Sunday, October 28, 2007

Ministry sets up national register on clinical trials

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: The Health Ministry urged all clinical research centres in the country, including those in private hospitals and universities, to register their studies.
For this purpose, it has set up the National Medical Research Register (NMRR) that enables online registration (, said director-general of Health Tan Sri Datuk Dr Ismail Merican.
Registration of their research on the NMRR helps ensure transparency and increases public trust and when fully implemented, would help reduce processing time, enable easy access, capture data on research and allow management to track progress, he said at the National Conference on Clinical Research on Friday.
A clinical trial or study is a type of research study that uses volunteers to test new methods of screening, prevention, diagnosis, or treatment of a disease.
Dr Ismail said that he signed the official circular on the New National Institutes of Health Guidelines where all research from the ministry research grants be registered, reviewed and approved by the appropriate authorities.
“If Malaysia is serious about becoming a clinical trials hub, medical research ethics must be given due attention by all stakeholders involved,” said Dr Ismail, whose speech was read out by the ministry’s Clinical Research Centre director Dr Lim Tech Onn.
Meanwhile a WHO official has suggested that Asean countries set up a regional registry on clinical trials in view of the growing number of multimillion dollar lawsuits over such trials.
The world organisation's director for Research Policy and Cooperation Dr Tikki Pang said six men suffered multiple organ failure following a clinical drugs trial in London while Nigerian authorities took a criminal case on top of a US$2bil lawsuit against a United States drug company for allegedly conducting a dangerous drug experiment on nearly 200 children for meningitis treatment.
While Malaysia wanted to capitalise on the growing market of clinical trials, many of the issues begged for transparency, Dr Pang said in his talk Clinical Trial Registration.
He said for a start there could be a National Ethics Review Committee that coordinated reviews done at individual institutions.
Dr Pang said that last year, WHO launched the International Clinical Trial Registry Platform (ICTRP) to promote the registration of all clinical trials worldwide and the reporting of a minimum set of results.
“This is to strengthen public trust in clinical trials by promoting transparency and accountability,” he added.

New centre to teach medicine via simulation

Star: KUANTAN: The country’s first comprehensive advanced clinical skills centre (ACSC) was officially opened yesterday in the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM).
IIUM president Tan Sri Sanusi Junid launched the centre as well as the first annual Malaysian Simulation and Education Conference and Human Patient Simulation Network attended by some 90 participants worldwide yesterday.
The two-day conference is jointly organised by IIUM, Medical Education Technologies Inc (Meti) and Cybron Technology (M) Sdn Bhd.
ACSC provides simulations where practical skills can be perfected. The facilities include advanced human patient simulators (HPS), an emergency care simulator (ECS) and baby simulator.
IIUM Kuantan campus director Prof Datuk Dr Md Tahir Azhar said the simulations were about 80% close to actual emergency situations.
“Students and trainees can conduct repeated procedures to improve their skills on the mannequins.
“This is something we cannot do on real patients,” he said, adding the simulation concept was similar to what trainee pilots underwent in their flight simulators.
Meti president and chief executive officer Lou Oberdorf said it would be a valuable lesson for students on how to deal with trauma situations.

Flying docs will be back in action in Sarawak

Star: MIRI: Sarawak government-owned aviation company Hornbill Skyways has drawn up a blueprint to urgently revive the flying doctor service for the sake of the thousands of rural folks still living in remote regions of Sarawak.
The airline, wholly-owned by the state economic development corporation and related agencies, has already forwarded the plan to the Federal Government and Health Ministry, said Hornbill Skyways chief executive officer Aidan Wing.
The decision now lies with the federal authorities in Kuala Lumpur, he told The Star yesterday.
“We have recently submitted fresh proposals to the Government and the ministry on how we want to revive the flying doctor service in Sarawak.
“The flying doctor is a very important service that plays a vital role in the daily lives of the rural folks.
“We (Hornbill Skyways) are keen to revive it. It is up to the federal authorities to consider the new proposals we have tabled. We hope for an answer very soon,” he said yesterday.
The flying doctor service enables government doctors to fly by helicopters into riverine settlements and longhouses located in dense forests and highlands to provide medical aid and health checks for natives still living in these isolated communes.
The service had been stopped for more than 10 months because of some administrative and technical woes faced by Hornbill and the ministry.
Hornbill has for years been the aviation company contracted by the ministry to handle this vital service.
Wing declined to reveal further details of the new proposals his company had submitted to revive the service, saying that the details would only be announced if the federal authorities gave their approval.
Two days ago, state assemblyman for Ba’Kelalan, Nelson Balang Rining, had highlighted the plight of 10,000 folks from 30 settlements in the highlands of northern Sarawak who needed the flying doctor services to be resumed immediately.
These folks are running out of medical supplies and have not received any health checks and other medical aid since the services were stopped.
Wing urged assemblymen whose constituents were affected to bring up the matter at the state assembly.

Malaysia can lead in alternative medicine

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is well-placed to become a frontrunner in the increasingly popular alternative medicine industry that has a global market exceeding RM200bil, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said.
The Prime Minister said Penang was already in the forefront of the country’s medical tourism industry and would be further promoted as an Asian medical tourism hub.
Langkawi, he said, could also offer complementary medicine, traditional remedies as well as therapeutic treatments and synergise aleopathic treatment provided in nearby Penang.
With the integration of the first traditional complementary medicine unit with conventional medical healthcare in Kepala Batas on Friday, he said he was confident that the industry would grow by leaps and bounds.
“We must work hard to further enhance healthcare in the country, to safeguard the well-being of Malaysians and to make Malaysia a preferred medical tourism destination,” he said.
Abdullah said he was also confident that Malaysia could achieve much more, including in the field of thoracic and cardiovascular surgery, if it could draw up substantive plans and execute them effectively.
“The Government recognises the increasing prevalence of heart disease.
As with our efforts in fighting major diseases, our strategy is first to provide more comprehensive healthcare, including preventive measures for all groups and regions,” the prime minister said.

Many Malaysians have sex before reaching 20

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian youth are involved in sexual activities before the age of 20.
A national study in 2004 involving 18,805 people (10,718 females and 8,087 males) revealed that the median age they had sex for the first time was 23.
The majority of the study group was Malay (56.4 per cent) followed by Chinese (20.6 per cent) and Indian (11.2 per cent). Out of the 18,805, the majority (72.8 per cent) was married.
Male respondents confessed to experiencing sex at the minimum age of 10 and median age of 22 and females at 12 and 24 respectively.
The overall median age of marriage was 23 — Chinese (25 years), Indians (23 years), Malays (22 years), Sabah Bumiputera (21 years) and Sarawak (20 years).
Professor Dr Lekhraj Rampal of the Department of Community Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at Universiti Putra Malaysia said: “What is of concern is the fact that among the 13,971 respondents who had experienced sex, 38.2 per cent said they had sex before the age of 20.”
The age factor, he said, clearly indicated that those who had sex early were college students and young workers.
“Malaysians are now becoming very open when it comes to talking about sex. The unmarried and married talk about sex and it’s time sex education be given emphasis and the public made aware of healthy sexual behaviour, including using condoms to protect against unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.”
He said as much as religion and culture encouraged sex after marriage, it could not be denied that younger people engaged in sexual activity.
Sexual behaviour, he added, was any action that allowed the expression of one’s feelings, including holding hands and kissing as well as masturbation and penetrative intercourse (per vagina or anal).
He said healthy sexual behaviours were consensual, non-exploitive and honest, and included actions that protected against unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.
Presenting a paper on “Sexual Practice in Malaysia” at the two-day conference on Sexuality in Medicine, organised by Universiti Putra Malaysia and the Malaysian Healthy Aging Society at UPM, Dr Rampal warned young Malaysians to be cautious when indulging in sex with unknown partners.
“The person, be it man or woman, may look healthy and sexy but you do not know whether he is a HIV victim or suffering from venereal disease or sexually transmitted diseases (STD). Get a blood test done to ascertain if he/she is free from STD or use a condom.”
Dr Rampal gave this warning because in a survey done to find out how much people knew about HIV and its transmission, the majority of the respondents could not give the right answers to many of the questions.
Dr Rampal also stressed that there was a need to educate the young not to fall victim to non-consensual sexual experiences.
“It covers a continuum of behaviours ranging from unwanted verbal advances and unwanted touch to assault and forced sex as well as sex in exchange for money, gifts, food or protection,” he added.
As for married couples, Dr Rampal said it was important for them to understand how the body works.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Affordable reproductive health services for the poor

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: Better access to affordable reproductive health services for the urban poor is at the top of the list for the new director-general of the National Population and Family Development Board (NPFDB).
Aminah Abdul Rahman said she was also looking at expanding the Kafe@Teen programme to tackle teenage pregnancy, sexual and reproductive health problems faced by youngsters aged 13 to 24.
There are three drop-in centres with Internet access, television and other entertainment provided and a self-service kitchen here and in Penang.
Four more of the clinics with doctors and counsellors will be set up in Kelantan and Johor.
She said at the NPFDB headquarters yesterday that the focus was on the urban poor because the country was becoming more and more urbanised, adding that 60 per cent of the population now lived in cities.
She said NPFDB had one mobile clinic which went to low-cost housing areas and squatter areas, and there were plans to convert six more buses.
"The plan is to take our services to the people who can't otherwise afford them.
"The mobile clinic provides free reproductive health screening and other services at minimal fees to urban poor adults," said Aminah, who was appointed last month.
On the subsidised mammogram programme for women aged 40 to 69 from families with an income under RM5,000 launched in May, Aminah said 61 per cent of the 1,045 women screened were Chinese, 31 per cent Malay and eight per cent Indian.
She said this reflected the fact that women in the Chinese community were more aware of the need to screen for breast cancer while many Malay women preferred to seek traditional treatment first, to avoid "losing their breasts".
Many Malay women only come to be checked when they had end-stage breast cancer, when it was already too late, she said.
Aminah said there were 16 designated private centres for this purpose.
Aminah, who joined the board as a sociologist in 1979, replaced Datuk Fatimah Saad who retired last year.

