Monday, April 28, 2008

Big hope for 'warrior' Aedes

NST: KLANG: The Health Ministry will consider all factors when conducting field trials using genetically modified (GM) Aedes mosquitoes.
Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said it was too soon to conclude whether the method would be a success as it was at the research stage.
"It is a technological breakthrough and we are hoping that it can control the disease," he said, adding that research was also being done on vaccines.
Liow was commenting on fears expressed by environmentalists that the release of GM Aedes mosquitoes could cause more harm than good.
The New Sunday Times reported yesterday that the Institute of Medical Research and a company partly owned by the University of Oxford would release "warrior" mosquitoes in Pulau Ketam off Selangor to combat the den-gue scourge.
Speaking at a press conference after officiating the Federation of Alumni Associations of Taiwan Universities, Mal-aysia annual general meeting in Centro Mall yesterday, Liow said there was a shortage of about 9,000 doctors in the country, adding that in the past five years, more than 100 Malaysian specialists practising abroad had applied to return.
He said those who returned could apply for research grants from the government.
He said the eight Taiwanese universities that were recognised by the government were Medical School of Taiwan, Defence Medical School, Yang Ming Medical School, Chung Kung Medical School, Taipei Medical School, China Medical School, Chung Shan Medical School and Kaoshiung Medical University.

Medical student wins British Council award

NST: MEDICAL student Stephanie Siew Jean Tiew's passion and dedication in saving the lives of babies has won her the International Student of the Year 2008 award, and a cash prize of STG2,000 (RM12,500).
The fourth year student of University of Manchester was among more than 1,500 students representing 127 nationalities in the annual competition by the British Council.
The competition aims to shine the spotlight on international students and their unique contributions to life in the UK.
Siew, who established the "Save a Baby's Life" Society with fellow students, goes to local communities to teach parents and carers of babies about basic life support skills. She also raises funds for the society.
Present to hand over the prize to Siew at the award ceremony last Wednesday was Datuk Jimmy Choo.
Siew was one of 12 finalists to vie for the award and the entry letter that she submitted, detailing her achievements that helped make her time in the UK so rewarding, moved the judges.
In her letter, Siew said: "Since coming to the UK, I feel the sky is the limit and I have dared to dream. This is a place full of opportunities and endless possibilities. The supportive culture in campus, be it from faculty staff or peers, has knitted an extraordinary student life for me. I am a simple country girl who has blossomed into a confident and capable woman."
Despite her busy schedule, Siew finds time to counsel local teenagers interested in a career in healthcare and writes for the medical school newsletter, Mediscope, while also representing the university in debating tournaments.
On her award, she said: "I am thrilled and delighted to have been chosen as an ambassador for my university and country."
Siew has also won the prestigious Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health Student Prize and has been invited to present one of her papers at an international conference.
Martin Davidson, chief executive of the British Council, said: "The British Council knows that international students make a huge contribution and commitment to life in the UK.
"This competition provides a fantastic opportunity for them to earn some well-deserved recognition for their achievements, a great chance for them to show the world what they've achieved while in the UK."

Beware of work risks, says Niosh

Star: PETALING JAYA: The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (Niosh) wants workers to examine the risks related to their jobs in conjunction with World Health Day for Safety and Health at Work today.
The International Labour Organisation has chosen the theme “My Life, My Work, My Safe Work – Managing Risk in the Work Environment” for the international campaign promoting safety and health at work.
“Some industries are inherently more hazardous than others. Workers must respect and apply measures designed to protect them from occupational hazards,” Niosh chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said.
Nonetheless, Lee said employers were responsible for building and maintaining a safety and health culture that addresses prevention, hazard identification, risk assessment and control, information and training.
“Groups such as migrants and other marginalised workers are often more at risk as poverty frequently forces them into unsafe occupations. The Government, employers and workers’ organisations should conduct awareness-raising activities for employees,” he said.
According to Socso, costs related to occupational safety and health came to more than RM900mil last year due to compensation, lost working time, interruption of production, training and medical expenses.

Better pay for specialists

Star: KLANG: The Health Ministry is stepping up efforts to get Malaysian specialists overseas to return home by offering them better remuneration.
Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said the Ministry would offer these specialists salaries in the top-most higher management tier, Jusa grades A to C, depending on their experience.
“This will enable them to earn more than RM10,000 a month including allowances,” he said.
This was an upgrade from the current U54 senior officer post offer, which offers less than RM10,000, he added.
Only 112 overseas specialists had returned to Malaysia in the last five years, and the ministry hoped more would come home and serve the people, Liow said.
Asked why some Malaysian specialists abroad had complained that they experienced difficulty in returning home to work, he said it likely had to do with negotiations on salary, perks and working conditions.
“We were using all kinds of means to overcome the shortage of doctors – increasing intake, hiring foreign doctors and increasing incentives. These did not solve the problem.
“Now we are asking the specialists to come home,” he said.
With the country short of 9,000 doctors, he urged general practitioners to return to government hospitals and clinics once or twice a month to contribute their services, just like private specialists are doing.
These doctors would be paid RM80 an hour, he said after launching the Taiwanese graduates’ alumni annual general meeting yesterday.
On a plan to release genetically-modified (GM) “killer” Aedes mosquitoes in the fishing village of Pulau Ketam in Selangor as part of international field trials to fight dengue, he said it would be a breakthrough if it was successful.
However, for now, the ministry would look into environmental and other concerns.
It was reported in an English newspaper yesterday that the GM male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes would be released into the wild to eliminate the Aedes mosquito, which spreads dengue fever.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Health Ministry to test drive-through project at Penang Hospital soon

Star: PETALING JAYA: Patients with chronic ailments may soon enjoy “drive through” facilities to collect their medication instead of having to wait at government hospital pharmacies.
Health Ministry director-general Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican said a pilot project would begin at the Penang Hospital in three months to study its feasibility.
The service, which would also operate after hours, would be enjoyed by those who suffered from illnesses like diabetes and hypertension.
“They will not have to come on their work day. They can get their medication after office hours or on weekends,” he said.
Ismail said the move was to make pharmacies at the hospitals less congested.
He said patients would be able to make a telephone call or send an SMS to the pharmacy ahead of making the collection.
“Right now, we do not give medication out every three or six months anymore. It is now on a monthly basis and patients have complained that this is inconvenient,” he said.
Furthermore, he said patients with chronic ailments would not need to see the doctor if it was merely repeating one’s medication.
Dr Ismail said “e-prescribing” – the computerisation of medicine prescriptions – had seen a decrease of the number of prescription errors.
The programme has been implemented at the Putrajaya, Selayang and Sungai Buloh hospitals.
Teaching hospitals like Hospital Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and University Malaya Medical Centre have also recognised the benefits of computerisation and e-prescribing, he said.
Ismail said there were now more pharmacists in government hospitals particularly after September 2005 when compulsory service for them was introduced.
By the end of last year, 78% of vacancies for U41 pharmacists had been filled. He said there were 2,288 pharmacists in the public sector.

'Warrior' mosquitoes to fight dengue scourge

NST: The days of the Aedes mosquitoes appear to be numbered, thanks to the efforts of a British bio-tech company and Malaysia's Institute of Medical Research, writes P. SELVARANI.
MILLIONS of genetically modified (GM) "warrior" Aedes mosquitoes will soon be released into the fishing village of Pulau Ketam off Selangor as part of international field trials to fight the dengue scourge.
The GM male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which carry killer genes, will be released into the wild to eliminate the Aedes mosquito population which spreads dengue fever.
The field trials will be undertaken by the Health Ministry's Institute of Medical Research (IMR) in collaboration with British-based Oxitec Ltd, an insect bio-tech company part-owned by the University of Oxford.
This follows the success of confined lab trials which were conducted under the supervision of the IMR over the past year.
The field testing is expected to be conducted on a wider scale on Pulau Ketam at the end of the year or early next year.
The team is undertaking a baseline survey of the island, which is reported to have a high number of the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.
Oxitec has advertised on its website vacancies for the Pulau Ketam field-testing job, which includes a position for a senior entomologist.
The field trials on the island, which is a 30-minute boat ride from Port Klang, are expected to be carried out over a year.
Health Ministry and IMR officials did not want to comment on the tests.
In February, Oxitec had announced that it planned to release the GM mosquitoes in Malaysia on a large scale in three years, following its successful trials.
Calcutta's The Telegraph newspaper had quoted Oxitec's head of public health, Seshadri S. Vasan, as saying that the first confined field study under the supervision of the IMR "yielded encouraging results".
Sources said the controlled lab tests done here were the first in the world and was a breakthrough in the fight against dengue, which has grown to alarming proportions across the globe in recent years.
The technique involves releasing GM male Aedes mosquitoes to mate with the female Aedes mosquito. The lethal genes cause the larvae to die.
(Only a female mosquito can transmit the disease-causing germ because it, and not the male mosquito, has a proboscis that is capable of piercing the human skin.)
The Aedes mosquito is the main vector for dengue and chikungunya fever and conventional methods such as fogging have been ineffective in controlling the spread of these diseases.
However, environmental non-governmental organisations fear that releasing these GM mosquitoes in the wild may affect the ecosystem and cause further damage.
Gurmit Singh, the chairman of the Centre for Environment, Technology and Development, said: "Like all GM organisms, once they have been released in the wild, how do you prevent them from interacting with other insects and producing mutants which may be worse than the Aedes mos-quito?"
It is learnt that if the Pulau Ketam field trials prove successful, the next step would be to introduce the killer mosquitoes in bigger towns which have a high incidence of dengue.
The Telegraph had also reported that the sterile insect technique (SIT), which involves releasing millions of sterile male insects over a wide area to mate with the native female ones, had been around for decades.
It said the conventional sterilisation programmes using radiation or chemical treatment to foster sterility, which were tried on mosquitoes as well, did not work.
Irradiation rendered these mosquitoes so sickly and unattractive that their female counterparts shunned them for the wild ones.
On the other hand, mosquitoes subjected to Oxitec's proprietary technique, called RIDL-SIT, remained healthy and attractive enough to woo the native female insects.
This was proved in independent case studies in Oxford and France and in contained semi-field trials in Malaysia.
Vasan was quoted as saying that the latest study in Malaysia showed that "up to 50 per cent of the wild type female mosquitoes chose to mate with Oxitec's RIDL male mosquitoes".
The paper added that Oxitec had received regulatory and import permits for confined evaluation in the US, France and Malaysia.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Ministry awaits starfruit case report

