Thursday, November 30, 2006

Working for 34 hours

NST: MY sister has just completed her degree in medicine overseas and should be returning to serve as a house officer in any hospital in Malaysia.
To my surprise, her seniors in university, who are currently serving house officers and medical officers in Malaysia, are discouraging her and her classmates from returning to practise in Malaysia.
Their main reasons are that house officers are often shouted at and humiliated in front of others, including patients and fellow colleagues.
There are also the long working hours.

On days that a house officer or medical officer is "on call", he/she is subjected to the following working hours:
• Monday: 7.30am to 5pm (normal working hours);
• (On call) 5pm to 7.30am the following day;
• Tuesday: 7.30am to 5pm (normal working hours).
This means that a house officer/medical officer who goes to work on Monday starts his/her work at 7.30am and it only ends at 5pm the following day.

This means that he has to work 34 hours before he or she can go home.
The fact that such working hours have long been practised is not a justification and not a valid excuse.
The Health Ministry needs to make changes to improve the working environment of doctors in hospitals in Malaysia.
The current practice and working environment are clearly discouraging doctors from returning to Malaysia to work. In the long term, this will cause a brain drain in the medical profession.

G.K. Petaling Jaya

MMA: Doctors lucky to get housemanship

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: The year- long housemanship can be a steep learning curve. Exhaustion and long hours are par for the course.
But new doctors should look on it as a time to gain valuable experience.
Malaysian Medical Association president Datuk Dr Teoh Siang Chin said: "The first year of a doctor’s life can be very difficult, but it is their vocation and they should think positively.
"They are lucky to get such hands-on experience."
Dr Teoh was asked to comment on a Letter to the Editor published in the New Straits Times yesterday, which said that medical students studying overseas were being discouraged by their seniors to return to practise in Malaysia.
Long hours, and being shouted at and humiliated in front of others were two of the reasons given.
The letter said that housemen have to work their normal shift from 7.30am to 5pm, be on call from 5pm to 7.30am and then continue with another normal shift until 5pm.
When the long hours, up to 34 or more at a stretch when a houseman is on call, were brought up in the past the Health Ministry blamed it on the shortage of doctors.
Health Ministry parliamentary secretary Datuk Lee Kah Choon said on call duties are part of a doctor’s responsibility, "but with the increase in the number of doctors joining the service, we hope the situation will get better in the future".
But several medical officers who went through a "nightmarish" year as housemen said the long hours probably "did more harm than good".
But a doctor, who did his housemanship in Malacca Hospital six years ago, disagreed saying he had to work seven days a week, including public holidays.
"If we wanted a day off, we had to apply for annual leave. It was terrible.
"I didn’t have a life outside the hospital. It got so bad, there was a time when out of sheer exhaustion I couldn’t perform CPR properly to resuscitate a patient.
"He was the third patient to collapse that night, and I was already spent from a lack of sleep and hard work.
"I think making doctors work so long probably does more harm than good," he said.
He confirmed that housemen were treated badly by the medical officers, who referred to them as "the scum of the earth".
Another doctor, who did her housemanship in Kuantan Hospital last year, said the hands-on experience was the best way to learn, but the working hours could be a little easier.
"We don’t mind working for 24 hours while on call and then doing the morning rounds. But at least they should let us off by midday so we can rest," she said.
This was echoed by another doctor, based in Hospital Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, who said housemen were very often too tired to concentrate by the end of their long shifts.
"They can’t think properly, and this sometimes leads to wrong medical decisions as their judgment is affected."

Mechanical heart girl Tee making progress

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: Tee Hui Yi, who was implanted with a mechanical heart two months ago, is progressing well.
A statement from the National Heart Institute (IJN) said the 13-year-old girl was transferred to the general ward on Nov 21 where she would undergo further rehabilitation. Prior to that, she was recuperating in the intensive care unit (ICU).
She would also be trained to self-manage her mechanical heart.
Tee, who is from Batu Pahat, is the country’s second mechanical heart assist recipient after Mohamed Fikri Nor Azmi, 16, received it last July.
Tee was taken off the ventilator on Nov 8 — a week after making her first post-surgery public appearance at a meeting with the media.
Throughout her stay in the ICU, she underwent daily cardio-pulmonary rehabilitation routine exercises. Two days after being taken off the ventilator, she started taking semi- solid food and on Nov 12, she started on a normal diet.
In celebration of her progress, the ICU staff treated her to her favourite food — fried chicken.
On Monday, she was taken to Lake Titiwangsa for morning exercises as part of the out-of-hospital programme.
Tee was diagnosed with end-stage heart failure when she was two years old after suffering from a viral infection. Since then, she became a regular patient at the Batu Pahat Hospital and the IJN.
Her condition deteriorated further and she was placed on the heart transplant list in May this year.
She has not been to school for two years.
On Sept 13, she was re-admitted to the IJN. While undergoing treatment, she developed a potential fatal heart rhythm.
It was a After this, that IJN decided to implant Tee with the mechanical heart.

Production of Baike Wan herbal supplement stopped

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: Production of the herbal supplement Baike Wan has stopped and products bearing this name found on the shelves are dangerous imitations that should be avoided.
According to Shen Loon She Enterprise Sdn Bhd, the Penang-based registered licence holder of Baike Wan, the product was banned by the Health Ministry early last year .
Shen Loon She business development director Andy Lee said fake Baike Wan products contained harmful substances.
“There are three manufacturers in the country making the fake product that comes in different types of packaging, with the capsule shells imported from China.
“Our customers told us that they can buy the the imitation product for as low as RM28 from medical halls compared with the original price of RM43,” he said yesterday.
Lee said the original Baike Wan product contained herbal ingredients that could relieve muscle and joint pains. Because of the imitations, the company has renamed its product Edoly Capsules.
On whether fake Edoly Capsules could be produced, Lee said it would be difficult because all products registered with the Drug Control Authority were required to bear a hologram or Meditag.
Lee said his company had lodged reports with the police and the Health Ministry over the imitation products.
Health Ministry director-general Tan Sri Dr Mohd Ismail Merican said the ministry had received complaints from a foreign regulatory agency that Baike Wan from Malaysia contained scheduled poisons such as chlorpheniramine, piroxicam and frusemide.
“Chlorpheniramine is used to treat sinuses, piroxicam is a painkiller and frusemide can cause a drop in blood pressure,” he said in a press statement recently.
“These drugs are not allowed in traditional medicines as they can cause side effects if used without a doctor’s supervision.”
Dr Ismail reminded those with stock to stop sales immediately as it was an offence under the Control of Drugs and Cosmetics Regulations 1984, and carries a maximum fine of RM25,000, three years’ jail or both.

Tighter control on medicines

Star: PUTRAJAYA: Anyone caught with unregistered medicines and health supplement products in future may face tougher penalties under amendments to a key legislation.
Health Ministry’s pharmaceutical services division director Datuk Che Mohd Zin Che Awang said these products would include traditional medicine and over-the-counter items.
“This is because all traditional medicine and over-the-counter items must now be registered by the Drug Control Authority. Any product, even traditional medicine, which is unregistered, is illegal.
“Previously, we had to prove that anyone caught with the illegal products had the intention to sell them before we could charge the individual with a more serious offence under the Control of Drugs and Cosmetics Regulations 1984,” he said.
“But now, under the proposed amendments, we can charge them with possession – regardless of whether the items are for sale or not, and it will carry a heavier penalty.”
Anyone convicted can face a fine of up to RM35,000 for the first offence and RM50,000 for the subsequent offence or a five-year jail term.
For companies, the fine can go up to between RM50,000 and RM100,000.
The introduction of Meditag holograms for all registered medicines and health supplement products last year had made it easier for enforcement officers to identify and confiscate illegal products, he said.
For the first 10 months of this year, 22,000 items without the Meditag holograms were seized.
“We should see a drop in these illegal products by the end of the year, he said.
The ministry is drafting amendments to the Poisons Act to provide stiffer punishment for clinics that illegally “divert” certain types of psychotropic drugs such as buprenorphine (used for drug substitution therapy), midazolam (used to treat insomnia) and pseudoepherine tablets (precursors contained in cold remedies)
At present, the penalty is a RM5,000 fine.
The Poisons Act covers both products and raw materials containing scheduled or controlled substances.
Che Mohd Zin said if a substance was an unregistered item, clinic owners found selling it could be jailed up to three years or fined up to RM25,000 or both for the first offence under the Control of Drugs and Cosmetics Regulations 1984.

Botox Safe In Hands Of Specialists, Says Deputy Minister

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 29 (Bernama) -- Botox, the anti-ageing agent banned by the National Fatwa Council, is safe for consumer use if administered by specialists.
Deputy Health Minister Datuk Dr Abd. Latif Ahmad said consumers however should be wary of the side effects of the botox injections.
"However, the botox injections are not available at any hospital or clinic under the Ministry of Health," he said when winding up the debate on the Supply Bill 2007 in the Dewan Rakyat here.
Botox or Botulinum Toxin Type A is used to reduce facial wrinkles.
Abd Latif disclosed that the Medical Devices Act and the Cosmetics Act were at the final stages of drafting before being presented to the Attorney-General and the Cabinet for approval.
He also said that the rise in breast cancer cases could be due to the lifestyle of modern women who chose not to breastfeed their babies.
In this respect, the government had allocated RM500 million under the Ninth Malaysia Plan (9MP) to build a cancer institute next to the Putrajaya Hospital for cancer research, he added.
On the use of silicon for cosmetic purposes, he said the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) of the United States had determined that silicon implants were safe if handled by specialists.
"Government hospitals have conducted 50 plastic surgeries for reconstructive purposes but no cosmetic surgery has ever been done," he said.
The Deputy Minister said it was difficult to trace cases of cosmetic surgeries involving silicon implants as there had been no reports from consumers.
"Normally, those who have gone for silicon implants are shy to come forward especially when they have been scarred physically," he said.
Abd Latif said that other than the Kuala Lumpur Hospital (HKL), there were seven other hospitals in the Klang Valley serving about three million people.
They are the Ampang Hospital, Sungai Buloh Hospital, Serdang Hospital, Selayang Hospital, Tengku Ampuan Rahimah Hospital, Kajang Hospital and Putrajaya Hospital.
He dismissed claims that the ministry had discriminated other races when recruiting nurses for government hospitals as it was done by the Public Service Commission (PSC).