Putrajaya gets cancer centre

Star: PUTRAJAYA: Information on cancer, notably breast cancer, is now readily available at the Putrajaya Hospital with the setting-up of a resource centre.
The centre will provide knowledge and support to those stricken with the disease and family members.
The Putrajaya Hospital Cancer Resource Centre, the first of its kind in the country, has up-to-date reading material on various cancers, treatments and other vital information.
The centre also provides networking with cancer survivors offering emotional support via Cancer Network Association (KanWork).
Hospital director Dr Mohd Norzi Ghazali said the centre’s role was also to provide general information on cancer to educate the public on cancer, including treatment, medication and post-treatment care.
“What is also important is that it is a platform for those with cancer to come together and share their experience and knowledge,” he said.
“It is also an avenue for partners, family members and friends of patients to get advice and support on how to deal with a cancer patient.”
Dr Norzi said cancer was the second-highest killer in the country after road accidents, with 30,000 new cases detected annually.
Putrajaya Hospital head of breast and endocrine surgical department and consultant surgeon Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the hospital received between 150 and 200 breast cancer cases each year.
“It is important to create greater cancer awareness. According to census, 60% of cancer patients only realised they had cancer at a late stage,” he said.

Herbal product industry gets a boost

Star: KEPALA BATAS: The country is ready to tap the international multi-million ringgit herbal product market.
With that in mind, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi wants further research into its home-grown herbs to give the country’s herbal industry a bigger boost.
“We are blessed with rich natural herbal and marine resources that can be ideally used to produce medicines.
“Our local researchers must work harder to find out to what extent traditional medicine can effectively help cure ailments and diseases,” he said when opening the RM83mil Kepala Batas Hospital here yesterday.
The hospital is also the first in the country to have a traditional and complementary medicine (TCM) unit that offers services according to the traditional medicine practices of the Malay, Chinese and Indian communities.
Abdullah said traditional medicine that has been practised by the Malays, Chinese and Indians since the old days, can be used as an integrative medicine to modern medicine.
In the past, when hospitals were located far from rural areas, he said, traditional medicine was used as ‘first aid’ to treat patients before the arrival of the doctor.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek said similar TCM units would be set up at the Putrajaya Hospital by December and at the Sultan Ismail Hospital in Johor by March.
“A few medical officers will soon attend short courses on acupuncture and TCM pharmacy in Beijing, China next year.
“We will also introduce ayurvedic medicine at the TCM units next year, followed by traditional Malay medicine through collaborations with our counterparts in Indonesia,” he said.
Chua said till last year, a total of 7,154 TCM practitioners had registered their practices with the ministry since a TCM division was formed at the ministry in 2004.
“We believe there are about 3,000 to 4,000 more who have yet to register with us,” he said, adding that they could register online via the ministry’s website at http://www.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Three children down with cancer every day

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: At least three children are diagnosed with cancer every day in the country.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek said some 1,200 cases of childhood cancer were reported to the National Cancer Registry each year.
What was even more worrying, he said, was that parents were often in a state of denial and this led to delays in treating the children.
Parents are often, and understandably so, in a state of denial that their children are suffering from cancer.
"As a result, they hop from doctor to doctor and seek alternative therapies.
"Many of them finally do come back, but the tumour would already be in quite an advanced stage and the child would already be in a bad state," Dr Chua said after launching the Blue Ribbon Campaign at Menara Celcom here.
The effort is aimed at raising awareness of child cancer in Malaysia and to help affected children and their families, particularly those with financial constraints.
"Based on the data collected from 2003 to 2005, the top five childhood cancers in the country are leukaemia (40 per cent), lymphomas (10 per cent), central nervous system tumours (nine per cent), germ cell tumours (six per cent) and soft tissue sarcomas (five per cent)," Dr Chua said.
He also urged paediatric oncologists to counsel parents regarding the nature and treatment of childhood cancers.
The minister said paediatric oncology services were now available in 11 centres throughout the country, six of them under the Health Ministry, three in the universities and two with the private sector.
At a press conference later, Dr Chua said there were currently 19 paediatric oncologists in the country.
"Out of this, 17 are with the government while two are with the private sector."
Dr Chua said treatment costs at public hospitals were affordable because of subsidies from the government.
"The maximum that a non-school-going child has to pay is RM500 per admission, regardless of the length of stay.
"Those attending our day-care centres for chemotheraphy are charged only RM50 per visit.
"Even so, many of them are referred to our Medical Social Welfare Services for exemption if they cannot afford it," he said.
Dr Chua added that patients could seek help from the government under the Medical Assistance Fund to buy medication and equipment such as prosthesis.
He had earlier said in his speech that the money from the fund was for long-term medical treatment of chronic diseases, including cancers.
"Since it was set up in 2005, with a total allocation of RM45 million to date, RM23.6 million had been spent for the benefit of 1,702 applicants," he said.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Clinics can help you quit smoking

NST: SERDANG: Quitting smoking but nothing seems to help?
Perhaps what you need is help from the professionals at one of the 400 government clinics listed in the Ministry of Health's website.
The health clinics are available nationwide and provide counselling and treatment for smokers who want to kick the habit.
Patients will be evaluated before a treatment is prescribed, which could include nicotine patches, nicotine gum and inhalers.
"There are facilities available for the public if they need help in quitting, all they have to do is access our website at or call the hotline number at 8883 4400," said Health Ministry parliamentary secretary Datuk Lee Kah Choon at the launch of an anti-smoking video competition for private and public universities.
The launch was held at Universiti Putra Malaysia.
Lee said the government was going all out to curb the rising number of smokers in Malaysia
There are more than three million smokers in Malaysia and there are more than 25 tobacco-related diseases known today including cancer and respiratory diseases.
Tobacco also causes more than four million deaths a year.
"Tobacco, in any form, is often deadly," warned the chairman of the Action on Smoking and Health Committee Dr Lekhraj Rampal, who was also present at the event.
He said it was important for the younger generation to create awareness on the risks of smoking. He commended the students on their efforts in organising the competition.
The competition is aimed at creating awareness and educating university students on the adverse effects of tobacco consumption.

More room for heart patients

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: The National Heart Institute (IJN) is expanding under a RM230 million programme to help it cater to a larger patient load.
This includes RM60 million for the latest equipment to provide better diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular and thoracic problems.
IJN chief executive officer Mohd Razif Mohd Yunus said the plans included a new five-storey building that would almost double the number of patients treated at present.
"The number of patients coming to IJN has been increasing and we are facing constraints in terms of capacity and facilities.
"Bed use is also at the maximum, especially in the Intensive Care Unit" he said.
Since its establishment in 1992, more than 1.3 million patients had sought treatment at IJN and more than 131,000 were in-patients.
Last year alone, IJN handled 149,000 patients of whom 12,000 were in-patients.
It performed 3,110 cardiothoracic surgeries including 2,100 open-heart , 827 closed-heart and 183 thoracic surgeries as well as more than 8,000 interventional cardiology procedures.
The institute also has a good record in children's cardiac medicine with 8,000 paediatric-cardiothoracic and 14,000 paediatric cardiology cases.
Razif said the workload had increased by nearly four-fold since inception when it was handling just 10,000 patients a year.
"When patients look to us for quick recovery, we have to ensure that we can provide better facilities and care," he added.
The completion of the new building next July would provide a total of 54 adult clinics, five paediatric clinics, 420 beds, 24 ICU beds, seven operating theatres, four catheterisation laboratories, a dialysis centre, a hybrid catheterisation laboratory operating theatre and 636 parking bays.
At present, it has eight general wards for cardiology and cardiothoracic cases with a selection of suites from single to six beds.
The wards are equipped with televisions, telephones, in-suite bathrooms and a nurse call system.
IJN has a staff strength of nearly 1,000 with 85 qualified cardiologists, cardiothoracic surgeons, paediatric cardiologist and anaesthetists.
Razif said the hospital would be increasing the number of consultants from the country and abroad.
"We will also be recruiting nurses locally and from Indonesia, India, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.
"Allied health staff will also be increased," he said,
He added that IJN college would provide specialised training in cardiac care for nurses and allied healthcare staff.
Razif said IJN spent RM5 million annually on staff training, which included sending them on attachment locally and abroad.
He said IJN's team of consultant physicians was also noted for using the latest and most effective techniques in the treatment of heart patients, for interventional cardiology procedures, as well as heart surgery.
He said the array of treatments at the institute included angiogram and angioplasty procedures via radial artery, implantation of AICDs, minimally invasive surgeries and implantation of mechanical heart-assist devices.

Monday, October 22, 2007

More accurate diagnosis from mobile trauma unit

NST: KUALA SELANGOR: The examination of more than 220 plantation workers at the Sungei Buloh Estate yesterday was conducted at two main centres. The first was a state-of-the-art Mobile Trauma Unit, the only one of its kind in Malaysia.
It is a nearly 13-metre-long customised medical coach built by Medical Coaches Worldwide Inc in the United States.
"The RM1.2 million Mobile Trauma Unit is used to diagnose and stabilise patients before emergency help arrives. It has helped save many lives during accidents when immediate treatment is crucial," said Sam Hogg, the managing director of Safe Aim Mutual Sdn Bhd (SAM) which owns the unit.
Dr K.S. Sathananthar, the head of the state Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) department in Pahang said: "The trauma unit has the latest endoscopy device for diagnosing ENT problems. The RM150,000 device produces clearer images, making diagnosis more accurate."
It is equipped with similar medical equipment to a hospital trauma and operating unit.
Apart from the usual medical supplies and essential drugs, the unit has an electrocardiogram machine, ultrasound, a portable patient monitor for blood pressure with thermoscan, a nebuliser, elite stethoscope, mobile ventilator and defibrillator and an otoscope.
The unit is used at all Petronas Sprinta AAM Malaysian Cub Prix championships and the FIM Motorcycle Asian Grand Prix locations.
The second centre was an in-house clinic converted for the use of the ophthalmologists, paediatricians, radiologists and an orthodontist.