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: The Health Ministry is still waiting for the report from a hospital in Shenzhen, China, to find out why a retired assistant headmaster suffered a seizure after eating starfruit and slipped into a coma.
Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said the ministry was just as anxious as the media and public to know the reason for Tang Gon Seang's coma and the current condition of his health.
Some health experts, nutritionists and starfruit industry players feel that pesticide residue on the fruit is the reason why Tang, 66, had to be hospitalised.
However, when commenting on Tang's case at a press conference on Tuesday, Professor Dr Tan Si Yen of the University of Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) said some medical experts think the fruit is dangerous to renal failure patients.
This is because it contains a particular neurotoxin and has a high level of oxalic acid.
MCA public service and complaints bureau chief Datuk Michael Chong, when contacted, said that Tang was still comatose and had shown no improvement.
He said Tang's family was making arrangements to bring him back by the end of the month so that he could be admitted at the UMMC.
Meanwhile, Wisma Putra said that it had been in touch with Chong and Malaysia's consulate-general in Guangzhou to get updates on Tang's condition and to help Tang's family, if they request it, to fly him back.
"There are procedures to be adhered to, including obtaining letters from the relevant parties, to fly him back to Malaysia.
"There is a need to ensure that nothing happens to him during the flight," said a spokesman from Wisma Putra.
Tang, a former assistant headmaster of SRJK (C) Kwong Hwa in Butterworth, went to China on Feb 18 with his wife, Teoh Hui Fong, 58, to visit their son, who works there as an engineer.
Tang fell unconscious there on March 29 and slipped into a coma soon after being admitted to hospital.
A specialist diagnosed his condition as being caused by the starfruit he had eaten.
More than 10 patients at the Shenzhen hospital also suffered similar symptoms after eating starfruit.

Docs can’t register ‘excessive’ number

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: It is unacceptable for doctors to register an “excessive” number of clinics under the Private Healthcare Facilities and Services Act.
“If you say you have got three clinics and you are at one clinic in the morning, another in the afternoon and another at night, it is reasonable. But you cannot register five or six or even 10 clinics. That is unacceptable. It is impossible,” Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai told reporters Thursday after launching World Glaucoma Day.
“We want to ensure that for every clinic, there is a doctor responsible for it.”
He was asked to comment on a Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) statement where president Datuk Dr Khoo Kah Lin warned private clinic doctors of legal action if they failed to register their establishments under the Act.
Dr Khoo had said more than 6,000 or 96% of doctors had already registered with the ministry.
Liow added that doctors should self regulate where the registration allowed them to practice and treat patients.
He also said the ministry was setting up a “structured” mechanism where the public could complain if they were charged exorbitant fees by private medical establishments.
The mechanism would be placed under the ministry’s medical practices division where investigations could be carried out swiftly.
Discussions would also be held with relevant parties such as the MMA and the Association of Private Hospitals of Malaysia.
On 66-year-old Malaysian, Tang Gon Seang, who is among more than a dozen people in a coma after eating star fruits in Shenzhen province in China, Liow said the ministry was waiting for a report from their Chinese counterparts.
In a bid to help to prevent eye diseases among Malaysians, Liow said ophthalmologists would visit rural areas more frequently to carry out checks on residents there.
The visits could range from weekly to monthly ones, he said.
He also asked for the more than 700 optometrists to help in carrying out eye checks, as the number of qualified ophthalmologists within the ministry was only about 140.
The leading cause of blindness in Malaysia was still cataracts while glaucoma caused 1.8% of the 78,000 blindness cases.
Among the risk factors for glaucoma are having family members who suffered from the disease, diabetes, high eye pressure or intraocular pressure, short sightedness, and prolonged and frequent usage of steroids. Those aged 45 years and above are also at risk.
Symptoms include blurred vision, red eye, problem focussing in darkness and loss of peripheral sight.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Dystonia patient gets life back after surgery

NST: KOTA BARU: Three years ago, Zakaria Taib's life was turned upside down when he was diagnosed with a movement disorder called Dystonia.
Since then, the 62-year-old retired teacher suffered continuous pain with severe cramps that often left him bedridden. He even had difficulty talking.
But after undergoing a corrective surgery called Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) therapy treatment at Universiti Sains Malaysia Hospital (HUSM) in Kubang Kerian on Jan 31, the father of nine is now able to walk, talk and even drive.
Zakaria was a picture of happiness when met at a press conference in HUSM yesterday.
He was accompanied by his wife Khadijah Hassan, 53, and the team of doctors who treated him, led by HUSM neurosurgeon and neuroscience department head, Professor Dr Jafri Malim Abdullah.
"I am the happiest man alive as I got my life back. Before this, I couldn't walk and talk or do simple tasks. After undergoing the DSB treatment, I can drive my car and read newspaper everyday."
He said that his wife had to quit her teaching job to take care of him.
"My wife and family had to help carry me around. I required help even for basic tasks like eating and bathing. It was very hard on them and I am grateful that they were there for me.
"Although I have not recovered 100 per cent, my condition is now much better, thanks to the doctors," he said.
Dr Jafri said Dystonia patients can undergo treatment at the hospital at less than the cost charged by private hospitals.
Since performing its first operation last year, he said they had two more patients including Zakaria.
The procedure involved inserting two electrical wires in their brain that would be connected to a battery implanted in their chest. The battery can last for five years and can be replaced.
While private practice charges around RM200,000 for the treatment, he said HUSM charged up to RM140,000 including the battery that costs RM20,000.
"So far, only HUSM offers an alternative for patients, especially from the lower income group, to get their treatment at a reasonable cost," he said.

Dept mulls check-ups for NS trainees

NST: KUANTAN: The death of a National Service (NS) trainee and the case of a female participant giving birth may see trainees undergoing medical checkups before joining the camp.
At present, trainee are only required to make a declaration on their health status when registering at the respective camps.
NS Training Department director-general Datuk Abdul Hadi Awang Kechil said the department would get feedback from the Health Ministry and NS Training Council before making a proposal for the compulsory medical checkup.
"I will bring this matter up in the next meeting with ministry officials and council chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye," he said after opening a motivational talk by NS icon Mej Dr Faiz Khalid at the Cahaya Gemilang NS camp in Cherating near here yesterday.
Abdul Hadi said in the two recent cases, the trainees did not know or declare their health status as required. "Both had indicated in the declaration forms that they were fit to join the programme."
He said the student who delivered her baby after joining the programme in Kemaman had only asked for exemption from physical training as she claimed that she had piles.
As for the trainee from the Tapah camp, he was given proper treatment before he died of "pulmonary haemorrhage" due to infection at the Teluk Intan Hospital.

Doctors or pharmacists?

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: Complement each other, not fight. This is the advice given by Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai to doctors and pharmacists who have been arguing over the right to dispense medicines.
"We are talking about two professional bodies. They should complement each other and not be competing with each other."
He said it could not be denied that both were specialised in their respective fields of work.
Right now, Liow said, the system was such that doctors handled all the functions.
On the issue of separation of duties in the dispensing of medicine, he said: "I had a meeting with the Malaysian Medical Council last week and I will be meeting representatives from the Malaysian Medical Association tomorrow. I will meet representatives from the pharmaceutical industry next week."
Liow said he would decide on the matter after the meetings.
For almost 20 years, pharmacists have been fighting for the return of their right to dispense medications but have been unsuccessful for various reasons.
The ministry had planned to conduct a pilot project on the separation of functions between clinics and pharmacies in selected major towns before implementing it nationwide.
However, even before the pilot project could kick off, there have been protests by doctors.