Chinese Medical Practitioners Can Work In Government Hospitals

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 29 (Bernama) -- Chinese physicians who meet the Health Ministry's requirements can serve in three government hospitals following the government's decision to recognise traditional medication including acupuncture starting next year.
Former Professional Acupuncture Academy president and Tiong Hua Medical Practitioners Association Malaysia president Yong Kian Fui said Wednesday the ministry had sought his assistance to prepare a list of names of qualified physicians.
"The government plans to set up a division of Chinese, Malay and Indian traditional medical practitioners at the Putrajaya Hospital, Kepala Batas Hospital and Sultan Ismail Hospital in Johor next year," he told Bernama.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek, during a visit to China two weeks ago, said that the ministry planned to use traditional medicine to complement healthcare in the three hospitals.
Meanwhile, secretary of the Federation of Chinese Physicians and Acupuncture Association of Malaysia Ng Po Kok said several guidelines had been drawn up for the service.
"They must have a pass in Bahasa Melayu at SPM level and certificate in the relevant field," he said.
On salaries, he said a meeting would be held on the matter.
There are about 10,000 traditional medical practitioners in the country.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Tougher penalties on errant clinics

Star: PUTRAJAYA: Tougher penalties are in store for clinics that illegally sell certain types of psychotropic drugs.
The Health Ministry is currently drafting amendments to the Poisons Act to provide stiffer punishment.
“The draft is in the final stage,” said the ministry’s pharmaceutical services division director Datuk Che Mohd Zin Che Awang.
At present, the penalty is a RM5,000 fine.
Psychotropic substances affect mental activity and behaviour and are used in drug substitution therapy (DST), a treatment many private clinics provide.
The Act covers substances that are not required to be registered under the Drug Control Authority.
Che Mohd Zin said if a substance was a registered item, clinic owners found selling it could be jailed up to three years or fined up to RM25,000 or both for the first offence, under the Control of Drugs and Cosmetics Regulations.
“For a subsequent offence, the penalty is a RM50,000 fine or five years' jail, or both,” he said.
“If the item is not one that requires registration, the clinics can be charged under the Poisons Act.”
Che Mohd Zin said, last year, the ministry inspected 87 private medical clinics that supplied psychotropic tablets.
At least 31 clinics had not followed treatment protocol in supplying the tablets, he said.
Che Mohd Zin added that his department closely monitored and analysed any trend of abuse, especially of buprenorphine and midazolam (used to treat insomnia) and pseudoepherine tablets (precursors contained in cold remedies).
Three pharmacies and two private clinics were investigated for a high volume purchase of pseudoepherine tablets, he told The Star, when commenting on the findings in the department’s annual report for last year.
The annual report stated that 74 products were recalled from the market last year. Three, which were traditional medicine, were issued orders for product recalls within 24 hours.
Seventy-one other products, comprising 12 prescription drugs, three non-prescription drugs and 56 traditional medicines, were to be recalled within 30 days, the report said.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Drastic measures to stop spread of disease

NST: PUTRAJAYA: Pre-schools and kindergartens in Sarawak which failed to maintain cleanliness will not be allowed to resume operations when school reopens next year.
Operators have to abide by the guidelines issued by the Health Ministry to prevent an outbreak of the hand, foot and mouth disease. Sarawak has been the hardest hit by HFMD.
This year, it recorded 14,410 cases after an epidemic broke out in January.
Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak warned operators to toe the line, adding that checks on kindergartens in the state would be carried out before the start of the new academic session.
He said the tough measures were necessary as the number of cases continued to rise.
"There will be enforcement to ensure that pre-schools and kindergartens follow the guidelines. This covers all private and public facilities, including those run by the ministries of Rural and Regional Development, Education, and Women, Family and Community Development," Najib said after chairing a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Health and Cleanliness yesterday.
The guidelines cover the cleanliness of bathrooms, kitchens, toys, play areas and the handling of children affected by the disease.
Children are the most susceptible to HFMD, which spreads through the mucus and faeces of infected persons.
The symptoms are a fever, a rash, ulcers in the mouth and sores or blisters on the palms and feet.
The committee also discussed the sudden spike in the number of dengue cases, from the average of 400 a week to 800 last week.
Najib said Kuala Lumpur and Selangor had been identified as the most critical areas due to idle construction projects, rubbish problems and clogged drains.
In view of Visit Malaysia Year next year, the Cabinet wanted more effort into sprucing up the Klang Valley and keeping it disease-free. One measure will involve the free distribution of Abate larvicide through public clinics and healthcare facilities.

Study on healing plants of Sarawak

Star: KUCHING: Compounds from certain plants in Sarawak have been found to contain anti-HIV agents and properties that could be used to treat leukaemia, said state Second Minister for Planning and Resource Management Datuk Awang Tengah Ali Hasan.
He said the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre was also screening plant extracts for anti-cancer compounds.
“The centre is working with the Cancer Research Initiative Foundation to screen plant compounds that might be used in photodynamic therapy for cancer,” he said in reply to points raised by members during the debate on the 2007 state budget at the Sarawak State Assembly here yesterday. Awang Tengah said the centre had documented 1,985 plant samples used by the various indigenous communities for medicinal purposes and food. Of the collection, 180 species have been identified.
“It has been undertaking various research projects with domestic and foreign institutions and parties to develop our biological resources for pharmaceutical and nutraceutical use,” he said.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

New drug treatment to stop abuse

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: The drug substitution therapy (DST) administered by private doctors will soon adopt a new medication to curb abuse by drug addicts.
Some drug addicts have been found to abuse the treatment by mixing the prescription of buprenorphine with tranquillisers to get “high”.
A new drug combination of buprenorphine/ naloxone in a single tablet will give the drug addicts an undesired effect instead – similar to the “cold turkey” effect – when mixed with tranquillisers or benzodiazepines such as valium.
Federation of Private Medical Practitioners’ Association of Malaysia (FPMPAM) president Dr Steven Chow said that the introduction of the drug in Malaysia was one of the efforts taken to prevent abuse of the treatment.
It has been discovered that patients are injecting a cocktail of prescribed medications to get high.
“Doctor hopping” is a ruse used by some addicts who pose as patients while visiting several clinics to obtain the prescribed medication and channel them into the black market.
Dr Chow said such abuse had led Singapore to reclassify buprenorphine as a Class A controlled drug, placing it in the same category as other illicit agents regulated under its penal code and making it virtually unavailable for community-based treatment by family practitioners.
“We do not want to come to this situation and end up preventing drug addicts from obtaining therapy,” he said at the federation’s National Drug Substitution Treatment workshop yesterday.
The new drug combination will replace buprenorphine.
There are at present 350 general practitioners and family doctors treating 10,000 addicts on buprenorphine since the federation launched its “Doctors Who Care” programme in 2001.
A total of 1,500 addicts is on methadone treatment under the Government’s DST programme.
Those addicted to opiates such as heroin, morphine and opium are treated with buprenorphine and methadone to manage a severe withdrawal effect from drug use.
Yesterday, Health Ministry director-general Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican launched the National DST Guidelines and DST Registry in collaboration with FPMPAM, which aimed at improving the quality of the DST programmes and tightening regulatory control of the medications prescribed.
The DST Registry, which is a real-time web-based data system, is to keep a record of prescribing doctors and their patients to detect and curb the abuse of the treatment.
Dr Ismail said that doctors who wanted to participate in the DST (using the new drug) would now have to register themselves at the registry to be vetted by the ministry.
“Although abuse among doctors is not a serious problem, we will be selective because we don’t want any errant doctors.
“When they register we can detect those who have been abusing the medication and we will remove them from the programme.
“We hope that by February the online list of doctors who can participate in the programme will be ready,” he added.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Ministry to tackle suicide among children, teens