Doctors sacrifice Sunday to do good

NST: KUALA SELANGOR: Thanks to 43 medical personnel who provided their services free of charge yesterday, many plantation workers will receive treatment for illnesses they did not know they had.
K. Pichey, of Sungei Buloh Estate, for example, was diagnosed with elephantiasis after suffering from a swollen leg for five years.
"I went to a hospital in Tanjung Karang, but I was only given painkillers," said the 48-year-old driver. "The doctor has referred me to Kuala Lumpur Hospital, and now I hope to get better."
Fifty-two-year-old P. Rajamani has been unable to move her head since she sustained burns while at work three years ago. She said she couldn't afford the specialist treatment she needed, but now she is looking forward to a "normal" life after she was referred to an orthopaedic surgeon.
T. Komathy had been suffering from shortness of breath for months and didn't know what was wrong. She was diagnosed with asthma and bronchitis. The 46-year-old also had a pap smear and checks on her blood sugar level and blood pressure.
"They also found a small swelling on my back and have referred me to the Radiology Department at Kuala Lumpur Hospital for further tests," said Komathy, who has worked on Sungei Buloh Estate for more than 20 years.
An assistant manager at the estate, Asmanisham Abu Samad, 31, has been walking around with a runny nose for the past five months. He was told it wasn't the chronic cold he thought it was, but asthma. Now he will receive proper treatment.
The voluntary community project was jointly organised by the Manipal Alumni Association of Malaysia (MAAM) with Safe Aim Mutual Sdn Bhd and facilitated by Sime Plantations Sdn Bhd.
More than 220 workers from the Sungei Buloh Estate, Tennameram Estate and Mill, Selangor River Estate and the Bukit Kloh Estate received free, comprehensive health screening. Most were diagnosed with one illness or another -- some of them serious and life-threatening.
A team of 32 specialists -- ophthalmologists, Ear, Nose and Throat doctors, paediatricians, radiologists and an orthodontist checked the workers, along with six general practitioners, a pharmacist and several medical assistants.
MAAM president Dr Koshy Thomas said: "The objective of the project was to provide health advice to communities who lack the infrastructure and facilities for proper healthcare. This is the second year we have done this for these estates and we hope to go nationwide in future."
"Our workers have benefitted since this annual community service project began last year. It has helped in our efforts to improve the quality of health of our workers," said Sime Plantations Sdn Bhd Business Unit 3 operations manager Siow Heng Kin.

Making it better with fantasies

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: Senior citizens they may be, but behind closed doors older folk are no slouches when it comes to spicing things up.
According to the Durex Sexual Wellbeing Global Survey 07/08, released last month, half of Malaysians aged 55 and above act out their more intimate fantasies.
And a further 62 per cent in this age group look at naughty materials.
Consultant clinical andrologist Dr Mohd Ismail Mohd Tambi said age has nothing to do with desire and a satisfying sex life maintains intimacy.
"It is very healthy. Sex is a natural part of life at any age. We are naturally sexual beings," he said when asked to comment on the findings.
He said that acting out fantasies is important for a husband and wife.
"It is important for mental stimulation.
"Fantasy helps increase the drive," he said.
Dr Ismail explained that women who read romance novels tend to be more romantic and more amorous.
Reading and looking at titillating materials and regular intimacy are how elderly couples maintain a healthy sex life, although the older age group can face problems in this area, said Dr Ismail, who co-runs the Love Clinic at the Damai Service Hospital.
It is a multi-disciplinary clinic that treats couples with sexual problems.
Areas covered include psychiatry, psychology, gynaecology, urology and andrology.
The Durex survey's second wave of figures, entitled In The Bedroom, showed that 77 per cent of Malaysians pleasure themselves at some point. Thirty-eight per cent of men and 20 per cent of women do so weekly.

Stop prank calls to emergency numbers

Star: PEOPLE must stop making crank calls to emergency numbers as such irresponsible behaviour could hinder genuine callers from getting the help they need, the Tamil Nesan reported.
Deputy Internal Security Minister Datuk Fu Ah Kiow said some Malaysians would make such calls just for fun.
He was speaking to reporters after attending a Hari Raya open house organised by the Kuantan Umno division on Saturday.
Fu said Telekom Malaysia statistics showed that 92% of 855,711 calls to the 991 number last year were crank calls while 98.9% of 15.7 million calls to the 999 number were non-genuine.
The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, he said, would continue in their efforts to trace the culprits.
However, Fu said that it would be an uphill battle as most calls were made from public phone booths.

One in five is a mental time bomb

Star: ILLNESSES related to mental health in the country are like time bombs that could explode anytime given that 20% of Malaysians suffer from chronic emotional stress, Berita Minggu reported.
University Malaya Medical Psychology Department head Prof Dr Mohamad Hussain Habil said that from the number, only 0.5% received treatment, as many feared being labelled mad, and some refused to seek treatment due to financial problems.
He said such patients, if not treated fast, could hurt themselves, or in the worst-case scenario, kill someone.
“Research conducted found that those suffering from this condition are more willing to undergo pain rather than get treatment.
“This shows that stress-related problems have ‘invaded’ the country, and if the problem is not dealt with, it can have a negative impact on the community.
“Attention must be given to the younger generation, especially children as they have the tendency to act out violent events shown on television,” he said when commenting on the case of a 15-year-old teenager who allegedly stabbed a seven-year-old boy to death in Klang.
Dr Mohamad said uncontrollable emotional pressure could lead to violence. Many murder cases do not involve those with mental problems, but those who failed to control their emotions commit such crimes, including children.
“Those suffering from emotional stress cannot be called a mental patient, this notion has to be changed.
“Don’t think that a person who visits a counsellor is mad, but it is the best way to treat emotional stress,” he added.

Anti-drug campaigns not effective, says Chua

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: Anti-drug campaigns have not been as effective as hoped and the Health Ministry has urged all parties concerned to ensure such campaigns have continuation and not done on a “once off” basis.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek said there were about 20,000 to 30,000 drug users registering themselves with the ministry annually.
“For each drug user that registers, there are 2.5 to 3 more drug users who do not register themselves.
“This puts the total number of drug users in the country between 350,000 to 900,000 which is worrying considering we only have a population of 26 million,” he said.
Dr Chua said fighting the scourge of drugs needed the cooperation of all parties including non-governmental organisations.
“Usually they are involved, but it is usually once off. I urge that such educational programmes be done on a continual basis so that our youths are aware of the dangers and risks of drugs.”
Dr Chua added that about 75% of these drug addicts were below 39 years old, which meant they were in the most productive age group.
“It also cannot be denied that safety issues and cases of HIV, Hepatitis B and C infections are related to drug addicts because they use needles.”
Dr Chua said 70% of the 78,784 HIV carriers in the country were infected via needles.
“However, it must be noted that the number of people getting infected with HIV this year has decreased to 13 per day compared to 17 per day in 2005 because of the effectiveness of harm reduction programmes.”
Dr Chua added that RM300mil would be spent to expand programmes such as the methadone replacement therapy and the needle and syringe exchange programme.

Accept fact and treat children with cancer fast, parents urged

Star: PUTRAJAYA: Parents often refuse to accept the possibility their child has cancer and this denial often leads to late detection of the disease.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek said childhood cancer differed from that suffered by adults because of the strong “emotional” component.
“There is the perception that children should not get cancer and often doctors will tell you that parents are in a state of denial,” he said in a recent interview.
“They cannot accept the diagnosis. So, the end result is if further investigation is required the parents can be in denial and be very protective. They will not subject the child to further investigation.”
This, he said contributed to the cancer being detected at a later rather than an early stage. The prognosis for cancers like leukaemia and lymphoma is good if discovered and treated early.
There are about 1,200 childhood cancers detected in Malaysia every year. Leukaemia and lymphoma account for about half of all childhood cancers in the country.
Parents also feared treatment where surgery or chemotherapy was required. “They cast doubt on the procedure and chemotherapy,” he said.
He said side effects – weight and appetite loss, lethargy and diarrhoea – could frighten parents and some “may unilaterally decide to stop the treatment because of this fear.”
When children’s teeth bleed when they brush, it should “trigger an alarm” for parents to take them for a check up.
Six government hospitals provide oncology service including in Kuala Lumpur, Johor Baru, Penang, Ipoh and Kuching. Two private hospitals – Subang Jaya Medical Centre and Selangor Medical Centre – and university hospitals like Universiti Malaya Medical Centre have similar services.
There are only 19 paediatric oncologists in the country – eight are in public service, nine in university hospitals and two in the private sector. A further six doctors are currently undergoing training.
Dr Chua said there were plans to start up day-care centres where patients arrived for treatment and returned home after they were stabilised on the same day.
Treatment at the public hospitals ranges between RM1,000 and 2,000 while in the private sector, the cost can go up to RM60,000.
Dr Chua said aid could be given to those eligible under the ministry’s Medical Aid Fund.