Patients want their pills from clinics

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: The number of patients who visit private clinics may drop if doctors are not allowed to dispense medication, said the Dermatological Society of Malaysia.
Its president, Dr Allan K.C. Yee, said Malaysians usually see a doctor to get medicines.
"Malaysians generally do not believe in paying consultation fee for nothing, if they know they are not going to get medicines from the doctor," he said.
This is one of the reasons why the 70-plus member society is against the idea of separation of functions of doctors and pharmacists which would also apply to dermatologists, who are medical doctors by profession, said Yee.
He added that dermatologists are more qualified than pharmacists in advising patients in applying topical medicines which is frequently the common treatment for skin problems.
"Dermatologists are better qualified to show the patients how to apply the medicine to the affected skin, how much of the medicine to use and how to store them," he said.
The patients might also be shy to ask the pharmacists how to use the medicine in a pharmacy, especially if the problem is around the private parts, he said.
Yee admitted that dermatologists' profits will drop if the separation takes place but said the consultation rate will not change.
He also said the condition of the topical drugs is compromised when drugs are sold in bulk packaging and then repacked by pharmacists.
"Customers are the ones who lose out because they would not be able to keep the medicine for long as it would be either spoilt or become ineffective," he said.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Aedes breeding in 80pc of project sites

NST: SHAH ALAM: Eighty per cent of construction sites and abandoned projects inspected in Selangor were found to be breeding grounds for Aedes mosquitoes.
State Health director Dr Rosnah Hadis said this was one of the main factors contributing to the high number of dengue cases in the state.
Aedes larvae were found in polystyrene containers left by workers, wheelbarrows and even in puddles of water on the floors of unfinished buildings.
Dr Rosnah said many construction sites, especially in Shah Alam, had been issued compound notices and stop-work orders for ignoring the Health Department's notices.
"Eight out of 10 places inspected were found to be breeding grounds for Aedes mosquitoes. My strategy now is to target these sites," she told the New Straits Times at an exhibition and talk on dengue prevention organised by the state Health Department with the co-operation of Shah Alam Municipal Council (MBSA) yesterday.
Dr Rosnah said previously, fogging was carried out only at construction and abandoned sites which were near reported cases of dengue.
As of April 12, a total of 4,389 cases of dengue have been reported in Selangor, with areas under MBSA's jurisdiction recording the highest number, at 332 cases.
From April 6 to 12, 326 new cases were reported in the state.
State Health, Estate Workers, Poverty and Caring Government Committee chairman Dr A. Xavier Jayakumar, who was present at the event, said all involved parties should sit together to map new strategies to combat dengue.
Commenting on an NST article yesterday on the lack of funding for dengue research, Dr Xavier said funds should be channelled to the relevant parties for new studies to be undertaken.
"Funding should be increased. Currently, the Institute for Medical Research is carrying out research on dengue and Aedes mosquitoes."
He added that with more funds, manpower could be expanded and there would be more people working on fighting dengue.

Proposal to avoid serious health issues among NS trainees

Star: AYER HITAM (Johor): More stringent medical checks at national service camps nationwide are among the proposed measures to address health problems among trainees.
National Service Council chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said every camp was equipped with qualified medical assistants to conduct such checks.
“I have brought up the matter with the programme’s director-general Datuk Abdul Hadi Awang Kechil and he will look into ways to avoid serious health problems among trainees.
“Besides that, I want all the trainees to be honest in declaring the state of their health before entering the camps,” he told a press conference after launching the Sembrong NS Camp open day here yesterday.
He was commenting on reports of a female trainee in Kemaman, Terengganu, who recently gave birth after complaining of stomach pains.
Lee said Abdul Hadi would discuss these issues with the Health Ministry.
He said that at present, compulsory medical checks for every trainee prior to entering camp was not possible as the Health Ministry did not have enough manpower.
“The Health Ministry could not agree with the proposal for a compulsory check-up when the matter was discussed in 2004.
“However, we will revisit the matter if the need arises in the future,” he said.
On another matter, Lee said the NS committee would go to schools to explain and promote the programme to future trainees, but it would be done on a request basis.
“The future trainees, mainly Form Four and Form Five students will be better prepared mentally after attending these sessions.
“We welcome SMK and Chinese independent schools to request for such talks but we cannot accommodate all schools as we do not have enough manpower,” he said.
At the open day yesterday, Angkasawan Mejar Dr Faiz Khalid, who earlier this year was appointed as the NS programme icon, held a dialogue with the trainees.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Medical grads snub ministry programme

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: Most of the medical graduates from unrecognised universities appear to have snubbed the special programme offered by the Health Ministry.
Just a dozen of the 220 graduates may opt for the programme said P. Chitrakala Vasu, chief executive officer of Maju Institute of Educational Development which is registering students for the programme at its Asian Institute of Medicine, Science and Technology University. She said the figure is based on the number of the graduates who took the registration forms at Tuesday's dialogue with MIED chairman Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu.
Chitrakala said the programme comprised one-year pre-clinical studies at a medical institution and two years of practical clinical work at appointed hospitals. The affected graduates, 70 per cent of whom are Indians, attended last Tuesday's dialogue session. However, a spokesperson for the graduates, claimed that none of the graduates were interested in the three-year programme.
The programme costs RM150,000 and there is no guarantee of a pass.
"These graduates will have to spend an additional five years, which includes the compulsory two years housemanship, before they can practise," said the spokesperson. She added that many of them had decided to sit for the equivalent qualifying exam overseas.
The affected medical graduates obtained their degrees from the Philippines, China, Japan, Pakistan, Romania, India, Armenia, Indonesia and the British Virgin Islands.
The spokesperson said the graduates' degrees were recognised by the World Health Organisation.
She said many chose to pursue degrees that are unrecognised in Malaysia as the graduates failed to get a place in local universities.
The cost of pursuing a medical degree in a recognised foreign university can be as low as RM150,000 or as high as RM1 million, according to Pathmavathy Suresh, the managing director of Nugrahan Sdn Bhd, a representative of recognised foreign universities The cost of getting a medical degree at an unrecognised university is between RM70,000 and RM150,000, she said.

Health Ministry to study hospital charges

Star: PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) and Fomca support the Health Ministry’s plan to review private hospital charges for room, equipment and medicine.
MMA said the charges should be uniform while Fomca proposed the ministry use existing mechanism within its purview to address the issue.
However, the Association of Private Hospitals Malaysia (APHM) merely expressed its willingness to listen to Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai’s recommendations but doubted that it would be easy to regulate the charges.
MMA president Datuk Dr Khoo Kah Lin said currently, such charges were not totally uniform as private hospitals set their own billing standard.
“We support the call to look into such charges so that we will see a more streamlined, affordable and equitable and uniform rates at the private hospitals,” he said yesterday.
“If the government regulates doctors’ fees, but does not regulate hospital charges, it is not going to be able to make medical treatment in the private sector affordable to consumers. Doctors’ fees form a very small fraction of the hospital bills,” he said.
Dr Khoo was commenting on the Health Minister’s remark that a committee would be set up to conduct a study on the issue of private hospital fees.
Liow said the ministry had a mechanism to control charges under the Private Hospital Act.
However, Dr Khoo said there must be a reasonable control of private hospital charges in view of the rising prices of medical equipment and drugs.
“While the minister’s call for a review of costs in private hospitals is a good idea, I would like to caution the people that there are various pricing depending on what type of surgery, equipment, facilities and medicine used.
“We can’t push to say that everybody must reduce prices because private hospitals providing five-star quality services and those with three-star quality services are not the same,” he added.
APHM vice-president Datuk Teddric Jon Mohr said the association would listen to the minister’s recommendations and share its concerns and ideas to come up with a solution.
“We are willing to sit down with the minister but private hospitals have to spend millions of ringgit on hidden costs. There are a lot of issues private hospitals have to deal with to maintain their standard.”
Pressed further if it was possible to make uniform charges of room, equipment and medicine at private hospitals, he said:
“It will be very difficult. For instance, I don’t think we could say that every private hospital can charge RM200 for in-house patients because different hospitals have different things.”
Fomca vice-president K. Koris said the association welcomed the minister’s concern but questioned the need to set up a committee to conduct a study on the matter.
He proposed that Liow use the mechanism within his ministry such as the National Patient Safety Council to look into the issue.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Health ministry to check on private hospital charges deemed excessive

Star: PETALING JAYA: The Health Ministry will review private hospitals' charges for room, equipment and medicine, which many have said are excessive.
Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said he would instruct the director-general to set up a committee to conduct a thorough study on the issue of private hospitals' fees.
He said the ministry had a mechanism to control the charges under the Private Hospital Act and that currently only doctors’ fees were regulated.
He also said he would meet the Malaysian Medical Association, Association of Private Hospitals of Malaysia and consumers associations to get their feedback.
“When I say that the ministry will review the fees, it does not mean that we want to limit the hospital fees,” Liow said.
“Don’t get me wrong, but there are some hospitals that are reasonable with their charges because of their five-star-quality services, but some are exorbitant.”
Liow also said the Government only regulated certain charges and that it would not be easy to regulate all the charges as some patients preferred to stay in luxurious rooms.
He urged the public to complain to the ministry if they were not satisfied with their hospital bills.
“I will set up an avenue for the public to lodge complaints and I will make sure that there is a proper mechanism to address the problem,” he said.
MCA Public Services and Complaints Department chief Datuk Michael Chong said he often received requests from patients for his help to appeal to hospitals to reduce charges.
He said some of the cases involved RM20,000 to RM50,000, especially surgery cases.
“I advise patients to demand itemised billing from hospitals, so they can dispute the charges if they feel that they are unreasonable,” he said.
However, he said patients who requested for extra services such as deluxe rooms should not complain about the extra charges.
National Consumer Complaints Centre director Darshan Singh said the review was a timely move as medical bills have been escalating.
“The prices are inflating and this is also probably because of involvement of insurance companies,” he said.
Muslim Consumers Association project director Noor Nirwandy Mat Noordin lauded the ministry’s plan and said private hospitals should have some social obligations.
“Some of their profit must go back to society through discounts,” he said.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Grads prefer to stay on overseas

Star: PUTRAJAYA: More and more medical students sent abroad to study on government scholarships, many costing more than a million ringgit each, are breaking their 10-year bond by refusing to return and serve in public hospitals.
“This is a sore point with us. In 2006, 21 medical students in Britain did not return. Last year, the number was 63. For those studying in Ireland, three students did not come back in 2006 while last year, 27 did not return,” said Human Capital Development division director Datin Madinah Mohamad.
She said these students cost the Government up to RM1.1mil each in funding for the five-year course.
“The number has been steadily increasing each year since 2003. The excuse these undergraduates often give is that they want to do their two-year housemanship over there and continue with sub-specialisation courses.
“But when they do so, they may then get employed and become eligible for registration in Britain. With the pay they are getting there, it’s highly unlikely they will come back and serve here,” she said in an interview here yesterday.
Since 2003, 145 students from Britain and 85 from Ireland have not come back. However, only three from Russia, two from Jordan and one from Japan failed to return.
Another reason many students chose to stay back could have been due to PSD’s perceived lenient treatment of such students in the past and a paltry penalty of RM160,000 each before 2003, she said.
“It encouraged undergraduates, who have seen many of their seniors being let off, to follow suit,” she said.
Although the department had officers in Britain and Ireland to track down errant medical students, some in the last year of studies ignored notices and others did not bother to show up when called for interviews.
She said tougher measures were needed to make them come back and serve or pay their bond.
The department was now seriously considering suggestions to make errant students repay twice or thrice the sum of their scholarships as punishment.
“We need to study this recommendation,” she said, adding the department had also handed 30 such cases since 1989 to the Attorney-General’s Chambers for legal action and had even declared one former student bankrupt.
But legal action was slow and guarantors would be taken to court only as the last resort, she said.
Since PSD’s Overseas Scholarship Programme started in 2000, RM2.15bil in scholarships had been given to 10,485 students up to the end of last year.