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: Bullying and exam pressure are known factors which have driven children and teens to suicide. So prevention programmes will be targeted at these age groups.
Children and teenagers do not make up the bulk of suicides at present, but the Health Ministry does not want to wait for the numbers to rise before introducing prevention programmes for both children and parents.
Family Health Development director Datuk Dr Narimah Awin said the Health Ministry is bringing in a foreign consultant early next year to help identify the types of programmes needed.
"I feel upset when I read in newspapers about a girl committing suicide because she did not get 10 As or she failed an exam. Here we see one factor, unreasonable expectations of academic performance," she said.
Dr Narimah said she wants a specific programme that will help parents of children who are at risk deal more effectively with their children’s problems.
Speaking at the launch of a seminar to mark the Federal Territory’s observance of World Mental Health Day at Hospital Kuala Lumpur (HKL) yesterday, she said a module on the prevention of mental illness in children and adolescents has been developed, and another for women will be drawn up soon.
She said the World Health Organisation is paying special attention to the rising number of child and teen suicides around the world, which is why the ministry is taking a serious view.
Bullying in school is a second factor that can lead children to think of suicide, said Dr Narimah.
"We see these trends ... the tragedy is if we as adults do nothing. To me that is irresponsible," she said.
HKL child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr Toh Chin Lee said suicide prevention programmes should take into account the education system as a whole.
"We have to relook at how we emphasise achievements. If we emphasise achievements that are going to make our children confident beings, then that is the best education system we can have," he said.
Attempted suicide, he added, must be taken seriously.
"Suicide attempts are very important. It is an early warning for us, rather than waiting for the newspapers to report that they have taken their own lives. Then it’s too late."
The Burden of Disease and Injury Study reported that in 2000, there were 1,539 suicides, of which 1,098 were men. Dr Narimah said that a pilot study conducted at three hospitals showed that between December and May, 47 people had committed suicide — 22 cases in Hospital Kuala Lumpur, 24 in Hospital Sultanah Aminah in Johor Baru and one in Hospital Tengku Ampuan Afzan in Kuantan.
The study was the first phase of the National Suicide Registry aimed at gauging the suicide rate in the country.
It will be expanded to major hospitals next year, before going down to district hospitals.
"Many suicides go unreported, but we estimate that there are 14 or 15 for every 100,000 people," said Dr Narimah.
One of the reasons information on the number of suicides in Malaysia is sketchy is because deaths are reported both to the police and the hospital. Other countries require a doctor to certify all deaths.

A shot in the arm for nurses

Star: MIRI: Sweeping improvements are in the pipeline for the nursing profession following the Health Ministry's decision to create a separate entity to manage the welfare of the country's 63,000 nurses.
Malaysia's first director of Nursing, Bibi Florina Abdullah, has outlined a blueprint aimed at drastically enhancing the professional prospects of nurses and at the same time cutting down dissatisfaction and grouses from patients and the public.

She said that among the plans already approved by the Health Minister and now being implemented were:
·THE enforcement of a 7S system; senyum (smile), salam (greet), segera (instant attendance to patient), sensitif (sensitive to needs of patients and their families), sopan (politeness), sentuh (personal touch) and segar (fresh appearance and always ready to serve);
·THE enforcement of a mentor-mentee system where a senior nurse will guide every new nurse on a one to one basis;
·THE upgrading of 58,000 nurses who are diploma holders to degree level in stages; and
·LIMITING very rural postings to two years and giving those posted to very remote areas greater chance of attending professional courses and training stints.

Bibi Florina, who was officially appointed to her post on Nov 1, was here for the National Nursing Matron's Technical Meeting that ended yesterday.
About 70 matrons, senior nurses and hospital directors throughout the country attended the four-day event.
Bibi Florina, who is also Principal Matron of the Ministry of Health's Nursing Board, said nursing used to be under the jurisdiction of the Medical Practice Division.
“The ministry's move to create a separate division for nurses is the Government's recognition of their contribution to the country,” she said.
“Our division reports directly to the Health Ministry director-general and we have the right to chart our plans for the future,” she said.
Bibi Florina said they would also advise the ministry on future nursing policies.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Go easy on those herbal remedies

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: Pregnant women should treat traditional medicine with caution.
This is the message that two doctors want to send out in the wake of the increasing interest in herbs and traditional medical practices.
Obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Patrick Chia and his colleague Dr S. Raman said some herbs could harm the foetus and mother.
"Herbs should be regarded as drugs and drugs have side-effects," he told reporters at the launch of a medical book Is My Pregnancy Normal?
He said few studies stated that traditional medicines were safe for pregnant women.
Some types of ginseng like pau sum could be harmful if taken in excess while a certain type of ginseng placed under the mother’s tongue could lead to excessive bleeding during delivery.
Kacip Fatimah and air selusuh could cause the uterus to contract, leading to the foetus defecating in the womb.
"Let’s look at this as a scientific issue, not fiction. Don’t simply take this herb and that herb if you do not know what the effects are," his colleague Dr Raman said, adding that many herbs could be poisonous.
Under the chapter on "Traditions and Traditional Medicines", they say that traditional practices such as melenggang perut, a common practice among Malays where the stomach is massaged to correct the baby’s position, could cause the placenta to separate prematurely.
The doctors’ best advice to pregnant mothers is to take folic acid and multi-vitamins three months before pregnancy.
This is to reduce the chances of the foetus developing brain and spinal cord problems for example, spina bifida, and these are the only fetal problems that can be prevented.
Their colleague, Dr Yap Moy Juan, said various complications could arise as women were increasingly becoming pregnant at a later age.
While more than 90 per cent of women sail through childbirth, the trend could change as people’s lifestyles change.
At 35, the age many women today start families, they only have a 15 per cent chance of becoming pregnant as their most fertile age is between 22 and 24.

Women’s health fair planned for Dec 8-10

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: A major health and lifestyle convention focusing on sexual health, ageing and other related topics for women and their families will be held here early next month.
The third International Women Wellness & Lifestyle 2006 (I-WWL '06), to be held at the Putra World Trade Centre from Dec 8 to 10, will address more than 20 health topics.
“I-WWL '06 will focus on raising awareness about key health issues as well as stressing on the importance of incorporating simple preventive and positive health behaviours into everyday life,” said organising committee chairman Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar.
During the symposia, leading doctors will be sharing their knowledge on health, ageing and aesthetic issues for women.
Several hospitals and groups will be offering free and discounted health-screening tests, including Hepatitis B screening and vaccination, cervical cancer vaccination, thin-prep Pap-smear tests, glucose blood tests and 3D ultrasound screening.
More than 100 exhibitors involved in the health, beauty and lifestyle industry will be showcasing products and services at the event.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Go For Technologically-Driven Medical Care, Says Jamaludin

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 23 (Bernama) -- Industry players must acquire the necessary technologies in order to provide technologically-driven medical care that is comparable or better than other countries in this region, Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Datuk Dr Jamaludin Mohd Jarjis said.
"We need to identify ways to create new knowledge and expand this knowledge so as to enable us to innovate and create future cutting-edge technologies," he said.
Jamaludin said this at the launch of Vascular Interventional Radiology (VIR) Suite and magnetic resonance imaging scanner at the Gleneagles Intan Medical Centre here Thursday.
The VIR Suite allows the advancement of patient care through the innovative integration of clinical and image-based diagnosis.
The scanner will be able to perform whole body studies, allow whole body imaging for clinical and screening applications and provide patients a safer option than other radiation-based scanning methods.
Jamaludin said the government, which aimed to turn Malaysia into a regional and international medical care hub, also hoped to step up the promotion of the country as a medical tourism destination due to the high-grade medical infrastructure.
"This pose a tremendous opportunity for Malaysia's medical community and institutions.
"Industry players need to speed up the entire process, perhaps place the right catalysts for bringing about changes and new products which in turn will portray the country as an inventive and innovative one," he said.
He said this image would attract other like-minded medical fraternity to seriously regard Malaysia as strong player.
"It is only when we are acknowledged in this field, investments in the medical sector will come in, and then we would seriously be able to perhaps churn new medical technologies for the betterment of the citizens of the world," he said.

New Avenue For ED Sufferers To Seek Help

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 23 (Bernama) -- Those in doubt about their erectile function no longer need to suffer in silence.
Now there is a means for them to evaluate the quality of their erection and the available remedy, thanks to a new patient-derived scale that can be found at the Malaysian Erectile Dysfunction Advisory Council and Training (Medact) website.
Urologist Dr Peter Ng, a member of Medact, said the website launched recently, came enclosed with the Quality of Erection Questionnaire (QEQ) that can help evaluate the level of a man's sexual health.
The QEQ provides six questions with the answers graded from 0-100 depending on the hardness, onset and the duration of erection.
It is also designed to asses changes in erection quality with successful treatment of erectile dysfunction (ED) and with the help of Pfizer Malaysia, the interactive experience at the site has been enhanced.
Dr Ng said many with ED chose to remain silent about their condition due to social stigma, besides being shy to speak about problems concerning their manhood.
He said the website would be helpful as the number of ED sufferers in the country was comparatively high and a study conducted in Penang last July attested to this fact.
"Those concerned are often inclined to seek the help of traditional healers and unqualified roadside medicine peddlars who often recommend remedies made from herbs and wild animals.
"What they don't know is that these remedies are not guaranteed safe and instead could endanger their health," he added.
He advised those in doubt of the erectile function to consult a physician on their condition and the remedies available.