Blue Ribbon awareness for children with cancer

Star: PUTRAJAYA: Creating awareness about childhood cancers and improving the lives of children affected by the disease are among the key elements to a new campaign expected to kick off next Thursday.
“Childhood cancers is something that needs immediate attention,” said CreatiVision D.C Sdn Bhd managing director Adelyn Lim of the Blue Ribbon Campaign (BRC).
A website,, will be created to provide information on subjects such as names of hospitals and doctors, types of treatment and non-governmental organisations which can give aid.
CreatiVision D.C is the organiser of the campaign. BRC is one of seven campaigns under the Rainbow of Life Forces creating awareness to give hope for children.
Among its objectives are to raise funds to assist programmes for treatment, help grant wishes of terminally ill kids, enjoy quality of life and give a voice to children and their families on important issues.
Lim said a ROLF Cup would also be held where celebrities from Hong Kong, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, including Hong Kong singer Alan Tam and former national soccer defender Shebby Singh, would take part in a celebrity soccer match on Nov 29.
A total of 100,000 coin boxes will be distributed to collect donations from the public. There will also be membership cards, which can be used for various purposes including discounts at participating outlets.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Learn how to eat healthy

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: As Malaysians become more health-conscious, they have also become more aware of the importance of good nutrition.
However, said nutritionist Chong Fat Eng, many were taking the easy way out by relying on supplementary vitamin and mineral tablets to provide them the required nutrients instead of eating properly.
“Many are eating isolated nutrients instead of whole, natural food.
“What they don’t realise is that the supplementary nutrients do not provide the human body with the energy they need to live and stay active or even healthy,” he added.
To correct the public perception on healthy eating, Chong will be conducting a few one-day workshops on Healthy Diet under the MCA’s Lifelong Learning Campaign.
As Chong explained, natural food provided the best nutrition, as human bodies were adapted for natural food intake.
“No lab can provide better nourishment for the human body,” said the remisier who took up nutrition to improve his own health after suffering from a number of health problems.
In the workshop, Chong said participants would also learn how to prepare food naturally without losing its nutrients.
Some of the major areas that will be covered include the reasons why conventional nutritional guidelines do not work, the basic causes of disease and suffering, and the fundamental essentials that build and maintain health.
Participants will also learn how to work with one’s innate healing power to promote self-healing without medicines, herbs, treatments, or therapy to overcome obesity, diabetes, digestive problems, infertility, acne and heart problems.
The workshop, which will kick-start today, is conducted in Mandarin and caters to all Malaysians who take a keen interest in their own health and like to improve their present health condition.
Another food and nutrition workshop which is being conducted under the MCA Lifelong Learning Campaign is “Cooking” which focuses on different types of dishes each month.
This months, participants are learning how to make dishes for buffets and snacks, while next month, they will be shown how to cook vegetarian dishes.
There is something for everyone under this continual learning programme – from basic computing and business English to dance mania, photography and hair styling.
For more information, visit, email

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Ismail: Meningitis vaccine halal

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: The Health Ministry yesterday assured Muslims that the meningitis vaccine used in the country was halal.
Director-general of Health Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican said the vaccine, Mencevax ACWY, marketed by GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceutical was approved by the Islamic Religious Development Department (Jakim) in 2002.
“No ingredient from animals is used in the preparation of the vaccine. The chemical cysteine hydrochoride used in the vaccine comes from duck feathers.”
Dr Ismail was commenting on Universiti Sains Malaysia’s plan to spearhead research to produce the world’s first halal vaccine for meningitis.
Meningitis is an infection that causes inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord.
On Thursday, Higher Education Minister Datuk Mus-tapa Mohamed said the government had allocated RM2 million for joint research and development of the vaccine with the Finlay Institute, an organisation dedicated to vaccine research and production in Cuba.
Dr Ismail said the Saudi government had made it compulsory since 2002 for all pilgrims to be vaccinated against meningitis because of the high risk of infection during the haj and umrah seasons.
Muslims can get free vaccinations at government clinics.
National Institute for Natural Products, Vaccines and Biologicals (9bio) chief executive officer Datuk Dr Nor Shahidah Khairullah said 9bio, under the ministry, was focused on the research and development of vaccines, natural products and biologicals.
“One of our key activities is the certification of vaccines by Jakim.”
She said at the annual meeting of the self-reliance vaccine production programme of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference held here in 2004, the prime minister committed 9bio to the production of halal vaccines for Malaysia and OIC member countries.

Cancer hospital for Sabah

Star: KOTA KINABALU: Sabah will have a cancer treatment hospital and construction on the RM200mil facility is set to begin by year’s end.
The 200-bed radiotherapy hospital would be jointly built by state-owned Warisan Harta Sdn Bhd subsidiary Warisan Harta Property Development and private firm Health Solutions.
“We have the project’s letter of intent from the Health Ministry. The paperwork and various details are being finalised,” said Warisan Harta chairman Dr Patawari Patawe.
He said the hospital would be equipped with the latest equipment, turning Kota Kinabalu into a destination for cancer treatment in Borneo.
Currently, Sabahans have to travel to Kuching for such treatment.
Dr Patawari said the facility would be an extension of the Likas Hospital in Kuala Inanam, some 8km from the city centre.
He said Warisan Harta was set to embark on the construction of a RM40mil hydroelectric dam at Sungai Mongkowogu in the interior Ranau district.
He said Warisan Harta hoped to secure half of the project cost from the Federal Government, adding that power from the plant would generate 5MW for the Ranau area as well as the state power grid of Sabah Electricity Sdn Bhd.
Dr Patawari said Warisan Harta was venturing into the construction of telecommunication towers and the company had already secured a licence for this.
He also said Warisan Harta had paid the state RM10mil in dividends so far this year.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Doctor refuses to allow treatment due to media

NST: KUCHING: A doctor kept a boy, who needed medical attention, waiting inside the ambulance in front of the Sarawak General Hospital just because he did not want the press to take photographs.
Despite the boy's parents' approval for the press to take pictures of their son being taken out of the ambulance, and pleading with the doctor to take their son out, he refused.
The doctor instructed the hospital staff to remain inside the ambulance with the boy, 6, until members of the press dispersed, which they did about 30 minutes later.
The boy was Lok Ching Ming, the young hostage victim who was injured by his uncle in Bintulu on Sept 26.
On that day, the uncle, identified only as Jimmy, 49, had a heated argument with his wife Sulu Endang, 39, in the boy's house at Taman Lihua.
During the argument, Jimmy who was high on syabu, grabbed a kitchen knife and stabbed Sulu several times. She ran out and called for help.
Jimmy then took Ching Ming hostage for 16 hours. He locked Ching Ming and himself in a room on the upper floor of the house.
Efforts by police and family members to negotiate with Jimmy failed.
When Jimmy began cutting off the boy's fingers and shoving them under the door of the room, police rushed in and shot him dead.
According to Ching Ming's father, Lok Ching Meng, at SGH yesterday surgeons in Bintulu failed to reattach the severed fingers.
"We were told that my son needed further intensive treatment, which was why he was flown from Bintulu to Kuching," Ching Meng said.

RM1 billion humanitarian airport, hospital near Ipoh

NST: IPOH: The world's first humanitarian airport-cum-emergency medical care and services terminal costing RM1 billion is to be built at a 400ha site in Bandar Seri Iskandar, 40km from here.
Casa Pasifik Sdn Bhd, the developer and management company of the project, said it had secured money from an overseas humanitarian fund to pay for the construction.
Casa Pasifik chairman Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Hilmi Ismail said he was waiting for the Transport Ministry to give the go-ahead for the project which had been in the planning stage for 11/2 years and would take 38 months to complete.
"The Department of Civil Aviation has confirmed that the application complies with airport standards," he said.
A memorandum of understanding was signed between the Perak State Development Corporation and Casa Pasifik on March 20 to develop the project.
Hilmi said the Perak government had requested the company to include a clause to build a commercial airport at the same site in the future. "We'll accommodate any proposal to construct facilities for commercial flights as the airport will already be in existence."
The present Sultan Azlan Shah Airport here is under-utilised and cannot be expanded.
The focus of this new project will be on the humanitarian aspect. It will provide urgent and preventive medical care as well as other life-changing medical services to people in the Asia-Pacific region.
The airport will cater for large aircraft and helicopters equipped with medical facilities and surgical suites. It will have a 3,700-metre runway.
The hi-tech specialist hospital at the airport would have 500 beds, with 200 beds under the first phase.
Hilmi said the aircraft would be able to fly to war-torn countries or places where victims were injured due to natural disasters to provide treatment. If the victims need further treatment, they will be flown to the hospital at the airport.
Hilmi said the project would create downstream activities, including a medical training centre and a flying academy.

Donors advised to stay in good physical shape

Star: This would ensure their organs would be healthy when harvested later for transplants, he said.
“We do not want lungs, for example, from a smoker,” he told reporters when announcing activities for World Heart Day here yesterday.
Dr Sim urged donors to pledge all their organs instead of only certain organs.
He said heart disease was the world’s largest killer and the number of cases was on the rise.
“Anyone, whether you are rich or poor, old or young, can get a heart attack. There are more smokers reported in rural areas, and among farmers and factory workers. So, they are more at risk of getting heart disease,” he said.
Dr Sim said that the youngest patient to undergo open-heart surgery at the hospital was only 24 years old.
In a press statement, the Sarawak Heart Foundation said it had spent over RM5mil to sponsor more than 200 heart patients for treatment in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and here, from 1997 to 2001.
The activities for World Heart Day, jointly organised by the Sarawak General Hospital and Sarawak Heart Foundation, include a public cardiovascular screening campaign at Kuching City South Building on Saturday, a walk-a-mile event at the state library lakeside terrace on Sunday and a free public health talk at the library's auditorium on Nov 4.