Number of obese growing bigger, says Liow

Star: PETALING JAYA: About 50% of 13 million Malaysian adults could be overweight or obese, a worrying trend that seems to be on the rise.
Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said while the National Health and Morbidity Survey in 2006 revealed that 43.1% of Malaysian adults were overweight or obese, which was double the figure from a decade ago, the numbers could have already increased since then.
Liow blamed the disturbing situation on the lack of proper health knowledge, adding that Malaysians needed to be better informed and motivated to stay healthy, in terms of diet, physical activity, stress management and disease prevention.
He said Malaysians had also grown accustomed to an affluent lifestyle, and were more comfortable sitting at home and watching television or being in front of the computer, instead of enjoying the outdoors.
“For example, how many people know that losing even a modest five to 10% of their weight can result in better health?” he said in his speech yesterday when launching Nutrition Month Malaysia 2008.
Saying he himself was overweight, Liow said Malaysians took “eating right” lightly as they did not know what to eat, when to do so and how much they should consume.
“There is plenty to eat but unfortunately, many of us are not making wise decisions on what and how much to eat. Instead, we act on impulse,” he added.
“With our busy lifestyles, we would rather eat out than at home, opt for fast food rather than cook at home.
“And too often, we spare little thought about health and the nutritional value of what we put into our tummies.”
Malaysian Association for the Study of Obesity president Prof Dr Mohd Ismail Noor later said that about 90% of overweight and obese adults in the country were “very likely” to develop diabetes.
“What is worrying are younger people who have diabetes and are also overweight.
“You do not have to wait until you are 40 to have this disease. They are now as young as 25,” he said.
He also said if one of a person’s parents was overweight or obese, the chances of his being in a similar situation was 40%.
The chances increased to 80% if both parents were either overweight or obese, he added.
Genetic predisposition, he said, contributed to between 10% and 15% of those who faced the weight problems.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Dental grad offers kids renewed hope

NST: MELBOURNE: When Malaysian dentist Asilah Yusof graduates from the University of Adelaide today, she will give hope to thousands of young Malay children affected by craniofacial abnormalities.
The PhD candidate will use her newly acquired postgraduate degree to help treat children with cleft lip and palate deformities, the most common form of facial abnormalities found among children in Malaysia.
Her thesis findings will provide dental surgeons with a new set of measurements to help diagnose, treat and also improve the post-operative care of children with craniofacial abnormalities.
"Malays tend to have a shorter anterior cranial base, which may set up a wider palate and maxillary arch," Asilah told the university's monthly magazine Adelaiden.
"My PhD involved developing reference data of Malay children based on three-dimensional computed topography, comparing facial variables between males and females and also comparing the results with Caucasian populations."
Asilah's postgraduate studies were sponsored by her employer, Universiti Sains Malaysia, where she is teaching dental students and furthering her research into craniofacial morphology.
She completed her Graduate Diploma in Clinical Dentistry at the University of Adelaide in 2000 after finishing an undergraduate degree at the University of Otago in New Zealand.
Born and raised in Kota Baru, Kelantan, Asilah is the daughter of two health workers.
She was inspired to study dentistry as a child after visits to the hospital clinic.
"I worked with Malaysia's Ministry of Health as a dentist after graduating in 1996 and spent a year working in a remote rural area, which opened my eyes to the facial deformities that affect many of our young children," Asilah said.
Asilah joined Universiti Sains Malaysia in 1999 as a trainee lecturer and was encouraged to return to Adelaide to study for her PhD in 2001.
"The dental school in Adelaide has an outstanding reputation because of the excellent supervision provided by Professor Grant Townsend and Dr David Netherway," she said.
Asilah intends to use her PhD to continue her research into software development for craniofacial analysis and post-operative implant placements at the Universiti Sains Malaysia hospital.
She will graduate at an offshore ceremony at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Hongkong today with 70 other students.
This year, the university is holding offshore graduation ceremonies in Singapore and Hong Kong.

Liow set to pep up Health Ministry

Star: PUTRAJAYA: Health Ministry staff members who are not prepared to serve the people with the right attitude have no place in the organisation and are free to leave.
Its minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said he did not want them hindering the progress of the ministry and would act immediately against those who were irresponsible.
He said the ministry’s 200,000 strong staff, especially front-liners such as specialists, doctors and nurses, needed to be professional and caring, and practise teamwork.
“If you cannot live up to the expectations of the ministry, then you can leave,” he said.
He said action that could be taken against non-performers included transferring them out of their existing department, adding that the ministry would introduce more key performance indicators, such as the number of patients specialists treated daily, to ensure staff carried out their job efficiently.
“They want gaji lebih (more salary), I can fight for them. I can fight in the Cabinet to get more money for them. But they must work for the people. The right attitude is to work for the rakyat,” he said.
Clearly dissatisfied and unhappy over the level of services being delivered by frontline staff, Liow said he wanted to push hard for good services.
He added that it was important to hold staff members accountable for their actions.
“We want to tackle the waiting time, rude and incompetent staff, and staff who are uncaring and do not work as a team. There must also be a sense of urgency,” he said, adding that his sentiments were based on public complaints.

Safety audit for NS training camps

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: The National Service Training Department will relook the safety standards of the facilities and equipment at all its 84 training camps nationwide.
Its department director-general Datuk Abdul Hadi Awang Kechil said this was to ensure the camps adhered to the best safety standards.
“The department has enlisted the services of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (Niosh) to conduct an audit on the safety of the facilities and equipment,” he said.
“If there is a need to make changes, then the camp operators will be notified to do the needful,” he said after the signing of the RM1mil agreement between Niosh and the department yesterday.
Among others, the agreement would allow Niosh to conduct an audit to ensure the safety of facilities and equipment in the camps for 18 months.
Abdul Hadi said the department wanted to be doubly sure with regards to safety although private firms engaged by the camp operators had certified that the facilities and equipment were safe.
“We want to provide a form of assurance to parents that their children are in a safe environment,” he said.
Abdul Hadi signed the agreement on behalf of the department while Niosh was represented by its executive director Amir Yahya.
Present was NS Training Council chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye, who is also the Niosh chairman.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Hospital negligent, Liow says sorry

Star: PENANG: The Health Ministry has apologised to the family of a rubber tapper in Pahang after a post-mortem report confirmed that his death was due to negligence.
Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said yesterday that disciplinary action would be taken against the negligent Bentong Hospital staff member who caused 31-year-old Ng Hong Chuan’s death recently.
“On behalf of the Health Ministry, I want to apologise to the family of the victim. We will hold a meeting soon to discuss ex-gratia payment for the family, said Liow, who is also the Bentong MP.
Hospital staff allegedly refused treatment to the heart attack patient, resulting in his death.
Earlier, the minister officially handed over the site of the Penang Hospital Phase One project to developer Lejadi Infra Sdn Bhd.
He said Penang Hospital patients could expect better care when upgrading works are completed by February next year.
“Under Phase One, the general intensive care (GICU), high dependency (HDU) and nuclear medicine units will be upgraded and a second invasive cardiovascular laboratory and 540-bay multi-storey car park built.
“The upcoming radioactive iodine ward to treat thyroid cancer and other nuclear medicine therapeutic services will be the first in the northern region, so patients here need not be referred to Hospital Kuala Lumpur any more,” he said.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Hope yet for med grads

Star: PUTRAJAYA: Medical graduates from overseas universities not recognised by the Government now have the option of transferring their credits to recognised local establishments to pursue their goal of becoming doctors.
This option is being given on a one-off basis instead of them sitting for a competency examination.
Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said yesterday that this was useful for those who had failed the examination for a maximum of three times.
He said the easing of the rule was until Dec 31 this year for graduates who completed their studies by Dec 31 last year.
“The Cabinet has agreed that graduates from unrecognised institutions, especially those who have exhausted all chances of sitting for the exam, be given the chance to continue their studies via credit transfer to recognised institutions,” he told reporters yesterday.
Under the Medical Act, only medical graduates from recognised institutions are allowed to register with the Malaysian Medical Council to practise legally.
Those who graduated from unrecognised institutions are required to pass a competency examination under the Medical (Setting Examination for Provisional Registration) Regulations before they can register.
He said that under the new arrangement they would have to undergo one year of pre-clinical studies and two years' clinical studies, adding that this period depended on courses they had taken previously.
Liow added that the students could transfer their credits to institutions like the Asian Institute of Medical Sciences and Technology.
A group of about 200 students, most of whom had sat for the examination three times, had recently appealed to him to be allowed such credit transfers, he said.
Once they are accepted for the credit transfer, the students will be absorbed into the recognised institutions, sit for examinations as usual and become housemen at hospitals.