Firm recalls some lots of eye care solutions

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: Ophthalmic surgical and eye care products company Advanced Medical Optics, Inc (AMO) voluntarily recalled yesterday specific lots of its Complete brand multipurpose eye care solutions in Malaysia.
The products are being recalled because of production-line problems at its manufacturing plant in China, which could affect the sterility of the product, the company said in a press statement.
The products affected are Complete Protec Multi-purpose solution - Value Pack (2 x 350ml & 60ml) packaged lot number ZB02607 with bottled lot numbers ZB02558 and ZB01866, package ZB03215 with bottles ZB03214 and ZB01866, package ZB03542 with bottles ZB03541 and ZB01866, package ZB03543 with bottles ZB03541 and ZB03468, package ZB03578 with bottles ZB03577 and ZB03468.
Also affected are Complete Moisture Plus 60ml packaged lot number ZB03094 with bottled lot number ZB03093, package ZB03195 with bottle ZB03194, Complete Protec Multi-purpose solution 120ml package ZB03123 with bottle ZB03123 and Complete Moisture Plus Starter Kit 60ml package ZB03316 with bottle ZB03093 and package ZB03710 with bottle ZB03194, said the statement.
The lot numbers are printed on the outside of the product packaging and on individual bottles.
Large bottles (350ml) of the most popular product Complete MoisturePLUS are not part of the recall.
The company will take all necessary measures to remedy this production-line issues, said AMO Vice-President, Eye Care, Asia Pacific, Anthony Chung.
The recall follows tests on their products sold in Japan which showed that certain production lots were not sterile.
Retailers and consumers who have the recalled products should stop using them immediately and call 03-77106311 or email for instructions.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Propriety red yeast rice may promote lower cholesterol levels

Star: PETALING JAYA: Research has shown that eating roast duck may actually promote lower cholesterol levels.
However, initial studies by Universiti Malaya (UM) have found that it is not the duck itself that possesses the attributes, but rather the reddish powder called propriety red yeast rice (PRYR) that is used in the seasoning of the duck.
The food condiment has been reported to be effective in reducing Hyperlipidemia (high blood cholesterol), diabetes and other heart ailments.
PRYR, also known as Xuezhikang, is also used in tonic preparations and enhancing food textures in Asian dishes.
However, despite its medical potentials, PRYR has not received global recognition for its efficacies.
Bearing this in mind, UM and Wearnes Biotech and Medicals have collaborated in conducting a clinical study on PRYR’s potential in lowering blood sugar and cholesterol in the diabetic population.
“There are more than 100,000 hospitalisations for heart related ailments each year, while at least 18% of Malaysians are diabetic.
“Diabetic patients are at greater risk of mortality from heart diseases,” said UM Faculty of Medicine deputy dean (research) Prof Dr. Rosmawati Mohamed.
She said that preliminary studies by other researchers have shown favourable results of PRYR in lowering the blood sugar level and also cholesterol.
“We aim to evaluate its beneficial effects on a total of 120 diabetic patients who will be divided into two groups.
“The course of the study will take about a year,” she said, during a conference at a hotel here, which saw the announcement of the collaboration.
Another speaker at the conference, consultant cardiologist Dr. David Quek, said it is worrying that many heart patients are not comfortable with modern medicine, as they fear having side effects as a result.
He said PRYR was an ideal alternative as it is a natural extract, but was quick to point out that it depended on the circumstances.
“It is ideal for those with moderate hyperlipidemia, patients who don’t wish to use synthetic medicine and others who show side effects of statin (high cholesterol drugs) usage,” he said.
Quek, who is also editor-in-chief of the Malaysian Medical Association News, said Asian culture is such that it was more comfortable with traditional medicine.
“Malaysians spend RM5.6bil per annum on traditional medicine, supplements and other natural products, which is three times more than they spend on modern medicine,” he said.

Healthier food on the menu for Malaysia

Star: PUTRAJAYA: Healthier food is on the menu when the Health Ministry introduces a healthy logo for locally manufactured food.
In line with the Healthy Lifestyle campaign, Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek said the logo would be given to products that adhered to the permitted level of sugar, salt and fat set by the ministry.
Ministry’s Food Safety and Quality Division director Dr Abd Rahim Mohamad and the food manufacturing industry are now discussing what the permitted level should be.
Dr Chua said the permitted level would be implemented in six to eight months time and local food manufacturers, including operators of fast food outlets, have agreed to apply for the logo from the ministry.
“They are agreeable because they know they have nothing to lose,” he said adding that consumers have a choice by choosing food carrying the logo.
Dr Chua earlier chaired a meeting with 30 local food manufacturers and multinational companies including Nestle, F&N, Dumex, Dutch Lady, McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken.
He said information on nutrition currently printed on products did not give an accurate level of sugar, salt and fat content.
He said the committee would ensure the taste would not be compromised with lesser use of the three substances.
He said amendments to the food regulation would also be made to allow manufacturers to use words such as “Suitable for Diabetics” on their labels.
Diabetic cases have been increasing, from 6% of Malaysians diagnosed 10 years ago to the present 10%.
By 2020, 12% of the population would be diabetic if nothing is done to remedy the situation.
Dr Chua said Malaysians consumed 125gm of sugar per day when the ideal intake should be only 50gm.
The next phase of the “eat less sugar, salt and fat campaign” would move to hawker food and those sold at school canteens.

Move to curb therapy abuse

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: An Internet-based monitoring system has been set up to give up-to-date information on doctors and other practitioners who provide drug substitution therapy (DST).
The web-based national DST registry will also give information on some 10,000 patients undergoing the therapy in outpatient clinics in the country.
The Federation of Private Medical Practitioners Associations Malaysia, which set up the database, said it would be launched later this month.
FPMPAM president Dr Steven Chow said doctors would able to access the registry for their patients.
It was designed to complement the patient registry system currently used in the government methadone programme and would also provide a platform for clinical research of addiction medicine in Malaysia, he said in a statement. Dr Chow, who is also the pro tem chairman of the Addiction Medicine Association of Malaysia, said they were working with the Health Ministry to develop guidelines for ethical and responsible addiction treatment.
Quoting figures from the National Anti-Drug Agency, he said that from January to June this year, about 63% of 13,058 addicts were using heroin, morphine and opium.
He said DST was an accepted treatment for drug addiction, where those addicted to opiates, such as heroin, morphine and opium, were treated with methadone or buprenorphine as part of their rehabilitation process to avoid severe withdrawal effects from drug use.
“We are aware that some patients have been engaging in ‘doctor hopping’ or have been injecting a cocktail of prescription medications to get ‘high’.
“By implementing this registry, we can track the progress of patients and ensure that they are not receiving prescriptions beyond the limit stipulated by their doctors.
“This centralised system should curb these medications from being channelled into the black market while ensuring that patients strictly comply with their treatment,” said Dr Chow.
“Doctor hopping” is a routine used by some addicts posing as patients where they visit a number of clinics to obtain prescription medication.
The FPMPAM, founded in 1989, is the national medical body that supports doctors in private practice to provide high quality healthcare through continuing medical education, ethics advocacy and public outreach programmes.
It offers confidential community-based addiction treatment through its nationwide “Doctors Who Care” programme where individuals who wish to recover from opiate addiction can receive treatment from more than 300 trained family physicians.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Many Malaysian sailors have HIV

Star: KOTA KINABALU: Malaysian seafarers will be a focus of health training as a substantial number of them are among the identified HIV carriers in the country.
Deputy Transport Minister Datuk Douglas Uggah Embas said it was important to focus on this maritime group by providing health and security training to avoid the spread of HIV in the country.
“We cannot deny that the maritime workforce are among carriers of such diseases,” he said at the national-level World Maritime Day 2006 gathering here.
He said the health security training on how to avoid the spread of HIV and AIDS would be given specific focus in line with the International Maritime Organisation objectives.
“Malaysia will look seriously and take appropriate steps to control HIV and AIDS among our maritime workforce,” he said on Saturday.
However, Embas did not disclose the percentage of Malaysian seafarers from the total number of HIV carriers in the country.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Is the fear of litigation holding back doctors?

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: Almost RM10 million has been paid out for cases of medical negligence in the country over the last two years.
These large amounts, and fears of losing credibility, have to some extent instilled a "fear of litigation" among doctors.
This has forced some doctors to resort to ordering unnecessary investigations, leading to delays in treatment, or even opting for a less risky procedure which may not be the best option.
All this because of the fear of medical negligence suits, which according to Malaysian Medical Protection Society adviser, Datuk Dr N.K.S. Tharmaseelan, are on the rise.
"Fear of litigation may lead a doctor to practise defensive medicine, and this can be harmful to patients," he said.
For example, in obstetrics practice, the rise in Caesarean section has been blamed on defensive medicine.
In 2004, the Malaysian MPS paid out RM4.5 million in legal fees and damages, while the amount increased to RM5 million last year. There were about 60 claims for 2004 and 2005 respectively.
The number of claims over the last two years has increased almost three-fold from that in the 1990s, where there were only six to 20 claims per year.
The highest amount paid for medical negligence from 1986 to 1998 was RM521,317 in 1995, while the lowest during the same period was RM16,000 in 1996.
Defensive medicine is also expensive since doctors will tend to carry out more investigations to cover themselves.
It can also be demoralising in that it can damage a doctor-patient relationship.
According to lawyer P.S. Ranjan, among the highest settlements for a medical malpractice case was RM2.4 million in Ipoh, while the lowest was RM3,000.
"There are several major cases still pending in courts, involving amounts totalling seven figures," he said.
These cases, he said, involved severe disabilities which require years of care (medical and nursing), those who were young and earning high incomes, and babies who suffered brain damage during delivery.
He said the law as it is now is in favour of the doctors.
"However, this seems to be changing in Malaysia, compared to Singapore, where there have been some favour- able judgments for doctors."
Ranjan said in Malaysia, most cases were still settled out of court, while others are withdrawn after the families are given satisfactory answers.
"In Britain, only about 17 per cent of medical negligence cases succeed, compared to Australia, which has about a 50 per cent success rate.
"It is impossible to say how many cases of medical negligence there have been. This is because many cases do not result in claims, and many are unreported," said Dr Tharmaseelan.