Hard to get donor with the right fit

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: Getting a donor for lungs is more difficult than it is for other organs because it has to be the “right fit”.
Institute of Respiratory Medicine (IPR) director Datin Dr Aziah Ahmad Mahayiddin said this was because the donor lung needed to be “fitted” into the chest cavity of the recipient.
Among the criteria to look into are chest dimensions of both the recipient and donor, as well as the height and weight of the donor which will indicate the size of donor's lungs.
The first lung transplant surgery was carried out in cooperation with the National Heart Institute (IJN) in 2005.
Dr Aziah said there was a growing list of patients the IPR was treating under its lung transplant programme.
Medication, she added, was very expensive and could cost up to RM9,000 a month. The cost is borne by the Health Ministry.
In addition to this, those on long term oxygen therapy would need to pay RM8,000 for an oxygen concentrator and a portable oxygen tank.
The transplant operation can cost about RM100,000. It can cost RM40,000 per year per patient for immuno suppressant medication, which is borne by the Health Ministry.
There are currently nine patients on the waiting list for double lung transplantation including Siti Salmah Jasni, 18 who suffers from pulmonary hypertension.
The ages of the patients range from 18 to 55. There are two patients waiting for heart and lung transplantations.
“Before there was the lung transplant programme, patients died very fast even with lung therapy. It is a progressive illness.
“But now, we can do something. There are new developments that show their condition can be slowed down with medication,” said Dr Aziah.
Saying that patients who received new lungs were “reborn”, she said IPR was committed to the programme and had one plea: “Get us lungs.”

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Chua: Emergency units will treat all patients

Star: MUAR: Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek denied yesterday a newspaper report which stated that the emergency units of government hospitals would no longer accept normal patients from next year.
He said the report was incorrect and that his ministry had not made such a proposal.
Dr Chua said that from next year, the services of all health clinics would be extended to midnight to reduce the queues at government hospitals.
“Only a small portion of those seeking treatment at the hospital emergency units are classified as requiring emergency treatment,” he said after attending a Hari Raya gathering hosted by Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman at Sungai Mati here.
“The rest are normal patients,” he said, adding the attention of hospital emergency units must focus on patient requiring emergency treatment.
In response to a question, Dr Chua said extending the service hours of health clinics should not be a problem as the medical officers could work according to schedule.
“We are also requesting an allocation from the government to bear the cost of extending the service hours,” he said.

Health staff to use ‘soft skills’

Star: PETALING JAYA: Staff of the Health Ministry have been told to 'reach out' to their patients and be sympathetic.
Most complaints against them are dissatisfaction over treatment they receive from medical officers, nurses, medical assistants and pharmacists.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek yesterday reminded doctors to be more emphatic towards their patients and passionate in their work.
For allied health providers, the 'soft skills' component would be included in their training curriculum starting at the end of the year, he added.
He said there was an ongoing campaign that emphasised on, and reminded staff to have, 'soft skills' such as being polite, compassionate, providing service with a smile and information to patients and their families.
“About 70% of communication with the patient is clinical, so this can be quite 'sterile',” he said.
“They need to be sensitive because the patient demands more attention where they feel the hospital is a hostile environment.”
In an interview last week, he said that not being seen by the doctor was one of the most common complaints.
Patients often complained they had not been treated even though they were admitted. He said this was 'wrong' because they would have been examined before admission but this was not told to them. “So, the patient is admitted without knowing that he had been seen by the doctor,” he said.
Dr Chua said the matter was made worse when nurses did not tell the patient anything either.
A total of 1,838 complaints were lodged from Jan 1 to June 30 this year with almost 80% made against services provided by hospitals, clinics or polyclinics. About 60% were about misconduct by ministry staff and the quality of services.
The top five hospitals with the most complaints are Serdang, Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Sultanah Nur Zahirah in Terengganu and Ampang.
Every year, public hospitals treat 39 million outpatients and 1.8 million warded patients.

Monday, October 15, 2007

No cough and cold cases at emergency depts

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: The accident and emergency (A&E) departments in all government hospitals will stop treating non-emergency cases from Jan 1.
Such cases will be handled by health clinics.
To cater to this need, 33 health clinics located near hospitals will open from morning till midnight, including on weekends and public holidays.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek said the aim was to reduce the pressure on the A&E departments in hospitals.
"At present, 75 per cent of the patients who flood the A&E departments are those with fevers, coughs and colds and other non-emergency ailments. The people must understand that the A&E department is only for emergency cases."
Dr Chua said in Singapore, if a person sought treatment at the A&E department of a hospital and it turned out to be a non-emergency case, he would be charged a higher rate.
"If I am not mistaken, it is five times more. This is to reduce the patient load at the A&E department."
Doctors working from 5pm to midnight and from 8am to midnight on public holidays would be paid RM30 an hour, with plans to increase this to RM40. Private doctors were encouraged to work at these clinics.
Also from Jan 1, all non-emergency surgeries at government hospitals would be done on Saturdays.
Dr Chua said this was because many of the non-emergency operations were postponed because of the increasing number of emergency operations.
"We have identified 19 hospitals with 41 operating theatres to perform these non-emergency surgeries on Saturday to ease the backlog."
This would cost the government RM7 million a year in overtime and allowances for surgeons and other staff required to work on Saturdays. Last year, 782,514 operations, 65 per cent of them emergency cases, were done in government hospitals.
Dr Chua said whenever an emergency operation had to be performed, the elective ones were postponed. As a result, many patients had to wait for six months or more for their operations.

Longer hours for select clinics

Star: PUTRAJAYA: Operating hours for select health clinics throughout the country will be extended to provide quicker treatment for the sick.
And elective surgeries will be carried out on Saturdays to lessen the backlog of such cases. Both moves are expected to begin next year.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek said the 33 health clinics picked were located around hospitals which experienced “flooding” of patients to their Accident and Emergency (A&E) Departments after 5pm.
The extended hours are from 5pm to midnight on working days and the clinics will stay open from 8am to midnight on public holidays.
The areas include those surrounding Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kota Kinabalu, Sarawak Hospital in Kuching, Kuala Lumpur Hospital, Seberang Jaya Hospital in Penang, Kajang Hospital, Tuanku Jaafar Hospital in Seremban, Penang Hospital and Tengku Ampuan Rahimah Hospital in Klang.
“We are doing this so we can lessen the number of patients who flood the A&E Departments at certain hospitals,” he told reporters recently.
“The problem is most patients at A&E Departments are not patients who need emergency treatment. And because of this, cases which need immediate attention do not get the full attention of the doctors,” he added.
Dr Chua said that on an average, 70% of those who visited the A&E Departments were not emergency patients, adding that one reason was because many who visited the doctors in the department preferred to do so after they finished working.
Doctors will be paid an overtime allowance of RM30 per hour.
Dr Chua said the ministry was looking to increase this to RM40.
He added that private sector doctors were also welcome to apply to work for these clinics during the extended hours.
Dr Chua also said elective surgeries would be performed on Saturdays at 19 hospitals involving 41 operating theatres beginning next year.
“The main reason is to lessen the number of backlog cases and waiting time for operations at hospitals.
“If we are not careful, the elective ones will have to wait up to six months, which we think is unfair. It is too long and should be about three months,” he said.
The operation cost for this would be about RM7mil annually, he added.

Patient attacks doctor and guard at hospital

Star: BUKIT MERTAJAM: A 49-year-old man, who has been undergoing treatment for over a year at the Bukit Mertajam Hospital, went berserk and attacked a doctor and a security guard with a meat cleaver.
The man, who is being treated for ulcer, first attacked the security guard in his 40s near the outpatient department at about 4.15pm on Friday. He then attacked the 36-year-old woman doctor as she came out from her room after hearing screams outside.
The man then slashed himself on the neck.
Police from Central Seberang Prai district led by acting CID chief Asst Supt S. Subramaniam rushed to the hospital and arrested him.
Police have recovered the weapon used in the incident.
The doctor, who sustained injuries on her right leg, right arm and left wrist, was treated at a private hospital in Butterworth, while the guard has been discharged.
Yesterday, the police brought the suspect back to the hospital for treatment for his neck wound before taking him back to the lock-up.
Sources said the suspect had been scolded several times for frequently sleeping at the hospital’s five-foot way.
Central Seberang Prai OCPD Asst Comm Mohd Anil Shah Abdullah said the man had been remanded for a week to facilitate investigations.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Hui Yi is doing well

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: Heart transplant girl Tee Hui Yi's body is showing almost no rejection of the new organ she received.
National Heart Institute heart and lung transplant unit clinical director, Dr Mohamed Ezani Md Taib, said a biopsy conducted yesterday showed that her body was experiencing Grade 1A rejection.
“It means almost no rejection,” he said when contacted yesterday.
Lower grade numbers meant low levels of rejection while Grade Four was the highest level of transplanted organs.
Dr Ezani said Hui Yi was put back on a ventilator to help her with breathing.
“She was not strong enough. She is still weak. She needs more nutrition,” he said, adding that she would be on it for another day.
He said Hui Yi was also doing her exercises well.
Hui Yi went through two operations – on Oct 3 and Oct 4 – after her body rejected the first heart which came from a 15-year-old boy from Sitiawan, Perak.
She fared better with the second heart from a 20-year-old mechanic, declared brain dead after an accident in Johor Baru, enabling her to have a second transplant.
As for the patient who received the 15-year-old's lungs, Dr Ezani said he completed a 300m walk without any problem.
“This is amazing. Before the transplant, he was completely tied down to the oxygen cylinder.”

