computer Tomography scanner at the Putrajaya and Penang Hospitals to emphasise hygienic treatment.

He said the scanner, which uses the latest technology in functional and anatomical study to detect cancer, would be placed at the Penang Hospital by January and at the Putrajaya Hospital by August.
Arrogant medical staff top complaints against ministry

KUALA LUMPUR: Arrogant and unfriendly medical staff and nurses are the main complaints against the Health Ministry.

Health Ministry secretary-general Datuk Ismail Adam said that according to the Public Complaints Bureau Annual Report 2003, the ministry had received 135 complaints sent via letters and telephone, the fifth highest among all ministries.

“Some of the complaints involved the ineffectiveness and arrogance of certain medical staff and nurses, harsh treatment and the unfriendly attitude towards patients, long waiting time and delay in arrival of doctors who are “on-call” in rural clinics,” he added.

He was speaking to reporters after officially launching the ministry’s Quality Day at the Public Health Department yesterday on behalf of Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek.

Ismail, who presented 26 awards and certificates to public clinics and hospitals nationwide in conjunction with the event, said the ranking was unsatisfactory and that the ministry would continuously upgrade communication skills among its healthcare staff to serve patients better.

“We need to treat our patients better to make them feel comfortable. Patients who come in for treatment need to be treated well so they will feel more at ease,” he added.

Ismail said the ministry conducted training programmes and meetings on a weekly and monthly basis to constantly remind their staff on the importance of good communication.

“We also place importance on certification and accreditation, which means that our hospitals and clinics must be well-managed with proper procedures in place,” he said.

However, Ismail said, patients must understand that the government’s facilities might not be able to meet their needs at times.

“We treat all patients, foreigners and locals and our facilities are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Sometimes, demand exceeds our capabilities,” he added.