Dr Ravindran Jegasothy, chairman of the Malaysian Medical Association Ethics Society, said the situation here was not as bad as in other countries like the United States.
"We do know that such cases have been on the rise lately. However, those that actually reach court are merely the tip of the iceberg, as many are usually settled out of court."
However, Dr Ravindran feels the publicity on medical negligence cases augurs well for both doctors and patients.
"Doctors are now well aware of patients’ rights and take the trouble to fully explain the medical procedure before any decision is made.
"Previously, when a patient is in labour, consent is taken by a midwife. This is somewhat like a blank cheque for the doctor to perform any procedure should things go wrong during delivery.
"Nowadays, the patient is given a detailed explanation before she is asked to sign the consent form."
Dr Ravindran said cases of medical malpractice have also encouraged doctors to keep well-documented records.
"In my opinion, such cases have actually helped develop the doctor-patient relationship and have helped society move away from the notion that the doctor knows best.
"These days, the patient and doctor must know their rights and responsibilities towards each other, and this has worked well for both parties."
In cases of medical negligence, the patient who is alleging the negligence usually initiates a civil suit or litigation against the doctor.
The patient has to prove that the medical slip-up he has suffered is due to the doctor’s negligence.
"To prove negligence, he has to prove, first, that the doctor has a duty of care; second that the doctor has breached his duty of care; and third, the loss or injury resulted directly from the doctor’s breach of duty (causation).
"Whether the doctor’s standard of care has been reasonable is determined generally by what is regarded as ‘The Bolam Test’.
"This test is whether his standard of care is supported by a respectable body of medical opinion, even though there may be differing views about the treatment."

Hello, am I the father?

NST: PETALING JAYA: It was just 20 cases in 2004, 51 last year and in the first nine months of this year, there were already 46 cases.
But since the New Sunday Times highlighted the Chemistry Department’s paternity testing service on Oct 8, it has been getting one call a day on average.
"We have even had a call from a Penang state assemblyman," said Primulapathi Jaya, who is the head of the department’s DNA/Serology section.
"The assemblyman said he had been getting a lot of enquiries from people in his constituency and was calling on their behalf."
Most of the calls were from men who are worried that they could be raising another man’s child.
But, there have also been a few calls from women who want to sue for child support.
Primulapathi says it normally takes about three to four weeks for DNA samples to reach the department after enquiries are made.
The samples are sent to either the department’s DNA lab in Petaling Jaya or to its branch in Kuching for analysis.
The DNA Paternity Test has an accuracy rate of 99.9999 per cent.
The department charges a fee of RM1,500 for the analysis of two DNA samples and RM200 for each additional sample.
Confidentiality is guaranteed.
For further information, please refer to or call the Chemistry Department’s Serology/DNA Laboratory at 03-79853842.

Viagra not working? It may be a counterfeit

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: Wonder why the Viagra or Cialis is not working? It may just be that it is not the real thing.
The Health Ministry has found that more than half of the counterfeit drugs seized were sold as sex stimulants or Viagra. Fake drugs with a face value of RM16 million were seized over the past 10 months.
Ministry Pharmaceutical Services Division principal assistant director Ahmad Nozrin Taharin said they were mainly sold through direct sales.
He said there was also evidence that Malaysians were "exporting" fake drugs.
Regular use of substandard and counterfeit drugs could lead to drug resistance, and in some cases, death, he warned.
There is little research in the country to indicate the extent of the local counterfeit drug market.
The only survey done was in 1997 on cough and cold medication which revealed that five per cent of such medicines in the market were counterfeits.
The bulk of what the pharmaceutical division has confiscated was traditional medicines adulterated with chemicals like sildenafil citrate and tadalafil which are used to make drugs such as Viagra and Cialis.
Many of these medicines also contained steroids.
The penalty for selling counterfeit drugs is a fine of RM25,000 for individuals or three years’ jail, or both. For companies, the fine is RM50,000. "This is peanuts compared to what they earn selling counterfeit drugs," said Ahmad.
He said counterfeiting drugs was an underworld activity and hard to investigate.
"It’s difficult to gauge the extent of the problem. Drug counterfeiting is becoming more sophisticated."
Ahmad said most of the latest counterfeit products looked similar to the original.
Those who have information on counterfeit products can contact the Pharmaceutical Services Division at 03-79682246.
Pfizer Malaysia corporate affairs director Narinder Kaur said in Asia, there were counterfeit drugs of Aricept, Celebrex, Diflucan, Feldene, Lipitor, Norvasc, Ponstan, Zoloft and Viagra.

Women more prone to stress

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: More women than men have mental breakdowns due to stress, according to mental health experts.
A psychiatric consultant here, Prof Dr Mohamad Hussain Habil said 60% of his patients who suffer from depression and anxiety resulting from work and life stresses were women.
“Few companies have nurseries and the women have to go elsewhere to send their babies. Sometimes they get to work late and their bosses are not understanding,” he said.
Dr Mohamad Hussain sees over 100 patients a week for various mental health problems, about 10% of whom have stress problems.
He added that when these women approach their husbands for help, the men would say their mothers never told their fathers to take care of the children, wash clothes or cook.
Those with maids or living with their in-laws had different challenges, he said.
“By the time they come to see me, some are suicidal and can't sleep at night,” he added.
“Companies have to take note of women employees’ needs. Good nurseries are still lacking in both the public and private sector,” he noted.
“The cost and benefit of an organisation supporting these structures outweighs the loss from stress. Companies, too, do not want to lose good workers,” he said.
He said work stress among his patients could be traced to interpersonal relationships problems, inability to cope with technological changes, safety and noise levels and poor time management. If unresolved, it could affect productivity or cause accidents.
Hospital Permai director Dr Benjamin Chan said that the degree of vulnerability towards stress depended on a person’s make-up and how they had learned to cope with stress.
“Women in our culture tend to go into depression and seek psychiatric help, while men tend to turn to substance or physical abuse,” he said.
Around15% to 20% of the hospital’s outpatient psychiatric cases were related to depression and anxiety resulting from stress,” said another psychiatrist from the hospital, Dr Chin Loi Fei.
Recently, National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (Niosh) chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye called for the introduction of guidelines on promoting mental healthcare in workplaces in view of the competitive and stressful work environment and increasing suicide attempts among workers.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Lifestyle link to breast cancer

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: One in 16 Chinese and Indian women and one in 28 Malay women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.
But why do more Chinese than Malays develop the disease?
Professor Dr Yip Cheng Har puts it down to the Chinese having fewer children at a later age and breast-feeding them for shorter periods.
The Universiti Malaya Faculty of Medicine lecturer said a generally higher socio-economic status, diet and genetics also played a role.
The incidence among the Chinese is the highest with 59.7 per 100,000, followed by the Indians at 55.8 per 100,000. The Malays have the lowest incidence at 33.9 per 100,000.
"We do not know what it is in the Chinese diet that makes their women more prone to breast cancer.
"Dietary studies are usually based on recall or population studies (in different geographical areas) and so are very difficult to verify."
Dr Yip said research had shown that a diet rich in animal fats and low in vegetables could lead to breast cancer but these studies were inconclusive.
"Socio-economic status is related to lifestyle — richer women have richer food and are less likely to have children young. They also have fewer children."
She said the Breast Cancer Research Initiatives Foundation (Carif) was carrying out an in-depth study on the role of genetics in the disease.
She said there was also a possibility of under-reporting in Malay women because they were more likely to seek alternative therapy.
Of the 3,738 cases of breast cancer in 2003, about 50 per cent of patients were aged below 50, with prevalence among those between 40 and 49.
But the incidence of breast cancer in Malaysia is much lower compared with developed countries, including the US and European countries. For example, the Malaysian rate is half that of the US.
Dr Yip said the lower incidence in Malaysia and other countries in Asia and Africa could be due to the differing risk factors associated with lifestyle, reproductive factors and diet.
"Breast cancer is a cancer of the affluent countries and the incidence rate increases with industrialisation and economic development," she added.
The mean age of onset in Malaysia and other developing countries is lower than that in developed countries, where the mean age is 60.
This could be due to the population age structure where much of the population in developing countries was young, with the median age of Malaysians being 24 years.
Dr Yip said Malay women generally had Stage Three and Four breast cancer while this was the case with only 15 per cent of the Chinese and 20 per cent of the Indians.
She said this differed from developed countries where people were generally more aware of the disease and came in for treatment early.
She said mammography as a population-based screening procedure for breast cancer was not a policy in Malaysia as its value was negligible given the limited resources.
Dr Yip said the Department of Family Health had formed a technical committee to look into a pilot mammography screening project for the purpose of assessing the feasibility of introducing mammography screening.
In 1993, the Health Ministry decided to set up breast clinics in all major hospitals, but their development had been stagnant due to a lack of resources.
Dr Yip’s message to women is this: Breast cancer can be cured if detected and treated early.

Putting sham food to shame

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: There is a slimming tea in the market that claims to be able to reduce weight. But it does not have a trace of tea in it.
Then, there is a groundnut-based product that claims to be cholesterol-free. But groundnut oil has never had cholesterol.
It goes further to warn consumers of elements in other brands of groundnut cooking oil that cause heart attacks.
There is also a cake-baking flour that claims to be free from fat when the fat in it exceeds the permissible level.
These are some of the spurious claims that are getting past the authorities who don’t know one way or the other about the truth of such claims.
But this is going to end as the Food Safety and Quality Division under the Health Ministry will check on such claims from next year. For a start, all imported food will be tested to verify claims on labels.
Currently, testing is done at random and only about 10 per cent of the more than 60,000 imported food items are tested.
Food Safety and Quality Division director Dr Abd Rahim Mohamad said the proposal to test all food entering Malaysia was awaiting government approval.
"We will most likely get approval next year and start testing immediately," he told reporters at a dialogue organised by the division.
He said manufacturers, and not importers, were at fault.
Dr Rahim said officers at entry points would work with Customs officers in carrying out such checks.