RM30mil to boost heart and lung transplants

Star: PUTRAJAYA: Some RM30mil has been “pumped” into the coffers of the National Heart Institute (IJN) to boost its heart and lung transplant team. And the Health Ministry has also requested for more than RM100mil to jump-start its organ transplantation policy.
Its minister Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek told reporters yesterday the Cabinet had on Wednesday approved his request for the money to be given to IJN, which had done a “very good job” and “did the nation proud.”
The funds would also benefit its mechanical heart programme.
“The Cabinet asked why we were asking for so little. They said even if it was RM1bil, they would approve it,” he said.
“The first step is to help IJN strengthen its heart and lung transplant team, including for training and equipment.”
The IJN recently carried out a double heart transplant surgery on 14-year-old Tee Hui Yi and a lung transplant on a 39-year-old man.
The National Organ, Tissue and Cell Transplantation Policy, which was formulated in June this year, is meant for promotional activities and strengthening the current transplantation services, laboratory support services and national registries.
Dr Chua said it would serve as a guideline for organ transplantation in the country, which so far has been carried out on an ad hoc basis.
A National Transplantation Council chaired by the ministry’s director-general would oversee all policies related to transplantation and the progress while a technical committee headed by its deputy director-general would decide on issues such as new approaches.
On keeping the identities of organ donors confidential, Dr Chua said it was a general policy to not allow the recipient to meet the donor's family if they were not blood relatives.

Cancer-causing Red 2G in sausages, burgers banned

NST: PUTRAJAYA: The use of a food colouring called "Red 2G" is banned with immediate effect.
The colouring, usually found in breakfast sausages and burger meat, has been found to pose a health risk, including cancer.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek said the ban was imposed following safety concerns raised jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organisation/World Health Organisation expert committee on food additives and the European Union scientific committee for food.
Red 2G is banned in Australia, Austria, Canada, Japan, Norway, Sweden and the United States. It was banned in Ireland, Israel and Greece in July this year.
Red 2G, Acid Red 1, Food Red 10, Amidonaphthol red G, azogeranine, azophloxine, azofloxin, or C.I. 18050, is a synthetic red azo dye. It is soluble in water and slightly soluble in ethanol.
In the intestines, Red 2G can be converted to the toxic compound aniline. As a result, there are concerns that Red 2G may ultimately interfere with blood haemoglobin, as well as cause cancer.
It is also used as a dye for coatings, inks, paper, crepe paper and fine tissue.
Dr Chua said Red 2G was used extensively in Malaysia for burger meat and sausage to add colour to the food.
"An adult weighing 50kg who takes 10mg of food coloured with 2G daily is at high risk," he said.
Speaking from his office, Dr Chua said all food manufacturers and food sellers had been ordered to withdraw food containing Red 2G voluntarily.
"This is because food that has already been manufactured would be allowed to be sold until the expiry date. Food which has no expiry date must be withdrawn from the market within three months from today (yesterday)," he said.
Anyone caught selling food containing Red 2G would be charged in court under the Food Act.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

1.2m face eye diabetic risk

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: About 1.2 million Malaysians could be suffering from diabetic retinopathy, a common diabetic eye disease that can lead to blindness.
Consultant ophthalmologist Professor Dr Muhaya Mohamad said the majority of diabetic patients were not aware that they had the disease as there were no symptoms until it got worse.
"It's important for them to go for an annual eye check-up to prevent blindness. Unfortunately, by the time they seek treatment, it's too late as their condition has become irreversible," she told the New Straits Times in conjunction with the World Sight Day today.
Dr Muhaya, who is also the chairman of the Ophthalmological Society of the Malaysian Medical Association, said there were 3.2 million diabetic patients in the country and 40 per cent of them could be suffering from diabetic retinopathy, which is caused by changes in the blood vessels of the retina.
"If you are diabetic, your chance of becoming blind is 25 times more compared to non-diabetic patients," she warned, adding that for some people with diabetic retinopathy, blood vessels may swell and leak fluid.
In other people, abnormal new blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina.
The retina is the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. A healthy retina is necessary for good vision.
Dr Muhaya said if a person had diabetic retinopathy, he might not notice the initial changes to his vision but over time, the disease could get worse and cause vision loss.
Diabetic retinopathy usually affects both eyes.
To commemorate the World Sight Day, Dr Muhaya said the Ophthalmological Society, together with the Women and Family Development Ministry, Standard Chartered Bank and Eye Fund of MMA Foundation, would embark on a Diabetic Retinopathy Patient Awareness Empowerment (Drape) programme.
Dr Muhaya said the Drape programme would kickstart next month. Leaflets containing information on diabetic retinopathy, its cause and prevention will be distributed to schoolchildren nationwide.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Regulate industry, says StemLife

TheEdge: The stem cell banking industry is likely to be regulated following controversies over licensing issues surrounding the players.
At present, local stem cell storage companies, including StemLife Bhd do not need additional licences to operate a stem cell banking business.
However, this will soon change as the government is likely to come up with an Act to govern the stem cell industry.
"There is an urgent need for the industry to be regulated. This will ensure that only genuine companies are allowed to operate," StemLife finance director Michael Lim tells The Edge.
The issue of licensing arose when StemLife was directed by the Medicine Advertisement Board (MAB) to withdraw all its advertising materials as they did not comply with the approved contents for advertisement purposes.
The MAB is part of the Pharmaceutical Services Division, which is within the ambit of the Ministry of Health. MAB reviews applications for advertisements relating to services, appliances and remedies that have medical claims.
"MAB visited our office following complaints about our advertisements on certain claims. There is content, which falls under the MAB's 'ban list' such as claims on cancer treatments, that is not allowed on advertisement materials, unless they are for educational purposes," he adds.
StemLife, which collects and preserves umbilical cord blood stem cells from newborns, claims that stem cells are able to replace damaged cells and have been used in the treatment of such illnesses as heart disease, thalassaemia, blood cancers and chronic wounds.
"We then removed our advertising materials and submitted to the MAB our new materials but did not get approvals as we were told we did not have the licence to operate. As far as we are aware, we don't need a licence for our banking of stem cell business," he adds.
However, in order to obtain the relevant approvals from MAB, Lim says StemLife applied recently for a licence under the Private Healthcare and Facilities Services Act, which came into effect last year.
Its application is still pending as the government is in the midst of determining which Act the stem cell banking industry falls under, Lim says.
"These licensing and advertisement issues are not unique to StemLife as other industry players are affected too," he says.
The other stem cell storage companies are privately owned Cyrocord Sdn Bhd and CellSafe International Sdn Bhd. CellSafe is the newest kid on the block and aims to raise as much as £15 million from a proposed listing on the Alternative Investment Market in London.
Nevertheless, Lim says that StemLife will continue to advertise using new materials, which have been given the verbal go-ahead by the MAB.
Licensing and advertisement issues are not the only problems faced by StemLife.
Last week, StemLife was put under the spotlight following allegations of improprieties. The company had lodged a police report against the blogger who made the allegations and is also considering taking legal action.
StemLife says the allegations in the blog article were malicious and defamatory.
As competition intensifies, it is common for companies to fall victim to vicious rumours and allegations.
Understandably, many players are looking at setting up stem cell banks as the industry is still in infancy.
According to CellSafe corporate affairs director Lau Kin Wai, the stem cell banking industry has room for more players as the local birth rate shows growth of 5% annually, with 500,000 babies born last year. "More competitors essentially help to create awareness," he says.
He says CellSafe is also looking at venturing into China as the country registered some 16 million newborns last year.
StemLife has been successful in this business, based on its financial performance since listing on the Mesdaq Market last October.
For the six months ended June 30, 2007, StemLife's net profit ballooned to RM3.95 million, which is more than the whole year's net profit of RM3.77 million in FY2006. For the first-half period, its revenue doubled to RM10.9 million from RM5.6 million a year earlier.
Nevertheless, StemLife's share price appreciation appears to have outpaced its earnings growth.
Based on its share price of RM4.12, the group's stock is trading at a historical 127 times its FY2006 earnings per share of 3.23 sen. Bloomberg data shows that StemLife is trading at a forward price earnings ratio (PER) of 105 times FY2007 earnings.
But that has not deterred institutional investors from putting their money into StemLife. Big names like Capital Group International Inc, Goldman Sachs International and Berjaya Corp Bhd have bought substantial stakes in StemLife. Capital Group has an indirect stake of 5.82% while Goldman Sachs holds 9.03%. Berjaya Corp holds a 13.56% stake via its wholly owned Juara Sejati Sdn Bhd.
Some StemLife directors have reduced slightly their shareholding in the company but still remain substantial shareholders.
In a market where stem cell banking is still largely untapped, more players mean better awareness. On the other hand, it is important that the industry be regulated to weed out fly-by-night operators.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Binding pledge: Move to drop family consent

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: Family members will not be able to object to the removal of organs pledged by a brain-dead donor from next year.
The government plans to amend the Human Tissue Act 1974 and the Medical Act 1971 next year to do away with the need for consent.
This is to save more lives and expedite the process of organ transplants.
The move was necessary, Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek said, because family members of many people who had pledged their organs had objected to the removal of organs.
As a result, the pledged organs of donors who were brain dead could not be used to help others.
Dr Chua said as long as two specialists certified that a person who had pledged to donate his organs was brain dead, the organs would be harvested.
He said after the amendments, the objections of family members and relatives would not count.
He said the ministry was also considering making it compulsory for doctors to inform relatives of brain-dead patients about organ donation.
"At present, many doctors do not do that as they try to avoid the parents.
"I am very frank about this as I think doctors tell relatives in big hospitals but not in small hospitals," he said after visiting 14-year-old heart transplant patient Tee Hui Yi at the National Heart Institute yesterday.
He said there were about 110,000 organ pledgers in the country. There were only 13 organ donors in 2005 and 25 last year. Less than 20 per cent of those from whom organs were harvested had pledged their organs. Most of the organs were taken from those who had not pledged them.
This year, 19 people have donated 20 kidneys, two hearts, three livers, six heart valves, 24 corneas, a lung and four bones.
"Since last Wednesday, many lives have been saved because of organs harvested from brain-dead people.
"The last few days saw a lung transplant being performed at IJN on a Sarawakian and six kidneys being transplanted at Kuala Lumpur and Selayang hospitals."
He said these organ donations were made possible because of the publicity created in the media about organ donation.
"We want to sustain this publicity so that we can get more organs from brain-dead patients."
Dr Chua said IJN had asked for an allocation of RM30 million to develop its cardiology unit.
It wants to buy equipment, including more mechanical hearts, and carry out training.
"I will bring this up at the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday. I think IJN deserves the allocation," he added.
Meanwhile, Kuala Lumpur Hospital's Nephrology Department head Dr Ghazali Ahmad said 28 renal transplants were performed at the hospital this year, of which 13 kidneys were taken from dead persons and the rest from living donors.
Similarly, he said, 10 renal transplants were performed at the Selayang Hospital, with six kidneys from dead persons and the rest from living donors.
"There are 15,000 chronic kidney patients on dialysis and every year, some 2,600 new cases come in. About 9,000 of them need kidney transplants," he said, adding that this year it had received 20 kidneys from brain-dead people.