Medical students who fail test get another shot

NST: PUTRAJAYA: Students from unrecognised medical colleges abroad who failed a local examination to qualify for housemenship here before Dec 31 last year have been given a reprieve.
The cabinet has allowed them to transfer credit hours from their universities to a local public or private university to complete their medical course.
"If they pass, they can do their housemanship at public hospitals," Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said before chairing the ministry's post-cabinet meeting.
The decision comes in the wake of an appeal from Liow to the cabinet to allow the students to continue their studies here.
He said the number of years they would have to study here depended on the number of credit hours transferred to the university.
It is learnt that at least 200 students had failed three attempts at the local examination.
Normally, when medical students from unrecognised medical colleges return to Malaysia, they are attached to University of Malaya, Universiti Sains Malaysia or Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia for six months before sitting an examination under the Medical (Setting of Examination for Provisional Registration) Regulations 1993.
Medical students who want to take up the offer should apply to the Malaysian Medical Council on or before Dec 31 with proof of acceptance to a local university.
The applicant must obtain written approval from the MMC before pursuing the course. The MMC has the right to reject incomplete applications.
Liow said the course pursued should not be less than a year for non-clinical studies and two years for clinical studies.
The Asian Institute of Medical Sciences and Technology, which received recognition from the MMC on Aug 17 last year, has offered to accept these students.
On another issue, Liow said the cabinet had approved RM12.9 billion to subsidise treatment and drugs at government hospitals.
"The government will subside 98 per cent of medical expenses with patients paying only two per cent, that is, RM1 as outpatient and RM5 as inpatient patients," he added.
He said the government spent RM52.7 billion in subsidies from 2003 to last year to provide medical treatment to Malaysians.

Understand TB to check its spread

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: The number of tuberculosis patients is increasing due to a lack of awareness of the disease.
Last year, the Health Ministry recorded 16,825 cases, with 1,472 deaths nationwide compared to 16,665 cases and 1,431 deaths in 2006.
Respiratory Medical Institute director Datin Dr Aziah Ahmad Mahayiddin said the disease had been overshadowed by greater health threats like HIV, dengue and diabetes.
"People tend to overlook TB because it has been around for 3,000 years and they think it is an old disease. But there's a need to increase awareness as TB still exists," she said at the launch of World TB Day at the medical institute yesterday.
She said doctors and medical officers should understand TB and its symptoms to avoid patients from spreading the disease.
"The easiest and cheapest way to check if a person is infected with TB is to take a sample of the patient's phlegm."
TB is an air-borne disease which spreads through coughing and sneezing.
Malaysian Association for Prevention of Tuberculosis president Datuk Seri Yeop Junior Yeop Adlan said the health ministry should increase the Treatment Allowance Scheme for poor TB patients.
"For the past 50 years, the maximum monthly allowance per person has been RM100. We hope the ministry will approve the maximum amount of RM400 as the cost of living has gone up," he said.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

50pc drop in hand, foot and mouth disease cases

NST: KUCHING: There has been a 50 per cent drop in the number of hand, foot and mouth disease cases (HFMD) in Sarawak since the beginning of this year, Assistant Minister of Public Health Datuk Dr Soon Choon Teck said yesterday.
He said there were 1,355 cases reported for the January to March period, down 1,228 cases or about 50 per cent from 2,583 for the same period last year.
In a statement, he said there was no report of death during the period under review.
"The main concern previously was fatality among children, but this year there is none so far which is a good sign," Dr Soon said.
He cautioned the public, particularly children, to continue to practise good hygiene and to wash their hands before eating.
He added that the hygiene and preventive measures undertaken by nurseries had been effective in curbing the incidence of HFMD outbreak among pupils.
"This is partly due to improved consciousness among the nursery operators and administrators."
He advised parents not to send their children to school if they showed signs of HFMD, but to take them to hospital for treatment.
In 1997, the HFMD outbreak in Sarawak killed 31 children under the age of 6.

Rear seat belts a must soon

Star: PUTRAJAYA: The Road Safety Department will propose to the Government to allow a short grace period for motorists to get rear seatbelts installed and be “prepared mentally” before its implementation.
Department director-general Datuk Suret Singh said the rear seatbelt ruling would be enforced around the third quarter of this year.
“I feel we have given the public enough time to get ready,” he said, adding that the move for compulsory wearing of rear seatbelts did not need to be tabled in Parliament.
He said promotional activities encouraging the use of rear seatbelts had already taken place in the past year and it was time to move forward.
Previously, the Malaysian Institute for Road Safety Research said that more than 80% of cars had rear seatbelts installed.
Suret Singh also spoke about the department’s plans for the rest of the year and said emphasis would be on community-based programmes, such as the helmet-wearing initiatives, that were successfully implemented in 20 districts.
“This particular programme has been well documented and there is already a standard operating procedure so that we can implement it in any district in the country.”
Suret Singh said road safety education was taking off well in schools and now even included security personnel being trained as traffic wardens.
“It is an understanding we have with the company that the Education Ministry hires. They provide the security personnel and we train them as traffic wardens so that there is no need to hire extra people.”
Suret Singh said that by 2011, road safety education would have worked its way up to Form 4 students and that a whole new breed of motorists who took safety seriously would emerge as a result.

Liow: Open forum to discuss health scheme

Star: PUTRAJAYA: The Health Ministry is keen to have a public debate on the National Health Financing Scheme.
Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said a public forum would be the “best way” to address issues and problems on the implementation of the scheme.
“I would like to have a public debate. Let us talk about it,” Liow said in an interview on Monday.
“This is something which will help the people and the Government have better health services in the country.”
When the idea was first mooted 25 years ago, certain parties raised concerns about how the scheme would be implemented.
The proposals included having it modelled after the EPF and Socso schemes where “eligible” employees make monthly payments through a deduction from their salary and both the scheme and the National Health Financing Authority overseeing it would be non-profit and not privatised.
Former Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek announced in 2004 that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had given approval and the “general principles” had been agreed upon.
Consultants were also appointed to look into the details of the mechanism and there were even calls for a Royal Commission to be set up to get broad feedback before it was introduced.
Liow admitted that it was not going to be easy for the Government to have such a scheme because it might not be a popular decision.
However, he said the Government “did not have much choice” where the present system has left it subsidising almost 98% of healthcare in the country.
He, however, said it would take about three to four years before the scheme could be implemented.
A plus point of having the scheme was that the people would be able to get treatment either in the private or public sector where the Government would be able to use all existing doctors instead of the current system, he said.
“One way to solve this problem is to have an insurance scheme. It does not matter whether you go to the government or the private sector. The doctor will treat you and the insurance will pay,” he said.
A minus point, however, would be the risk of the government or insurance company going bankrupt because the public had developed a “buffet mentality”.
Asked who was likely to take charge of the scheme, he said it did not matter because the most important thing was for the people to enjoy the benefits.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Clinical Trials To Treat Lung Cancer

KUALA LUMPUR, April 7 (Bernama) -- Soon, Cuba will not only be world famous for its cigars but also for a very promising vaccine meant to treat lung cancer and possibly other solid cancers.
Cuban Centre of Molecular Immunology Project Manager Dr Gisela Gonzalez Marinello stated that around 200-350 patients have been treated in Cuba with the vaccine during its clinical trial period and this has proven successful.
"The vaccine helps prolong the life of the patient. Sixty percent of the patients treated with the vaccine have a continued lifespan of 12 months in comparison to only six to seven months with only chemotherapy.
"Another 30 per cent of the patients treated have survived up to an amazing 22 months to two years while an astounding 10 per cent have managed to continue living a good life for five to six years.
"Best of all, there are very minimal side effects unlike chemotherapy. There have been no reports of hair loss or organ damage. However, since it is still in the clinical trial stage, we are still treating our patients together with chemotherapy," said Dr Marinello in an interview with Bernama here Monday.
To top it off, Malaysia has become the next clinical testing ground after Cuba, United Kingdom and Canada since September last year.
Bioven Sdn Bhd chief executive officer Dr W. Shermal Perera and Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir were instrumental in bringing the vaccine down for Malaysia's very first clinical trial organised by a Malaysian biotech company.
"We are currently testing the vaccine on 10 hospitals throughout the country. We hope we are able to find more patients willing to test the vaccine because the more patients we have, the faster will the vaccine go out to the market," said Dr Perera.
"We are also very excited because this is the first time Malaysia will go through a clinical trial period organised by a Malaysian company. We also have Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir and Cuban Ambassador, His Excellency Signor Carlos A Ramores to thank for because they've helped us bring this product down.
"Should we succeed with Malaysia and the clinical trials are approved by the regulatory bodies, our next plan is to go into Europe to conduct the trials there," he added.
Dr Perera has also confirmed that Bioven would absorb all costs for the treatment of patients using the vaccine which amounted to seven to eight million Ringgit during the clinical trial period.
Hermanus Ameijeiras Hospital (Cuba) Clinical Oncologist Dr Elia Neninger, who has been treating patients with the vaccine, reported that many patients and their respective families have responded very positively and have high hopes on the vaccine's application.
"You can see hope again in their faces. They know they will have a better and longer lifestyle. The vaccine creates an immune response in preventing the growth of cancer cells by blocking the epidermal growth factor.
"The immune response is the main factor for the very minimal side effects because the human body naturally blocks the cancer growth," stated Dr Neninger.
As to the vaccine's effectiveness in becoming a preventive medicine for cancer, Dr Neninger explained that no test had been done to evaluate its effects.
"First of all, we do not want to tamper with the human body. The epidermal growth factor is normal in human beings. Cancer patients, however, have an excessive epidermal growth, thus we put a stop to it to ensure their longevity," explained a very stern Dr Neninger with the concurrence of her colleagues, Dr Marinello and Dr Perera.
Ambassador Ramores, who attended the interview, added that this clinical trial period that Malaysia had undergone would be extremely good in strengthening ties between the two countries.
"We are very happy to have been able to help Malaysia in conducting its first clinical trials. This signifies that Malaysia and Cuba can correlate and work together.
"We hope this relationship will continue for the mutual benefit of both countries," said Ramores.
According to Dr Perera, local experts who are administering the vaccine on their patients were very enthusiastic with the results.
He then added that any lung cancer patients willing to try this vaccine can contact the call centre at 1-800-88-7007 and ask for Dr Veronica Chelia.
"However, please remember, this is still a test drug. It is still in its testing phase. It has not been registered in this country yet though it has been registered in Cuba," reminded Dr Perera.
The vaccine was developed by Cuban scientists since 1992.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Shocking pictures 'more effective'