RM50m hospital to replace one in Alor Gajah

Star: MALACCA: A new hospital will be built at Paya Datok, Kelemak to replace the Alor Gajah Hospital in view of the increased population in the area.
The RM50mil hospital would have a 20-bed male and female ward, 10-bed maternity ward and paediatric ward, said state health director Dr Nooraini Baba.
It would also have an emergency and disaster-handling unit, laboratory, pharmacy, records unit, haemodialysis unit, X-ray room, operating theatre and a meeting room.
“The new hospital can provide better services, a more secure and healthy working environment and reduce the burden on Malacca Hospital especially the maternal and outpatient cases,” Dr Nooraini said.
Work on the hospital would commence on a 14.3ha land in 2008.
Dr Nooraini was at the launch of Alor Gajah Hospital's haemodialysis and dermatology unit in conjunction with the hospital's 100th anniversary.
She said 17 patients would take turns to use the four haemodialysis machines, each about RM45,000, at the hospital, adding that Malacca Hospital has 65 patients relying on 11 machines.
“The dermatology unit, equipped with teleconferencing, would enable doctors to send pictures of patients with skin disease to Kuala Lumpur Hospital for diagnosis and to communicate with the experts there,” she said.
Dr Nooraini also said a polyclinic would be built at Batu Berendam while the existing clinics at Merlimau, Tengkera and Kampung Gelam would be upgraded at a cost of RM50,000 each.
She said ideally, there should be a clinic servicing every four to five thousand citizens.

No clean bill of health

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: Some private doctors are registered based on the original regulations of the Private Healthcare Facilities and Services Act.
The requirements include having to produce original qualification certificates and two referees, said Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) president Datuk Dr Teoh Siang Chin.
Since the MMA had brought up their grouses on the regulations to the Health Ministry, the Government made some concessions. While an annual practising certificate is required, the professional qualification certificate is not necessary and referees are no longer needed.
“We are concerned that when the Act is enforced, officers would carry out their duties based on the original regulations and not on the latest agreement,” said Dr Teoh during the two-day Private Hospital Private Healthcare Institution Administration in Malaysia conference which ended yesterday.
“The Health Ministry had in the past trained doctors, health inspectors and paramedics on the legal aspects of implementation but these people were trained based on the published regulations,” he said.
“In this one year, we had to work out what the changes are. The different medical disciplines have to come together and present the views together,” Dr Teoh said.
Lawyer Darryl Goon said the regulations should be amended and made clear.
A coordinated effort between various private medical bodies was needed to examine the regulations in detail, he said.
Consultant surgeon Dr Robert Jalleh said doctors did not have a problem with the legislation but the regulations need further refinement.
He pointed out that the law did not define managed care organisations (MCOs) nor regulate it.
During the conference, Dr Teoh said considerations for those who want to do part-time practice without full facilities should be allowed for “cough and cold” cases.
“There is a retired doctor in Sabah who runs a RM5-for-the-poor service but she now wants to close down her clinic due to the difficulties she will have with the Act. This will deprive the public of low-cost medical care,” he said.

Govt Sounds Alert As Number Of Dengue Cases Rises

PENANG, Nov 17 (Bernama) -- The government has placed itself on alert after the number of dengue cases reported throughout the country last week breached the 800 mark, Parliamentary Secretary to the Health Ministry Datuk Lee Kah Choon said Friday.
He said the ministry has placed the North East District in Penang on alert after the most number of cases in a district were reported there. He did not disclose the number of cases.
The number of cases reported for the whole country the week before that was almost 800, when the safe level would be less than 600, he told reporters.
No deaths from dengue were reported last week in the whole country, he said after presenting prizes to pupils who excelled in the Ujian Penilaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) examination in his parliamentary constituency of Jelutong, here.
Lee said the ministry was awaiting results of laboratory tests to determine the actual number of dengue cases among the cases reported, adding that he hoped it would be small.
Meanwhile, he said, the people should take steps to ensure that their houses and other premises were kept clean and free of empty cans and unused tyres that could collect water and enable the Aedes mosquito, carrier of the dengue virus, to breed.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Malaysia adopts guidelines to manage alcohol and drug-related problems at work place

Star: KUANTAN: Malaysia has adopted international guidelines to manage alcohol and drug-related problems at the work place that employers should use in their organisations.
“The code of practice clearly explains the best method to prevent the abuse of drugs, alcohol and other hazardous substance.
“As such, managers at all levels must practise and use it as the main reference to address the issue that arise at the workplace,” said Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) deputy director-general Amir Yahya.
The department drew up the code based on international guidelines recognised by the United Nation Development Programme (UNDP), he told a seminar on the code of practice here on Thursday.
Pahang state OSHA director Abdul Kahar Hussain aslo spoke at the gathering. Amir said the code was designed to meet the needs and culture of workplaces in the country, with help from the Health Ministry, the National Anti-Drug Agency and the police.
On occupational safety and health, Amir quoted 2004 statistics from the Social Security Organisation (Socso) that showed that there were more than 50,000 industrial accidents from the more than 69,000 accidents that occurred at work places.
He said about 13.5% of the cases led to permanent disability, some of which were due to being involved in drugs or alcohol.
Speaking to reporters later, Amir said employers of 26 work places involved in a nationwide pilot project had been given advice and guidance on how to come up with an action plan to manage drugs, alcohol and substance abuse.
“The action plan will contain guidelines to all workers on the dos and don’ts in drugs, alcohol and substance at the workplace.
“We will guide them until they are able to stand on their own. There is no deadline given as they are free to adopt and adapt what is suitable at their workplaces,” he added.
“Although there is no legal binding, we strongly recommend that employers take the initiative to come up with their own version of codes of practise.

Dengue outbreak in Lahad Datu

Star: KOTA KINABALU: There is a dengue outbreak in Lahad Datu in the east coast and one of the two people known to have been infected, has died.
In announcing the outbreak, State Health Department director Datuk Dr Rahimah Mohd Said said that the two cases were reported over the last two weeks in the Taman Warisan area in the Lahad Datu district.
“The death was due to the patient seeking treatment at a late stage,” she said in a statement issued late Wednesday.
However, she said the situation was under control. Her department had set up an operations room and was carrying out fogging exercises and destroying aedes mosquito breeding spots. It was also carrying out public health education activities.
“Efforts are underway to control the situation in the affected area, we need cooperation from the public and community to avoid future dengue outbreaks in Lahad Datu,” she said.
The public was advised to take steps to destroy unused items that could hold water as these were breeding grounds for the aedes mosquito responsible for spreading dengue.
She urged the public to seek immediate treatment if they had symptoms of dengue, particularly high fever.
Dr Rahimh said that prior to the recent outbreak, there was a dengue case reported from Taman Warisan in February this year.

120 Non-performing Foreign Docs Sent Back, Dewan Rakyat Told

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 16 (Bernama) -- One hundred and twenty foreign doctors have been sent back home for poor work performance, Health Ministry parliamentary secretary Datuk Lee Kah Choon told the Dewan Rakyat Thursday.
Disciplinary problems like coming late for work and different expectations when posted to the interior areas were among the reasons, he said.
"These problems arose only after they had been paid," he said when replying to a supplementary question from Wong Nai Chee (BN-Kota Melaka).
Before foreign doctors were hired, they went through a stringent selection procedure such as interviews at the country of origin and after their arrival in Malaysia and worked under an experienced doctor, he said.
Replying to the original question from Datuk Dr Tan Kee Kwong (BN-Segambut), Lee said the ministry had taken several measures, including automatically re-appointing retired specialists and doctors to continue serving with the ministry in an effort to tide over the shortage of doctors.

Govt clinics not helping to curb unwanted pregnancies

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: The reluctance of government clinics to give contraceptives to unmarried adults is one of the reasons for the rising number of abandoned babies and abortions.
A Universiti Putra Malaysia lecturer said Malaysians could no longer hide behind Asian values as the number of sexually-active adults was increasing.
"If we don’t provide contraceptives (at government clinics), where are young people going to go? We cannot keep on saying we are Asians and have good morals. We have to get real or the poor and uneducated will suffer," said Assoc Prof Dr Mary Huang Soo-Lee of UPM’s Medical and Health Sciences Faculty.
Dr Huang said contraceptives should be made available to those who were sexually active, regardless of their marital status.
While the answer lies in policy changes, Dr Huang refrained from making recommendations.
"It took us many years to get real with harm reduction (a programme to control the spread of HIV among drug users) but we are there and I am glad.
"We used to say it is a moral question while the numbers are escalating," said Dr Huang, referring to the increasing number of people contracting HIV each year.
She said in Holland, for example, abortion had been legalised and sex education was introduced in schools. As a result, the country had the lowest number of unwanted pregnancies, people with HIV/AIDS and abortions.
While it is unclear just how many single people are sexually active and using contraceptives, a study by the National Population and Family Development Board in 2004 showed that the figures were appalling even among married women.
The findings, released earlier this year, show that slightly more than 50 per cent of married women used contraceptives to prevent unwanted pregnancies — lower than many countries in the region.
In Vietnam, 78 per cent of married women who do not want children use contraceptives. In Thailand, the figure is 71 per cent and in Indonesia it is 58 per cent.
The study, however, does not include sexually-active single women.
Malaysia’s statistics had remained constant in the past 20 years, said Dr Huang, who is the honorary general-secretary of the Federation of Family Planning Associations.
"Married women who do not want children still shy away from contraceptives, which leads to a further increase in the number of unwanted pregnancies and abortions.
"We are most concerned about the 12.5 per cent of women who say that their husbands object to contraceptives," she said.
Ignoring the use of contraceptives, even among married couples, has also led to an increase in HIV/AIDS cases.
The study by the National Population and Family Development Board also found that 26.8 per cent refused contraceptives because they were worried about the side-effects.
The biggest challenge, Dr Huang said, was the access to contraceptives for women.
"Accessibility and availability are two different things. Condoms, for example, are widely available at 7-Eleven stores but those who need it are probably not the ones buying it — either because they cannot afford it or they just don’t want to."
She said studies showed that women had to ask their husbands for permission to use contraceptives.
Educated women were able to negotiate better, she said, though the majority of those who needed contraceptives were the less educated and those in lower income groups, the study showed.
The study also found that 26 per cent of married Malay women who did not want children did not use contraceptives, while for Chinese women, it was 22.9 per cent and for Indian women, it was 26.6 per cent.
"Nearly one quarter of married women who are not interested in having children are not doing anything to stop themselves from becoming pregnant," said Dr Huang.
The study showed that older women stopped using contraceptives because they thought they were less fertile.