National Blood Bank sends out SOS

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: The national Blood Bank is sending an urgent appeal to donors as its supply is fast reaching critical level.
It has 137 hospitals in the Klang Valley to service but its stock has dropped to well below its secure level of 2,500 pints.
“At present, there is only about 1,300 pints in the bank,” said its director Datuk Dr Yasmin Ayob, who has made an urgent call for more donors.
Kuala Lumpur Hospital and Putrajaya Hospital are among those that depended solely on the blood bank for supply.
Conceding that the fasting month had made most Muslims “unfit” to donate blood during the day, Dr Yasmin said the bank has extended its operating hours to 9pm daily to encourage them to save lives by donating blood.
She said it was a common misconception that blood is needed during the Hari Raya celebrations because of the increasing number of accidents.
The centre in Jalan Tun Razak (next to the National Library) operates from 7.30am to 9pm from Monday to Friday this week to enable more people to donate blood.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Kedah on high alert for dengue

Star: ALOR STAR: Kedah is on high alert for dengue following the death of a three-year-old girl from dengue haemorrhagic fever on Friday.
The girl, Mawaddah Yusri, died three days after another victim Hamidah Said, 36, passed away. Both are from Taman Bersatu here.
The health authorities have summoned 12 other suspected dengue patients who are staying in the same housing to return to the hospital for further observation.
State Health committee chairman Datuk Fong Chok Gin said: “The 12 patients had earlier sought treatment at the hospital but they were sent home. But after the second death, we called them back and had them warded because we do not want to take any chances.”
Mawaddah died within a day after she was admitted to the intensive care unit on Thursday.
The health authorities have also conducted checks on the 2,000 houses in the housing estate to seek and destroy potential mosquito breeding ground.
A total of 15 people, including the 12 residents from Taman Bersatu, have been warded for suspected dengue yesterday.

Learn about mental disorders

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: Does someone in your family have a cleaning obsession? Does your colleague talks to himself, especially when there is a lot of work to do?
These “strange” behaviours are symptoms of an abnormal psychological condition, said clinical psychologist Leong Huey Mei, and one in 10 of us suffers from it.
“Many suffer from abnormal behaviour such as panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and mood disorder.
“A person suffering from this mental disorder may find it hard to socialise, work or go about his or her everyday life,” said the consultant clinical psychologist from KL Clinical Psychologist and Counselling Centre.
Other conditions include schizophrenia, schizotypal personality disorder, delusional disorder; behavioural syndromes associated with physiological disturbances and physical factors (for example, eating disorder); and behavioural and emotional disorders due to childhood and adolescence trauma.
Leong added that the main contributing factors to these mental disorders include a person's genetic make-up, physical condition, learning and reasoning and socialisation.
However, she stressed, if detected early enough, the abnormal behaviour can be treated.
Hence, to help the public identify mental disorders in their loved ones and help them overcome the problem, the MCA Lifelong Learning Campaign is conducting a one-day workshop on the branch of psychology which studies people who demonstrate such behaviour, emotion and thinking.
The psychological area is called Abnormal Psychology.
“The Abnormal Psychology workshop is suitable for those interested to know more about the topic as well as those who work with the sufferers such as caregivers, parents, teachers, practitioners and insurance agents.
“It will teach participants to identify the different types of abnormal behaviour,” Leong said.
She believes that getting informed will help the public overcome the problem.
“It is a malady of modern life. When I conduct workshops, it still amazes me how many people recognise the symptoms in themselves – it makes them more aware of the mental problem and I truly believe that once we know about it, we will be more capable to overcome it.”
The workshop will be conducted at the South City Lifelong Learning Centre at the South City Plaza in Seri Kembangan
The centre is part of the second stage of MCA’s Lifelong Learning Campaign.
It is the first such centre to be set up in a shopping complex, providing easier access for nearby residents.
Other courses offered at the centre are Basic English Conversation, Business English, Japanese, Basic Hanyu Pinyin, 4 in 1 Basic Computer, Financial Planning, Calligraphy, Healthy Diet and The Making of the Federal Constitution.
For more information, visit, call the centre at 03-2161 8044, or e-mail

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Agency to help reduce HIV cases

NST: PUTRAJAYA: The National Anti-Drugs Agency (Nada) has been roped in to help expand the Health Ministry’s “harm reduction” programme for drug users.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek said the ministry needs the co-operation of other agencies to meet its target to have 25,000 drug users in the programme by 2010. This will help the country meet United Nations targets for the reduction of HIV/AIDS.
Harm reduction involves a combination of drug substitution therapy, most often with methadone, needle exchange and condom programmes.
In a pilot project starting next month and slated to last six months to a year, Nada centres in Johor, Penang and Kuala Lumpur will enrol 50 addicts in each state in a harm reduction programme. If the RM440,000 project is successful, Nada will expand it to other states.
Currently about 5,000 drug users nationwide are in harm reduction programmes, and the majority are on methadone.
Dr Chua said the average retention rate of drug users after one year on methadone replacement is 75.1 per cent. The World Health Organisation target is 55 to 60 per cent.
He added that those in the programme had shown interest in having a full-time career and closer interaction with family and society in general.
A joint study by the ministry, Universiti Utara Malaysia and WHO estimated that there were just over 890,000 drug users in the country in 2002. Of these, nearly 118,000 were needle users. The study also estimated that eight per cent of drug users were HIV-positive.
Intravenous drug users have been the main source of reported HIV infections in the country over the past 15 years.
If nothing is done, by 2015 some 300,000 people could be HIV-positive, seriously affecting productivity.
Nada deputy director general (operations) Professor Dr Mahmood Nazar Mohamed said the drug agency would engage three psychiatrists to conduct the methadone programme at the three centres designated for the pilot project.
“The psychiatrists and their teams will treat, counsel and monitor the drug users in the programme. We also plan to engage the services of a pharmacist,” he said.
This year the government has set aside RM14.4 million for methadone therapy and RM7 million for the needle exchange programme.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Duty of doctors to inform patients about risks of surgery

NST: PUTRAJAYA: Doctors have a duty to disclose the risk to their patients before performing critical operations.
And it is for patients to decide whether to go for surgery.
Failure to warn patients on the possible consequences could result in doctors facing a medical negligence suit, should the operation be a failure.
The Federal Court yesterday affirmed its earlier decision when a five-man panel dismissed, with costs, an application by a doctor and a private hospital to review the ruling.
“We find this is not a fit and proper case to exercise our inherent powers to set aside the judgment of the Federal Court,” said Federal Court judge Datuk Alauddin Sheriff who chaired the quorum.
Others were Datuk Arifin Zakaria, Datuk Nik Hashim Nik Abdul Rahman, Datuk Seri S. Augustine Paul and Datuk Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin.
Their decision was unanimous.
Private doctors in their personal capacity and those representing their organisations were also present when the court pronounced its ruling.
On Dec 29 last year, Foo Fio Na won RM1.2 million in damages, including interest, following a botched operation on the spine by consultant orthopaedic surgeon Dr Soo Fook Mun.
Foo, 49, who was not in court, had also named Assunta Hospital as a defendant to the action.
Dr Soo filed the leave application to review the Federal Court’s decision on Jan 19, which was granted.
Foo was paralysed from neck down 25 years ago after undergoing an operation to treat her dislocated cervical vertebrae following an accident in which her car crashed into a tree.
The trial court was told that a wire inserted into the bones in the neck during the surgery was compressing the spinal cord. Both defendants denied her claims.
Foo, a former clerk who was only 24 when the accident occurred, filed a legal action against Dr Soo and Assunta Hospital in 1987 for negligence.
Foo originally won the damages in the High Court on April 8, 1999, but the Court of Appeal overturned the judgment on April 5, 2001, declaring that it was uncertain whether Dr Soo and the hospital were negligent.
The Federal Court ruling on Dec 29 also made it easier for litigants to prove negligence against persons professing a specialised skill.
In the landmark ruling, it raised the benchmark of service specialists owed to their clients, and they were no longer in the same league as ordinary medical doctors when they are slapped with medical negligence suits by their patients.
Foo said she was glad her suit had come to finality after 20 years and that it had helped raise awareness on the rights of patients.
“This case has created a level playing field for patients and doctors.
“Patients should be allowed to decide on their lives and consequences before doctors carry out critical or life-threatening operations,” she said.