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: The inclusion of pictorial graphic health warnings on cigarette packs is to create a stronger message on the detrimental effects of smoking.
Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said the pictures were more effective in shocking people than the current warnings in words.
"Pictorial graphics will leave a longer impression than words," he said after opening the National Heart Association of Malaysia Public Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) course, which was attended by 400 participants.
He was responding to a report in the New Sunday Times yesterday that 13 graphic health warnings against smoking had been short-listed and the ball is now in Liow's court to approve the pictures.
Once approved, cigarette companies will be given six months to comply with the ruling.
Malaysia, which is a signatory to World Health Organisation's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, has to ensure that cigarette packets display pictorial graphic health warnings by November.
Liow said some of the pictures which would be printed on cigarette packs included damaged lungs and bad teeth caused by smoking.
He said cigarette companies were supportive of the move as it would create awareness of the negative effects of smoking.
On CPR, Liow said millions of Malaysians did not know how to perform the simple life-saving skills.
On a survey that 45 per cent of physicians and 80 per cent of nurses are hesitant to perform CPR due to fears of contracting diseases and distaste for mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, Liow said medical professionals should not have such fears.
"As professionals, they should understand that CPR is a basic skill and diseases cannot be contracted if it is performed correctly."
He said the problem was due to lack of awareness as well as their attitude.

CPR vital to saving lives

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: More than 93% of cardiac arrest victims die before they receive in-hospital treatment because bystanders do not know how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
This prompted the National Heart Association of Malaysia to organise its first free Public CPR Education Programme yesterday
“CPR in the first four minutes of a sudden heart attack gives a person a 40% chance of survival while waiting for proper medical aid and can prevent brain damage due to lack of oxygen. Training more people on CPR can make a significant difference for cardiac arrest victims,” said project leader Dr Chee Kok Han.
Apart from heart attack cases, CPR is also vital for emergencies such as choking, drowning, or a lack of pulse.
The association found that 45% of physicians and 80% of nurses were unwilling to perform CPR for various reasons including fear of performing CPR wrongly, distaste for mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and unfounded fear of contracting disease from the victim.
Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said a lack of awareness and access to free courses left millions of Malaysians ignorant about how to perform CPR and urged the public to learn CPR from first aid organisations such as St John Ambulance Malaysia and the Malaysian Red Crescent Society.
“Around 70% to 80% of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur at home. This is where you and I, and the public can save a life through simple techniques such as CPR,” he said at the programme launch at KLCC Convention Centre yesterday.
All schoolchildren – not just Red Crescent and St John Ambulance members – must know CPR, he said.
The one-day progrxamme themed “Give the Gift of Life, Today” was organised in conjunction with the association's 12th Annual Scientific Meeting
It involved 400 participants axs on cardiovascular health and CPR as well as videos of CPR demonstrations.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

London children's hospital to give UKM training edge

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Medical Centre (formerly known as HUKM) is set to establish itself as a training hub for paediatric surgery in the region with its collaboration with the Great Ormond Street Hospital (Gosh) of London.
UKMMC is the first hospital in Asia to have links with the Great Ormond Street Hospital, the leading children's hospital in the world.
The UKMMC and Gosh will share their resources and expertise in training, telemed-icine and multi-centre trials.
The collaboration was facilitated by paediatric laparoscopic surgeon Professor Dr Tan Hock Lim, who is now attached with UKMMC's Deparment of Surgery.
Malaysian-born Dr Tan was the inaugural Professor of Paediatric Surgery at the University of Adelaide, Australia, and had developed the minimally-invasive surgery programme at Gosh.
The collaboration has been enhanced with the appointment of Professor Dr Agostino Pierro, the Nuffield Professor of Surgery from Gosh, as an adjunct professor with UKMMC.
In her opening address at the international Paediatric Surgical Symposium, UKM vice-chancellor Professor Datuk Dr Sharifah Hapsah Syed Hasan Shahabudin said Dr Tan's expertise and UKMMC's collaboration with GOSH would put UKM on the world map as a leading centre for advanced paediatric endoscopic surgery.
She added that the appointment of Dr Pierro as an adjunct professor would also enable UKMMC to conduct multi-centre trials with other institutions such as Gosh.
"I believe that this will open up opportunities for us to develop exchange programmes which will allow overseas clinicians to train their future leaders at UKM, and for the best talents in Malaysia to learn from them."
In line with this, UKM will offer an annual Asean fellowship in paediatric laparoscopic surgery for surgeons from Asean, and an international fellowship for surgeons from the rest of the world to work under Dr Tan.
Dr Tan said establishing links with Gosh would bring significant advantages.
"Gosh has tremendous infrastructure for research and clinicians. When I was working there, I knew that any time I had a problem, I could find somebody who knew something."
Dr Pierro, who was in the country last week to conduct an international paediatric surgical symposium, said Gosh had links with many paediatric hospitals throughout the world such as the Toronto Children's Hospital, the Pittsburgh Children's Hospital and the Los Angeles Children's Hospital and UKMMC would be part of that link.

Special kids living in a world of their own

NST: A SURVEY has observed that one in every 625 Malaysian children is autistic.
The National Autism Society of Malaysia (Nasom), however, believes the survey just represents the tip of an iceberg.
"I'm not convinced (of the figures), because each time I walk into a school, I can see some students displaying autistic symptoms," said society chairman Teh Beng Choon.
Some of the symptoms are inappropriate laughing, behaving in a stand-off manner, apparent insensitivity to pain, adversity to cuddling, extreme crying tantrums, unusual eye contact and uneven motor skills.
Autism is a lifelong complex neurobiological disorder which affects 35 million people worldwide.
It blocks the ability of a child to communicate and inhibits emotional and social development.
It is associated with rigid routines or repetitive behaviours such as obsessively following schedules, or arranging belongings in a very specific way.
Because of their language deficit, a lot of autistic children do not talk, said Teh.
"They may be able to sing complete songs, but they don't talk.
"Some never develop any useful communication skills.
"They are not able to differentiate between 'you' and 'I', or 'they' and 'we'.
"They also cannot grasp the concept of yesterday, today and tomorrow."
Some autistic children have sensory problems.
They tear out the label at the back of their clothes because it is too ticklish or cannot stand the sound from an air-conditioner.
Most also have no comprehension of social rules.
For example, instead of using a spoon, an autistic boy might just eat using his hands.
Each case is different and as the child grows, his autistic characteristics might change.
Autism affects boys more than girls and there is no known cure.
Currently, it is not known how many Malaysians are afflicted with the development disorder, as there is no national registry available.
However, if a US survey last year, which found one in every 150 children to be autistic, were taken as a standard, there would be more than 3,000 new cases each year in Malaysia.
Teh said: "That's a pretty scary thought. Society should be concerned.
"Often, an autistic adult ends up in the welfare system. So eventually, society has to bear the cost."
In recent years, the expense of caring for an autistic individual has risen by leaps and bounds.
In the United States, it was recently estimated that the additional lifetime cost of an autistic person stands at more than US$3 million (RM9.7 million).
Although the cost of living in Malaysia is much lower, the additional cost of raising an autistic child is often beyond the means of an average Malaysian family.
A parent of a 5-year-old autistic child reported that her family spends about RM1,500 on remedial therapies every month.
Speech therapy and physiotherapy cost as much as RM100 per session, and a child needs at least one session a week.
Working parents also often find themselves torn between career and caring for their autistic child.
A mother, who has to pick up her child every day at Nasom before it closes, has been ticked off by her superior for leaving at 5pm sharp, says Teh.
"There is just not enough support for parents with special children.
"There should be government policies in place.
"Depending on people's sympathy is not the way to go."
For more information, contact Nasom at 4, Jalan Chan Chin Mooi off Jalan Pahang, Kuala Lumpur. Tel: 03-40223744; Fax: 03-40224495

A non-smoker friendly nation

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's efforts at formal tobacco regulation began in the early 1970s when smoking was prohibited in cinemas.
Shortly after, smoking was banned in the hospitals, clinics and health centres of the health and defence ministries.
In the early 1980s, smoking was prohibited in air-conditioned train coaches and in buses, and direct advertisements of cigarettes were banned on radio, television and in government publications.
In 1994, the Control of Tobacco Product Regulations of 1993 came into effect, shortly after cigarette taxes were increased by 100 per cent.
In 1996, smoking was banned on all domestic flights of Malaysia Airlines and in 2000, on all international flights.
Under the government's Control of Tobacco Product Regulations of 2004, smoking is prohibited in many public places, including entertainment centres, cinemas, hospitals, clinics, lifts, toilets, air-conditioned eateries and shops, schoolbuses, public vehicles and public transport terminals.
The list also includes airports, government premises, building areas used for any assembly activity, educational institutions and higher educational institutions, nurseries, floors with service counters in the buildings of banks, financial institutions, Telekom Malaysia Berhad, Tenaga Nasional Berhad and Pos Malaysia Berhad, shopping complex, petrol stations, stadiums, sport complexes, gymnasiums, religious places, libraries and Internet cafes.
Those who smoke in prohibited places, if convicted, shall be liable to a fine not exceeding RM10,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.