Beijing TCM Bodies Suggest Joint Projects With Malaysia

BEIJING, Nov 15 (Bernama) -- Two leading Beijing-based traditional medicine institutions are willing to have joint programmes with Malaysia which is planning to integrate western and traditional medicine in its national healthcare system.
"This is most welcome because it will jumpstart our efforts to have complementary traditional medicine in Malaysia and to have professional practitioners. We will definitely take this further," said Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek who is currently visiting China to find out more about the training and regulation of traditional medicine practitioners.
The two institutions are the Guanganmen Hospital which proposed a joint treatment clinic in Malaysia, and the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine which offered to have programmes with established universities in Malaysia to train teaching staff.
The minister visited the two institutions before proceeding to Shanghai where he would visit universities on Wednesday to assess the centres for Malaysians to take up traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).
Dr Chua said he was asked by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to look at facilities at the Guanganmen Hospital. Abdullah and the late Datin Seri Endon Mahmud visited the hospital a few years ago.
The hospital has been a leading TCM hospital for more than a decade. It has also been tasked by the World Health Organisation to draft clinical guidelines on the treatment of 27 common diseases using TCM.
Beijing University of Chinese Medicine president Zheng Shou Zeng said the university was interested in working with foreign universities to produce teachers who could then train local students.
Chua said Malaysia would enhance cooperation with China in TCM under a memorandum of understanding on health signed between the two countries when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was in Kuala Lumpur to attend a meeting with Asean member countries last year.
Malaysia plans to begin pilot projects to introduce Malay, Chinese and Indian traditional medicine as complementary healthcare at the Putrajaya Hospital, Kepala Batas Hospital and Sultan Ismail Hospital in Johor Baharu by the middle of next year.
Chua said for a start, acupuncture and reflexology would be made available at the Putrajaya and Kepala Batas hospitals while at the Sultan Ismail Hospital, traditional medicine would be used for oncology and health wellness programmes.

13.7 Per Cent Of M'sian Youths Suffer From Mental Problems

PETALING JAYA, Nov 15 (Bernama) -- About 13.7 per cent of Malaysian youths, especially students, suffer from mental problems that could lead to suicide, said Health Minister Datuk Seri Chua Soi Lek.
He said stress from study and heartbreaks were among the factors affecting their mental health that led to depression, anxiety and insomnia and that could also drive them to commit suicide.
"Most youths with mental health issues are influenced by life's events like a failed relationship or failing to meet their parents' academic achievement standards, prompting them to consider suicide."
The text of his speech was read by the ministry's Family Health Development director Datuk Dr Narimah Awin at the opening of a mental health seminar held in conjunction with the National World Health Day 2006, here Wednesday.
The seminar was attended by some 200 administrators from primary schools in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur.
Dr Chua said according to a study, there was an average of seven suicidal cases a day in the country, with the annual 2,000 deaths due to mental problems compared with one million cases a year worldwide.
He also revealed that 10 per cent of the Malaysian population suffered from mental disorders, and the percentage was expected to rise every year.
He said the deterioration in mental health of an individual was influenced by specific elements like self-respect, behaviour, the ability to react to the surroundings like socio-economy, social support and the physical conditions of a person's residence, he said.
To prevent students from becoming suicidal, teachers must encourage the students to take care of their mental health besides being able to detect the illness from the early stage, he added.
The seminar was also held in conjunction with the World Mental Health Day, held on Oct 10 every year with the objective of creating awareness on mental health apart from correcting the community's perception towards mental patients.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Chua seeks China skills

Star: BEIJING: Malaysia, which plans to use traditional medicine as complementary healthcare in three government hospitals next year, is seeking help from China to train and regulate Chinese medicine practitioners.
The Health Ministry wants to set clear international standards to ensure that only qualified practitioners can provide such services.
By the middle of next year, pilot projects will take off at the Putrajaya Hospital, the Kepala Batas Hospital and the Sultan Ismail Hospital in Johor Baru, when they start practising traditional medicine.
The service would start with acupuncture, massages and reflexology, general wellness and a programme to offset the side effects of chemotherapy for cancer patients.
Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek, now visiting China, said the practice of traditional medicine in China had become more scientific and clinical and no more based on hearsay.
They, however, depended on Western methods for diagnosis and in dealing with acute cases, he said here yesterday.
Dr Chua met Chinese counterpart Gao Qiang and visited the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine and the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences.
The minister visited several universities here, in Shanghai and Nanjing to scout for suitable training centres for Malaysian doctors to take up traditional Chinese medicine.
Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican and Higher Education Ministry officials accompanied him.
“We must make it clear that the use of traditional medicine is complementary.
“It is not an alternative medicine. Patients must be referred by doctors first,” said Dr Chua, adding that Malay, Chinese and Indian traditional medicine would be integrated into the national healthcare system.
The Traditional and Complementary Medicine Act is being drafted and will be tabled in Parliament next year.
Malaysia has some 10,000 traditional medicine practitioners with more than half involved in traditional Chinese medicine.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Dancing their way to health

Star: UNLESS informed, one would mistake the cancer awareness programme held on Saturday at 1 Utama's New Wing for a dance workshop.
People of all ages beamed as they danced freely at the event titled “Dancing Through the Ages,” organised by NCI Cancer Hospital, Soroptimist Inter-national Club of Damansara and the shopping centre.
Among the dancers were the hospital's staff who broke the common image of medical personnel to show that exercise is vital to health.
Deputy Finance Minister Datuk Dr Ng Yen Yen, who officiated at the event, said one should be healthy physically, and also mentally, socially and spiritually.
“It has to be holistic. Not only must your body be strong, but you should be able to handle stress,” she explained.
She advised attendees to adopt a balanced lifestyle, adding that “excesses” in today's lifestyle had caused health problems.
She said medical checkups must be conducted routinely, adding that Malaysia was recording 40,000 new cancer cases every year, 2,400 of which were breast cancer.
“The National Cancer Institute estimates that by the age of 50, one out of every 50 women will develop breast cancer,” she added.
“You must know your family's medical history and mustn't ignore the signals from your body and, most importantly, do checkups and screenings routinely,” she said, adding that women must do pap smears and mammogram tests, while men should beware of prostate cancer.
“The government is aware that the main deterrent against breast cancer screening is the relatively high cost. Therefore, under the Budget, the government will provide a RM50 subsidy for every mammogram done in private clinics and hospitals registered with the National Population and Family Development Board from next year onwards,” she added.
NCI Cancer Hospital medical director Dr G. Selvaratnam said one third of commonly occurring cancers could be prevented with a healthy lifestyle.
He added that early detection could improve chances of survival by 80%.
The event continued until about 5pm with a series of dancing sessions brought forward by several dance organisations. Dr Selvaratnam also gave an hour-long talk on breast cancer awareness later in the evening.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Masterskill's RM400m nursing campus