Organ donations save many lives

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek said yesterday the heart transplant on Tee Hui Yi showed the life-saving nature of organ donations.
He said 1,500 of the 6,000 accident victims every year were declared brain dead.
“Brain-dead patients have too little or no chance of survival. Their organs can be used to save others’ lives. But most of the time, the parents don’t agree to organ donation.”
By medical definition, brain death is considered absolute death as there is no brain activity and machines keep the patient artificially breathing. But most families consider the patient to be alive as long as the person is breathing, even if it is through a ventilator.
Dr Chua said Malaysia was not ready for an opt-out system, where citizens are automatically organ donors unless they officially inform the government they wish to opt out. Countries that practice this include Singapore, the Czech Republic and Austria.
Malaysia practises the opt-in system, where people sign up to be organ donors.
“In five or 10 years, maybe we can think of opting out brain-dead people but for now, no,” he said.
It is estimated that there is a yearly need for 1,200 kidneys, 450 hearts, 250 livers and 700 corneas.
As of June 30, there have been 108,000 organ pledgers. They are made up of 62 per cent Chinese, 23 per cent Indians and Malays 12 per cent.
Of this figure, 54 per cent are women and 45 per cent men.
“Although the number of people who have pledged organs seems high, the number of those who have actually donated their organs is far smaller,” said Dr Chua.
He explained that parental objections, citing culture and religion, were among the reasons people did not donate their organs. Twenty-five people donated their organs last year.

Fast aid

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: A special fund named D’tik (Fund for Persons in Critical Condition) was launched yesterday, promising cash for treatment or equipment to save lives or restore function.
An initial RM5mil has been allocated by the National Welfare Foundation and will be channelled to government hospital patients beginning with 17 hospitals nationwide.
The fund was launched by Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek and Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, who is also the foundation’s chairman.
Shahrizat said aid could now be given as quickly as within 24 hours, depending on how soon the foundation receives verification from the hospital.
Among the criteria for the disbursement of funds are: patients who face a life or death situation, who are under threat of permanent loss of function, who need urgent medical intervention between 24 hours and 72 hours, and who are on life support or critical intervention. The fund is not for follow-up treatment or those with chronic diseases.
Dr Chua said the amount disbursed per patient would not exceed RM20,000 and is for treatment, equipment or special medication needed for the critical period.
However, he said the criteria was flexible and D'tik's officials would consider the situation, needs and humanitarian factors.
He said the contingency fund would be widely implemented, including in disaster situations where money could be used for services such as renting of ventilators for patients needing intensive treatment.
Shahrizat said a special squad had been set up to work round the clock in order for the applications under D’Tik to be processed swiftly.
Dr Chua took to task his ministry’s Medical Aid Fund which needed to speed up its approval process as there were still complaints that it took much longer than the promised two weeks.
He told a press conference later that there were instances when the officer in charge went on leave and no one “took up the case” despite some cases being approved within 10 days.
“We promise that it will be in two weeks but it cannot be denied that there are still many complications and it could not be processed within that time,” he said.
Up to June this year, RM22.6mil had been allocated to 1,693 patients and an additional RM25mil has been allocated this year due to an increase in applications.

Number to call is 999

NST: PUTRAJAYA: The number to call in all emergencies is now 999. The common number for all emergency services was launched yesterday with its motto - one nation, one number.
The government felt it had no choice but to have a single, co-ordinated emergency number after many “worrying incidents", said Energy, Water and Communications Deputy Minister Datuk Shaziman Abu Mansor during the launch.
Previously, there were three numbers, and this caused a lot of confusion. The problems were compounded by complaints of unanswered calls, he said.
He promised that with the one number, any emergency call will be answered and vetted within 10 seconds.
Telekom Malaysia has been tasked with handling the system. Under phase one, the seven existing TM 999 call centres will be upgraded and another one will be set up in Malacca. All 999 calls will be channelled to TM emergency call centres to be “handed over” directly to the agencies concerned.
Under the second phase, which will start in January, all 999 calls will automatically go into TM's computer telephony interface and sent to the various agencies through its computer-aided despatching system. Calls made to the old numbers will automatically be routed to 999.
“All 999 call centres will be connected to the agencies through a virtual private network. The telephone number and location of callers will be identified through automatic number identification and automatic location identification with the help and sharing of information between telecommunication service providers,” said Shaziman.
He warned pranksters that “all hoax calls will be kept on record".
The government will enforce Section 233 of the Communication Act and Multimedia Act 1998 to overcome this problem.
Pranksters can be fined up to RM50,000 or jailed for one year, or both.
Last year, almost 99 per cent of the 999 calls TM received were false. Only 2.32 calls made to the the Civil Defence Department's 991 line were genuine, he said, adding that having one number will overcome the problems of missed calls and crank calls.
TM said the 999 emergency service number is free. TM bears the average RM4 million a year cost of running the centres itself, and the calls are handled by trained emergency service staff.
It said that last year 98 per cent of calls were answered within 10 seconds, meeting the communication and multimedia commission's guideline of 90 per cent of calls answered within 10 seconds.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Malaysia set to meet UN targets on HIV/AIDS

NST: PUTRAJAYA: Malaysia is poised to achieve the “Millennium Goal” set by the United Nations of stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS and reducing infant and mother mortality by the end of the decade, the deputy prime minister said.
Datuk Seri Najib Razak said the expansion of “harm reduction” programmes to more than 25,000 drug users by the Health Ministry and related government agencies would enable Malaysia to achieve the UN targets in respect of HIV/AIDS infection.
“A total of 76,386 people infected with HIV/AIDS were detected by the end of last year.
“Taking into consideration our plans to expand the use of methadone, the needle exchange programme and anti-retroviral treatment in prisons among drug users, it is projected that either by 2009 or 2010, we should be able to see positive results and meet the UN's targets.”
The government's plans to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS had obtained support from the relevant departments and agencies, Najib said after chairing the cabinet committee on AIDS at his office yesterday.
Present were Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek and ministry director-general Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican.
However, the number of HIV cases continued to show an increase whereby infections through sexual contact had risen from 15.9 per cent of the total (5,800 people) in 2000 to 31.9 per cent last year, while the number of women infected with AIDS increased from 9.4 per cent in 2002 to 15 per cent last year.
HIV screenings conducted last year showed the number of infections at Pusat Serenti (drug rehabilitation) centres stood at 15.6 per cent of the total; 5.3 per cent were in prisons and tuberculosis patients made up 8.9 per cent. Tests in pre-marital courses detected 0.13 per cent and pregnant mothers constituted 0.03 per cent of the total.
The use of methadone for drug addicts had shown positive results, Najib said.
“After 12 months of methadone replacement therapy, 66 per cent have obtained full-time jobs while 24.9 per cent are doing odd jobs. This shows how effective and successful this programme has been.”
The committee has decided to expand the methodone programme to cover 25,000 people by 2010.
“Our target for this year is 5,000 people at 58 places (25 hospitals, 26 health clinics and seven private clinics). The committee has decided that this programme as well as the needle or syringe exchange programme be expanded to cover more drug addicts to reduce HIV/AIDS infection.”
The committee also decided that anti-retroviral treatment for prisoners now being carried out on a pilot-project basis at Kajang Prison be expanded to include other prisons which had medical officers and the required facilities.
The programme would also be conducted at all drug rehabilitation centres.
This year, the government has set aside RM14.4 million for methadone-replacement therapy and RM7 million for the needle exchange programme.
Recently, Chua said the government had set aside RM300 million to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS in the next three years.
The money, to be spent for harm-reduction programmes, will involve more than 20,000 intravenous drug users.
Harm-reduction involves a combination of drug substitution therapy, use of methadone and needle and syringe exchange and condom programmes.
Chua had said the harm-reduction pilot programme introduced in 2005 involving some 1,300 intravenous drug users in Johor, Kuala Lumpur and Penang saw 80 per cent of them kick the habit and switch to methadone.

999 for all emergencies

Star: PUTRAJAYA: It's back to 999 to report all forms of emergencies.
And callers can expect their calls to be answered within 10 seconds or after four rings.
Cellular phone users who had been dialling 112 could also dial the 999 numbers to reach the emergency call centre.
Unlike before people need not dial three sets of numbers (999, 994, 991 and 112 - for cellular phone users) to reach the different emergency and rescue service providers in the country.
Deputy Energy, Water and Communications Minister Datuk Shaziman Abu Mansor said specially-trained professionals from the 999 Emergency Call Service Centre would handle all emergency calls and reroute them, complete with digital data on the type of emergency and location.
The calls would then be handled by the respective emergency service providers like the police, ambulance, fire stations and civil defence rescue units.
Shaziman said the 999 call centre would be fully managed by Telekom Malaysia (TM) Bhd and a nationwide campaign on the use of a single number was being carried out.
“By January next year, the 991 and 994 numbers will not be used anymore, but those who still use it to call emergency service will be rerouted to the emergency call centre located throughout the country,” he told reporters during a soft launch of the single emergency number and awareness campaign called Satu Negara Satu Nombor – 999.
Shaziman said the problem of emergency calls not being answered should not arise as the unattended calls would be passed to the next available call centre.
There are a total of eight emergency call centres in the country, with the latest centre opening in Malacca.
Parallel emergency numbers, such as 991 for the Civil Defence Department and 994 for Fire and Rescue, were introduced in 1991, so that such calls could be handled directly by the departments concerned.
Before that, a single emergency number 999 was used to report all emergencies.
Shaziman said the Government decided to develop an efficient system to regroup it back to 999 after public complaints over the four emergency numbers and the many disturbing crimes in the country.
“It is not easy to remember several emergency numbers when a person is in distress. Even I am confused at times,” he said.