Glaucoma – the sneak thief of your sight

Star: PETALING JAYA: It is called the “sneak thief of sight.”
A person could go irreparably blind if glaucoma, which has no symptoms and is painless, is not detected in time.
It accounts for 60% of adult blindness in South-East Asia, said Tun Hussein Onn Eye Hospital consultant ophthalmologist Dr Linda Teoh.
“Early detection is crucial,” Dr Teoh said yesterday when the hospital offered free public screening for 100 people.
However, the screening was postponed to Saturday due to a power blackout.
Dr Teoh said that regular screening was especially essential for diabetics and those above 40 years of age.
“Glaucoma gives no early warning signs. By the time you realise you are losing your eyesight, the vision you have already lost is gone forever.”
A dilated eye exam, she said was the best way to test for glaucoma. During such an examination, drops are put in each eye to dilate the pupil so that a doctor has a better view of the optic nerve.
“If the doctor detects early signs of glaucoma, the disease can be controlled, and the remaining vision protected,” said Dr Teoh.
Another consultant at the hospital, Dr George Thomas said glaucoma usually occurred when normal fluid pressure inside the eye steadily increased.
“This can lead to optic nerve damage and reduced peripheral (side) vision. As the disease worsens, the field of vision gradually narrows, and will eventually cause blindness.”

Healthcare groups turn to blogging too

Star: GENTING HIGHLANDS: It is not just political activists who have turned to blogs, healthcare support groups are joining the bandwagon, too.
Alzheimer’s Disease Foundation Malaysia (ADFM) is the latest to turn to blogs to help bridge the information gap among patients and caregivers.
Two sites and (National Alzheimer’s Caregivers Network) are expected to be launched today, the final day of the National Alzheimer’s Caregivers Conference here.
Event organising chairman Ong Eng Joo said members could post articles on the disease on the blogs.
“We are also planning to set up a helpline, where the public can post questions which will be referred to professionals. The answers will be published online,” he told The Star.
Ong said they hoped to incorporate a chat room, which would be moderated by doctors, so that the public have a platform to discuss Alzheimer’s Disease.
He said a pool of 10 to 15 specialists had agreed to be moderators.
Earlier, ADFM patron Datin Seri Wendy Ong, who launched the three-day conference, said: “We know that there is still so much that has to be done to make information more accessible to caregivers, especially those living in remote areas.
“With ADFM setting up a National Caregivers Network, more information on the disease will be shared among the caregivers.”

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Encouraging the use of rear passenger seatbelts

NST: PUTRAJAYA: A campaign on the compulsory use of rear passenger seatbelts will commence once the law is enforced sometime this year.
This is to ensure motorists understand and comply with the life-saving measure which can reduce road deaths by up to 350 a year.
Transport Ministry sources said all paperwork for the law was ready, awaiting the minister's approval for the date of enforcement.
The campaign is said to include advertisements educating the public on how rear seatbelts can save lives.
Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research director-general Prof Dr Radin Umar said: "The public must be taught that rear seatbelts are not troublesome or inconvenient.
"It has been found worldwide that the use of rear seatbelts results in 30 to 40 per cent less fatalities.
"Backseat passengers who do not wear seatbelts are a danger to the driver and front passenger. They kill not only themselves, but their loved ones sitting in front."
He said studies showed that when an unrestrained rear passenger is thrown forward in a collision, his weight becomes four times more upon impact with the front passenger or driver.
Unbelted backseat passengers also risk being thrown out of the vehicle.
The campaign takes on an urgency also because car ownership in the country is on the rise as cars become cheaper and incomes increase.
"Today, 28 per cent of the motoring public owns or drives a car, MPV or four-wheel-drive.
"And 81 per cent of all backseat occupants have access to a seatbelt, so there is no excuse."
Radin said technical aspects to cover retro-fitting of rear seatbelts in older cars were being finalised.
It was reported last year that those who flouted the law, when it comes into force, would be fined RM80.

Fee-splitting among doctors unethical

NST: IPOH: Demanding for discounts in exchange for keeping medical practitioners on a panel of doctors is tantamount to forcing them to split their fees, which is neither legal nor ethical, said the Perak Medical Practitioners Society.
"Either we are taken off the panel or we break the rules and get fined. It's a no-win situation," said society president Dr Sarjeet Singh Sidhu, when commenting on the dispute between Joint Inter-Hospital Healthcare Committee (JIHC) and ING Insurance Bhd over conditions in their Healthcare Service Panel Agreement.
He said the society, with over 400 doctors in private practice, supported the JIHC in its effort to prevent fee-splitting and ensuring the autonomy of doctors in providing the best healthcare for their patients.
"We want our autonomy. Don't tell us what to do. Don't ask for discounts."
Dr Sarjeet said there were already safeguards to ensure that doctors charge reasonable fees, adding that the healthcare of patients would be compromised if doctors were compelled to stick to a limited budget.
He said Managed Care Organisations should not be allowed to interfere with the medical management of patients. Patients should be allowed to see doctors of their choice and doctors, too, should be allowed to refer their patients as they saw fit.

Rise in heart disease a worry

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: Heart diseases are on the rise in Malaysia despite improvements in health services and facilities.
They were the second leading cause of death in 2006, accounting for 15.5 per cent of those who died in government hospitals. By 2010, they are projected to be the leading cause of death in Malaysia and other developing countries.
According to the Malaysia Noncommunicable Disease Surveillance 2005/2006, the prevalence of risk factors like physical inactivity was 60.1 per cent, hypercholesterole-mia 53.5 per cent, central obesity 48.6 per cent, smoking 25.5 per cent, hypertension 25.7 per cent, obesity 16.3 per cent and raised blood glucose 11 per cent.
"The causes and cure for heart disease are now known and although many cardiovascular diseases (CVD) can be treated or prevented, an estimated 17 million people die of it each year," Director-General of Health Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican said yesterday.
He was opening the 12th annual scientific meeting of the National Heart Association of Malaysia at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre.
Dr Ismail attributed a substantial number of deaths to tobacco smoking which increased the risk, two to three fold, of dying from coronary heart disease and cerebrovascular disease.
"As the majority of CVD are preventable and controllable, public education is important to address the reduction of risk factors of major CVD," said Dr Ismail.
The Health Ministry has allocated funds under the Ninth Malaysia Plan for health education and promotional activities to bring down the incidence of heart disease risk factors such as hypertension, high cholesterol and obesity.
Dr Ismail said the ministry had also developed a comprehensive cardiac programme which was accessible and affordable to the public.
The ministry has four cardiac centres, one each in Penang, Serdang, Johor Baru and Kuching hospitals. It plans to offer similar services in the Alor Star, Ipoh, Kuantan and Kota Baru hospitals.
There are 17 cardiologists and 17 trainees in cardiology in government hospitals and 150 in the private sector.
National Heart Institute senior consultant cardiologist Datuk Dr Robaayah Zambahari said heart diseases were the main cause of death among Malaysian women.
Of the 15,880 women who died in 2006, 4,152 died of heart diseases and 1,898 of cancer. Similarly, of the 11,394 women who died in 1999, 3,055 died of heart diseases and 1,147 of cancer.

Upward trend in dengue cases

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: The number of dengue cases has been rising in the past few months, but it remains lower than the same period last year in terms of those infected and fatalities.
A total of 9,889 people had dengue and 26 of them died between January and March 29 compared with 13,949 cases with 34 deaths in the same period last year.
The Health Ministry's disease control director Datuk Dr Hasan Abdul Rahman attributed the rise to weather conditions.
The latest casualties are a 24-year-old man and his sister, aged 27, in Beluran, Sabah and a 21-year-old woman in Subang Mewah, Selangor.
A total of 648 were hospitalised between March 23 and 29.
Dr Hasan said the number was higher than the 575 cases reported the previous week.
Eight states, Terengganu, Negri Sembilan, Selangor, Penang, Sarawak, Perak, Malacca and Johor, reported a rise in cases.
They account for 75.8 per cent of the total cases reported last week.
Selangor topped the list with 262 cases followed by Kuala Lumpur (77), Johor (41), Perak (57), Terengganu (32), Negri Sembilan and Penang (30 each), Sarawak (29), Kedah (21), Sabah and Kelantan (19 each), Pahang (18), Malacca (10), Perlis (two), and Perlis (one)
Last week, 144 compound notices, a total of RM38,800, were slapped on houses and shops where aedes mosquitos were found breeding.
Dr Hasan advised people suffering from high fever, rash, severe headache, pain behind the eyes, and muscle and joint pain to see a doctor immediately as they could be having dengue fever.
Most dengue infections result in a relatively mild illness, but some can progress to dengue haemorrhagic fever which is fatal in five per cent of cases.