TheEdgeDaily Masterskill (M) Sdn Bhd, which operates Southeast Asia's largest private nursing and health college, will build a RM400 million campus in the country to realise its ambition of growing the homegrown brand into a niche player on the global stage.
Its chief executive officer Edmund Santhara said the company has identified a 32ha piece of land in Cyberjaya as a possible site for the proposed University College of Health Sciences Malaysia (UniHealth), which will be developed over three phases beginning next year.
"No final decision (on the site) has been made yet because we are also considering offers of land from Perak and Sabah for the project. The first phase will cost RM250 million and is scheduled for completion in 2009.
"When fully completed, UniHealth can accommodate 15,000 students. We hope to get university college status soon. By 2010, we would like to approach the government to privatise its training centres to us," he told a group of Malaysian journalists at a briefing in Bali on Nov 11.
Edmund said Masterskill also is eyeing a listing on the Main Board of Bursa Malaysia by September 2008 and is establishing a string of partnerships with big international names over the next two years.
"A reputable foreign company is keen to invest some RM100 million in Masterskill. They see us as an international vehicle that will provide synergy to their business," he said.
Masterskill is 95% owned by Alloy Media Sdn Bhd, a company controlled by the family of MTD Capital Bhd executive chairman Datuk Dr Nik Hussain Abdul Rahman with the balance 5% by Edmund.
Masterskill started with just 61 students in 2001 but the Masterskill College of Nursing and Health in Cheras, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, now has a student population of 4,720.
Masterskill chairman Datuk Dr Mohd Yahya Nordin is just as bullish about the company's prospects, saying it is well-positioned to tap into the global market, which suffers from a perennial shortage of nurses.
"There is already a platform for us to make Malaysia a centre of excellence for higher education. It's time to tap into the Middle East market," said Yahya, who joined Masterskill early this year after retiring as Higher Education Ministry secretary-general.
He was referring to the Memorandum of Understanding on higher education signed between Saudi Arabia and Malaysia this year.
Masterskill, one of four nursing colleges accorded full accreditation by the government, would be taking in its first batch of 250 foreign students next year, including from Bangladesh and India, Yahya said.
Edmund said it has also identified a partner to operate a campus in the Middle East, adding that the move to go global would see the foreign component of sales contributing to 5% of group revenue in the next three years.
"By 2010, there is a possibility of external operations contributing more than the local business because we will be charging in US dollars (for foreign operations)," he said.
Masterskill expects to launch a 4+0 pharmacy, nursing and physiotherapy programme in affiliation with La Trobe University by February next year, making the college the Australian university's first such partner outside Australia. It is also looking into franchising its own programmes in Bangladesh and Indonesia.
On the company's performance, he said Masterskill's profits had increased. He said Masterskill generated a revenue of RM18 million in 2005 but made an after-tax profit of only RM1 million because it had to settle a lot of accumulated debts.
For 2006, it has forecast an after-tax profit of about RM14 million on the back of RM45 million in revenue, while the projections for 2007 are RM110 million in revenue and between RM25 million and RM28 million in after-tax profit.
"We have not declared any dividends yet, and the profits have been reinvested to grow the business. The whole idea is to grow until it gets listed," he said.

Ban kiddie packs now, says group

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: Every day, 50 children pick up the smoking habit.
And what is even more alarming is that more than 30,000 children have started smoking in the last two years — a worrying trend blamed on the delay in banning the sale of cigarettes in packs of fewer than 20 sticks.
Urging Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to impose the ban immediately, Malaysian Women’s Action for Tobacco Control and Health (MyWatch) president Datuk Hatijah Ayob said it was the only way to prevent cigarettes from further harming children’s health.
"Do not wait until 2010 to implement the ban as it is causing potential harm to children," she said.
The Health Ministry had earlier decided to ban the sale of small packs with fewer than 20 sticks in conjunction with this year’s World No Tobacco Day. The ban should have come into force from July 1.
But it did not happen. There are now proposals to amend Part III 9(1) of the Control of Tobacco Product Regulations 2004 to postpone the ban to 2010. At present, packs with fewer than 14 sticks are banned.
Health Ministry parliamentary secretary Datuk Lee Kah Choon said it was the government’s decision to postpone the ban to 2010.
The postponement is to give the 14,000 tobacco farmers in Kelantan and Terengganu time to switch to other crops.
Hatijah, who submitted MyWatch’s findings to the Health Ministry and Prime Minister’s Department early last week, told the New Straits Times that any delay in the ban would only lead to an increase in smoking among children and escalate the cost of treating smoking-related diseases in the future.
"The welfare of the 14,000 tobacco farmers and the livelihood of 150,000 people involved in the tobacco industry are often cited as a reason to postpone tobacco control measures. However, the well-being and health of the nation’s children should also not be sacrificed."
In the report by MyWatch, it was disclosed that older (16 to 17 years) urban-based schoolchildren, who are financially better off, smoked 10 to 15 cigarettes a day compared with younger (13 to 15 years) children who smoked five to 10 daily.
Semi-rural children from both age groups smoked less — between two and four a day. The bulk of young smokers, for both age groups and sex, light up two to five a day.
A survey by Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, in 2003, also found that children picked up the habit from as early as 10 years.
Hatijah said postponement of the ban would not help protect children from tobacco as students had easy access to small packs which were affordable and easy to carry.
Surveys have shown that about 96,000 retail outlets throughout the country sell cigarettes. The surveys also show that cigarettes are accessible to youngsters because 58 per cent can buy their own cigarettes.
"We fail to see how postponing the ban on ‘kiddie packs’ to 2010 is going to protect children from smoking," said Hatijah who is hoping Abdullah will take a personal interest.
"After all, it was the Prime Minister himself who launched the first phase of the RM100 million Tak Nak anti-smoking media campaign in February 2004."
The government also ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) last year, which obligates parties to protect present and future generations from the health and economic consequences of tobacco consumption.
In Malaysia, the toll from smoking is a major cause of concern. More than 10,000 die every year due to cardiovascular diseases, cancer and respiratory complications due to smoking, about one death an hour.
The health costs for just three diseases — ischaemic heart disease, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — came to about RM3 billion in 2004, 0.1 to 1.1 per cent of gross domestic product.
MyWatch also urged Abdullah to set up and head an executive National Tobacco Control Co-ordination Board.
"The board could draw up a national tobacco control policy providing strategies to curb smoking, especially among children, step up efforts to assist young smokers to quit and monitor the activities of the tobacco industry in accordance with the provisions of the FCTC," said Hatijah.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Chua: Irresponsible actions hurting pork industry

NST: JOHOR BARU: The irresponsible actions of some pig farmers in Selangor and Malacca in using a banned growth enhancer has hurt the country’s pork industry, as consumers now fear eating pork.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek, however, said pork produced by farms in Johor, Perak and Penang have been found to be free of beta-agonist.
Since the ban on beta-agonist in 1996, pork butchers had become the scapegoat for the action of errant farmers who used the drug, which is listed under the Poisons Schedule.
It was reported that at least 20 pork butchers nationwide had been fined RM2,000 for selling pork tested positive for beta-agonist over the last two years. No farmer, however, has faced legal action.
In May, the Consumers Association of Penang advised consumers to refrain from eating pork as half of the samples tested in Penang showed they were tainted with salbutamol, a type of beta-agonist.
MCA traditional agriculture bureau chief Datuk Dr Lee Chong Meng had reported that 70 per cent of the pigs bred in Selangor tested positive for the banned drug.
Beta-agonist is used to speed up the growth of pigs, and enhance its lean meat content.
Consumers who eat pork tainted with the substance could suffer from headaches, dizziness, breathing difficulties and palpitations. The substance may be fatal for those with asthma or heart disease.

Come back and your spouse can work

NST: PUTRAJAYA: Foreign spouses of Malaysian experts are now permitted to work as part of the steps to boost the number of professionals in the country.
The Cabinet decided on Wednesday that this ruling applies to both husbands and wives who are professionals or experts in their respective fields.
Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri Dr Fong Chan Onn said the ruling applies to non-citizen spouses of those who return under the Expert Returnee Programme or those who come back on their own and are waiting for permanent resident status.
At present, non-citizens and those waiting for their PR are not allowed to work.
"The Cabinet felt that foreign spouses of Malaysians should be allowed to contribute and be gainfully employed, especially those with expertise not found in Malaysia or in areas where they can contribute very significantly."
Fong said he was aware of many medical specialists who had returned from Britain and the United States with their non-citizen spouses who are also doctors, many of them specialising in certain fields of medicine.
"While the Malaysian spouse works, the wife or the husband has to stay at home and is denied the opportunity to serve in the hospitals."
Fong added the Cabinet felt that this was a waste of expertise which could benefit Malaysians.
The Immigration Department has been told to look into speeding up the process to enable the foreign spouses to be employed.
When the Expert Returnee Programme was introduced in 2001, the government expected several thousand Malaysians abroad to return home and serve the country.
Until today, only 465 applications were received and approved, and only 311 had returned.
Among them were 149 doctors, 114 information technology experts and the rest were accountants, finance experts, industrialists and those in the field of science and technology.
The majority of those who returned were from Britain, the US, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Fong hoped the Cabinet’s decision would encourage more Malaysian experts to return home with their spouse and children.
"The foreign spouse will not need a work permit and even if there is a need for one, it would be approved without any problem whatsoever," he said.
The spouse and children can also get their PR status within six months and the children can study in international schools.
Other incentives include the bringing in of two vehicles without import tax. If those returning are from countries such as the United States and China, where left-hand-drive vehicles are used, they would be allowed to buy right-hand-drive vehicles from third countries and bring them in with no import tax.
They are also given the choice of buying two locally-assembled cars with no import duty and excise tax.
On top of that, they are also allowed to bring in two years’ earnings tax free.
On why many Malaysians abroad were reluctant to come back and serve, Fong said this was because only medical and financial experts could find jobs which offered the same pay as they got overseas.
He said experts in these fields could easily get between RM30,000 and RM40,000 a month which would allow them to live in the same way as they did in London or Hong Kong.
As for professors or lecturers, he said, the salaries offered at the local universities were much lower than those offered overseas.
"The salaries offered do not meet the international standards and so, it is very difficult to attract them."
Fong said that private sector bodies which offered salaries and remuneration on par with international standards had no problems getting Malaysians from overseas to join them.
As for returning scientists, Fong said, the government through the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry was looking into a variety of schemes such as the availability of research grants.
"It’s important for us to get our scientists back.
"There are many Malaysian scientists working in Singapore, Hong Kong and London and we want them to return, especially those working in the areas of biotechnology, stem cell research and biofuel research.
"They can make use of natural resources available in the country."
Another area that is in need of Ma- laysian scientists is herbal medicine.
"India has done well and its herbal treatment industry is flourishing and so is China with its research programmes on herbal medicine.
"With our biodiversity, this is one of the areas where we need more experts."
Fong said the Health Ministry was working with the Human Resources Ministry to attract more Malaysian herbal scientists to return.