MMA gives thumbs down to move

Star: PETALING JAYA: Sending patients overseas for treatment is a retrogressive step in healthcare development, says the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA).
MMA president Datuk Dr Khoo Kah Lin said they received the decision by the Health Minister to send patients to India for heart surgery with mixed feelings, as it seemed like the healthcare industry had moved “back to square one”.
He said there were about 20 private and public hospitals in the country performing heart surgery now.
“Prior to this, 20 years ago, we were sending patients to Britain, Australia, the Philippines, and other countries for surgery. It now looks like we are back to square one,” he said in a statement.
Dr Khoo said since cost was cited as the main reason for sending heart patients to India, the Government had to review the cost of surgeries in the country and work out a sustainable package.
He said although the cost of surgery was relatively low overseas, there were other costs, such as travel and accommodation of accompanying persons.
“Patients who develop complications will find it stressful to stay in a foreign country for a prolonged period of time. Post surgical follow-ups is important, too,” Dr Khoo added.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Only six MCOs sign up with ministry

Star: PETALING JAYA: Only six of the estimated 56 managed care organisations (MCOs) had registered with the Health Ministry when the deadline expired on March 31.
“Doctors can only deal with registered MCOs. It is wrong for them to deal with those that have yet to register,” Health Ministry director-general Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican said yesterday.
Dr Ismail said the ministry was considering making the names of the registered MCOs public so that people would know whether the companies they had signed up with are authorised by the ministry to carry out dealings.
“Private healthcare facilities can only deal with those who are registered,” he warned.
He said the ministry was concerned over the number of MCOs which had yet to register as it would be unable to resolve issues raised by parties affected by the dealings.
Under the Private Healthcare Facilities and Services Act, an MCO is defined as any organisation or body with whom a private healthcare facility or service provider has an arrangement or contract to provide healthcare services within an agreed financing system.
He said all MCOs would be licensed under the Act so it would be able to regulate their activities in their dealings with private healthcare facilities or service providers.
Dr Ismail also said in a statement that “fee splitting” was prohibited under the Private Healthcare Facilities and Services Regulations and the Malaysian Medical Council’s code of professional conduct.
“Discount for professional fees is also not allowed. However, discounts are allowed for administrative fees,” he said.
The issue of “fee splitting” is being hotly debated between the Joint Inter-Hospital Healthcare Committee (JIHC) and ING Insurance Bhd.
The JIHC is claiming that ING “refused to budge from its proposed terms and conditions in their new Healthcare Service Panel Agreement” where it was in breach of the Act and compromising quality of healthcare.
ING, however said that its proposed fees were within the Act Thirteen Schedule (2006).

Better hospital upkeep sought

Star: PETALING JAYA: Dissatisfied over the quality of maintenance at government hospitals, Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai has directed that red tape be cut for remedial steps to be carried out much faster.
“We can put in the infrastructure, but after that there is no follow through with the maintenance,” he said yesterday in an interview.
“I want the red tape to be reduced. The monitoring system needs to be more effective so that it does not take so much time to get things done. It is also up to the people in charge to respond faster.”
Liow highlighted instances where the air-conditioning at some premises was not working and it took a long time for it to be repaired.
“It is because of all this bureaucracy they end up 'sitting on things'. And it is certainly not good for hospitals if they have insufficient air conditioning,” he said.
He also said problems such as the leakage at the Alor Star Hospital had yet to be resolved.
“We have good hospitals but things are not functioning,” he said.
He also said private companies that had the contract to provide non-clinical hospital support services should enhance their monitoring procedures.
“They need to do things without having to be directed. They are the contract providers and should do the monitoring in the first place,” he added.
Among the problems highlighted in the press were the temporary closure of the neo-natal intensive care unit at the RM450mil Sultan Abdul Halim Hospital in Kedah because of overflowing faeces from a toilet and fungi infestation on its ceiling; leaking sewage pipes at the Ampang Hospital; and faulty air-conditioning system at the Sultan Ismail Hospital in Johor Baru that caused fungus growth on the walls and in some of the clinical equipment.
Hospital Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, which that comes under the Higher Education Ministry, also had to close 10 of its operating theatres because of contamination due to a leak in its sterilisation network.
Liow appealed to those visiting hospitals not to vandalise facilities because everyone had to play their part in maintaining them.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

One in 5 needs mental care

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: Stress levels are rising, and it is estimated that one in five Malaysians needs some form of mental health care.
Deputy Health Minister Datuk Dr Abdul Latif Ahmad said at least 20 per cent of the 27 million people in the country suffer from some degree of stress.
The percentage could actually be higher because many people fear the stigma of seeking psychological or psychiatric help, he said yesterday at the launch of a food supplement said to reduce stress. In the last 50 years, society has undergone great changes, he said.
"Our lifestyle has changed tremendously, and so has the food level. We eat five to six times a day but we hardly sweat," he said, adding that a lack of exercise was one of the reasons for stress build-up.
He said Malaysians should not feel embarrassed about seeking help from professionals as many people in the developed world do so.
"It's not part of our culture. But it has been proven that you can reduce stress by talking to someone," he said, adding that people should seek help for stress to prevent their situation from getting worse.
There are 27 government hospitals in the country that offer psychiatric help, he said.
"Olivenol Livin", created by the Italian Prof Dr Roberto Crea, is said to help reduce stress.
The product was launched at the Prince Court Medical Centre.

Separation of doctor/pharmacist duties: 'Patients shouldn't suffer'

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: The separation of duties between doctors and pharmacists would only be implemented if it does not burden the public.
Deputy Health Minister Datuk Dr Abdul Latif Ahmad gave this assurance yesterday and said the matter was still being studied.
"We are still conducting research on the matter but it is impractical if the people are adversely affected," he said.
Last week, the New Straits Times had quoted the ministry's director-general Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican as saying that the move to separate the duties of doctors and pharmacists was in the pipeline.
Dr Ismail had said that the pilot project would be implemented in major towns where there were pharmacies located near clinics.
Dr Latif said although the separation of duties had been carried out in other countries, Malaysia might not be able to do the same as there were not enough pharmacists.
The NST had reported that there were about 5,000 registered pharmacists practising in some 1,600 pharmacies in the country.
"Maybe you will not experience the inconvenience if you live in the Klang Valley because you can go to a pharmacy nearby. But in rural areas, like in my village, there's only one pharmacy serving a population of 1,000."
He stressed that the public's welfare would always be the ministry's priority.
He said at present, doctors were still allowed to prescribe and dispense medicine, adding only practitioners in Malaysia and Singapore did not separate the two functions.
On another matter, Dr Latif said the ministry had seized seven herbal products from the market this year.
He said the syndicates had deceived consumers by labelling their products as health products with herbal ingredients but checks found that they also contained harmful ingredients.
He added that those found guilty could be fined up to RM5,000 or two years' jail or both.

Separation of doctor/pharmacist duties: Diverse opinions on plan

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: "You have tonsillitis. This is your prescription slip and you can obtain the medication at any pharmacy."
The conversation above may well be too familiar in the future if the Health Ministry decides to allow doctors to only issue the prescription with patients having to get the medication at pharmacies.
According to a recent news report, the Health Ministry will soon launch a pilot project on the separation of functions between clinics and pharmacies, where, in the future, dispensing medications may be the exclusive rights of pharmacies.
"I think Malaysians are not ready for the separation of functions between clinics and pharmacie," said consumer activist Gurmukh Singh.
Gurmukh said the Health Ministry should consider several factors.
"First, at the moment, I don't think there are pharmacies that open round-the-clock.
"If your child suddenly develops fever or diarrhoea in the wee hours of the morning and you rush him to a 24-hour clinic.
"Imagine your annoyance when the doctor only gives you a prescription slip and asks you to get the medication from a pharmacy.
"After that, your blood pressure shoots up when you can't find a pharmacy or any which opens at that particular hour."
Mother of three Zaidah Zainal, who stays in Green Valley Park near Rawang in Selangor, said there were not many pharmacies in her neighbourhood.
"In my area, there are five clinics, but only one pharmacy is in operation.
"If the health authorities decide to separate the functions, then we should have more retail pharmacies around to cater for the expected higher demand."
Contrary to what people may say, separating the functions can be costly to consumers, said social activist Fatimah Mansur.
"The doctor has to charge consultation fees. If you get your medication at the clinic, the total amount charged is definitely less than the whole amount charged for separate consultation fees and medication," she said.
The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) recommends a minimum fee of RM30 for a doctor's consultation, but most of the time private practitioners charge less than this amount.
Fatimah said the public prefer to go to only one place, and at present, the clinic serves as a one-stop centre.
"You can get your medical check-up at the clinic. Your blood test can be done, as well as X-rays.
"By the time the doctor has finished with them, the patients maybe too tired to go elsewhere to get their medication."
And the move, if implemented, would be time-consuming and related costs would rise.
"Imagine after seeing your doctor, you have to drive around to look for a pharmacy.
"You may find one, but then the medication required could be unavailable, and you have to look for other pharmacies."
Thus, the actual cost is higher, as the public may have to spend more on petrol for their vehicles, she said.
According to Health Ministry's statistics, there are about 1,600 pharmacies nationwide.
Educationist Ikmail Ahmad Borhanodin said the public should allow the Health Ministry to conduct a study to determine whether the separation of functions is suitable for Malaysians.
"Allow the consumers to make their own choice, as at the moment they let the doctors dispense the medication. They have the choice on whether to get branded or generic drugs, so they can save money."
Ikmail said there are some good points to such a move.
He said doctors are only familiar with medicines that they often prescribe, while pharmacists are always in touch with the drugs industry.
"But, bear in mind that the doctors have the knowledge on medical problems as well as their causes. And they are familiar with the patients too".
The priority is for the public to have good healthcare services, said Gurmukh.
"The pharmacies must improve their services. Sometimes when consumers walk into a pharmacy, the pharmacist is not around and nobody else can dispense the drugs. This is wasting the public's time."
Gurmukh said for a start, the "pharmacist not in" syndrome should be discarded.
"In Malaysia, there are many clinics appointed by employers for the convenience of their sick workers. Employers want to make it easy for themselves and their workers."
Under this concept, employers will foot the medical bills of their sick workers. Usually the employers would pay the panel clinics monthly, after receiving the respective invoices.
"Do we need to have panel pharmacies later?" asked Gurmukh.