Saturday, May 31, 2008

Special medics saddle up for Sukma

NST: KUALA TERENGGANU: They are an unusual looking lot of paramedics with their cycling helmets, elbow pads and bicycles.
But the additions that seem out of place are integral to their duties at the 12th Sukan Malaysia (Sukma) games here.
The equipment is to aid the four paramedics -- members of a mobile clinic -- race to the scene of injuries during the games, which began yesterday and end on June 9.
The team is said to be the second of its kind to be formed in the country. The first bicycle team was formed at Kuala Lumpur Hospital two years ago.
Comprising staff of Sultanah Nur Zahirah Hospital here, they will be the first to respond to medical emergencies and also be responsible for medical surveillance.
State Health director Dr Nordiyanah Hassan said the team would remain after Sukma for other events like the Monsoon Cup or the World Endurance Championship later this year.
"The paramedics will be able to manoeuvre better through crowds on their mountain bikes and go to places an ambulance can't reach.
"Getting to a scene as soon as possible can make a lot of difference," she said after launching the team at the Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin stadium.
She said the number of paramedics involved might be increased, depending on the need.
Dr Nordiyanah said paramedics on bicycles had proven effective in countries like Britain and Australia.
The mountain bikes are equipped with, among others, an automated external defibrillator, respiratory equipment and drugs.

Flying docs back in the air

Star: MIRI: The Health Ministry has reactivated the “flying doctor” service in Sarawak’s vast interior areas.
The unique service was suspended early last year due to technical issues faced by aviation company Hornbill Skyways which had been operating it for decades.
The ministry recently issued a directive to urgently resume the daily flying doctor programme following constant appeals from rural folk who had been adversely affected by the suspension.
However, the ministry has now divided the state into two zones – southern Sarawak (Kuching and Sri Aman divisions) and northern Sarawak (Kapit, Miri and Limbang divisions).
The southern zone will be under Hornbill, while another aviation company, Layang-Layang, will handle the northern zone.
Sarawak Health and Medical Services director Dr Zulkifli Jantan said the two companies had been given six-month contracts to operate the flying doctor service.
“For the time being, the service will be via a short-term contract arrangement. We (ministry) have long-term plans to open up the flying doctor programme to an open tender system.
“Through this tender system, we hope to appoint only one contractor to handle the whole state, but that contractor must be able to meet our stringent requirements.
“One of the most important requirements is that the company must be able to provide twin-engine helicopters daily without any interruption,” Dr Zulkifli told The Star.
He said other companies wishing to operate the service must “fly as and when they were needed” as medical help must reach remote areas.
“The flying doctor must operate every day and when there are emergency cases, instant service must be activated,” he said.
He said the ministry hoped to sort out the open tender arrangement by end of the year.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Thalassaemia testing for students

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: Form Four students will soon have to undergo screening for thalassaemia.
The screening, which is to be carried out in phases, is intended to detect carriers of this genetic disease.
They will be counselled against marrying another carrier to avoid producing children with thalassaemia major.
There are 3,591 Malaysians with thalassaemia major. The government is spending some RM29.5 million annually on their treatment, which includes blood transfusion, iron chelation therapy and medication for complications arising from the disease.
The government spends almost RM20 million to buy medical equipment for these patients.
Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said it was important to carry out screening because it would help to reduce the incidence of thalassaemia major in the country and achieve the target of zero patients by 2025.
In Malaysia, it is estimated that one in 20 people are carriers.
"Our focus is basically to screen those between the ages of 16 and 24.
"The public can also go for screening at designated clinics and hospitals," he said at the launch of World Thalassaemia Day at Berjaya Times Square yesterday.
There are 242 health clinics and eight hospitals which are equipped with haematology analysers.
The eight hospitals are also equipped with high performance liquid chromatography and gel electrophoresis to conduct screenings.
Liow said a National Thalassaemia Registry was established last year to ascertain the actual number of thalassaemia major patients in the country.
"Treatment for these patients is free at government hospitals.
"The survival rate for the victims has increased with some having lived beyond the age of 35."
With proper treatment and medication some patients have lived to take up professional careers.
The Thalassaemia Day event was organised by the ministry, UKM Medical Molecular Biology Institute, Malaysian Society of Paediatric Haematology and Oncology and Federation of Malaysian Thalassaemia Societies.
Health Ministry deputy director-general Datuk Dr Ramlee Rahmat said health teams would go into schools and talk to students about thalassaemia and urge them to go for checks at designated health clinics and hospitals.
Dr Ramlee said if measures were not taken to reduce the incidence of thalassaemia major, the government would have to allocate an exorbitant sum for the management and treatment of the disease. It costs between RM25,000 and RM35,000 to treat a patient annually.
According to World Health Organisation statistics, some 300,000 children are born every year with red blood cell genetic disorders known as haemoglobinopathy and of that number, some 70,000 are thalassaemia patients.
Dr Hishamshah Mohd Ibrahim of Kuala Lumpur Hospital's Paediatric Institute warned the public that traditional medicine cannot cure the disease.

Doctors welcome move to bring in private clinics

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: Doctors have come out in support of the Health Ministry's proposal to refer patients with chronic ailments at government hospitals to private clinics.
The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) said this would ensure that patients with these kind of diseases would receive treatment at these clinics after office hours.
"Many chronic patients are working and cannot afford to make time to go to government hospitals which are only open during office hours," said MMA president Datuk Dr Khoo Kah Lin.
He said, with the legalities and procedures ironed out, this could turn out to be an example of good partnership between the government and the private sector.
"Everyone knows that government hospitals are overloaded and doctors in the private sector, especially those registered with the Malaysian Medical Council, are more than happy to help out."
However, he stressed the need for fool-proof guidelines on the funding of the programme and the kind of treatment private clinic doctors would be allowed to provide.
"The prescription of medicine has to be thought out clearly.
"I am sure the government would want to encourage the use of basic generic drugs. But there will be situations where special one-of-a-kind drugs will be required."
The Federation of Private Medical Practitioners' Association said the treatment had to be financed by a national healthcare fund.
Association president Dr Steven Chow said the public was already paying for the bulk of the fees under the existing system.
"What we are advocating for is to allow the private sector to help provide a more cost-efficient system."
He said there should be mechanisms to ensure quality medical care and protection of patients' rights.
This was echoed by National Consumer Complaints Centre director Darshan Singh who urged checks and balances to prevent abuse.
"There may be unscrupulous government hospital doctors who will refer these patients to their friends in the private sector and then split the profits.
"Even worse, they may start referring patients to private clinics even if the patients does not need follow-up treatment in the first place."

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

RM32 million for stem cell research

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is showing its support for stem cell research by approving a RM32 million allocation to develop and strengthen stem cell and cord blood banking activities in the country.
Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said RM5.86 million was for the setting up of a stem cell transplantation laboratory at Institute for Medical Research, while RM18.87 million was for the expansion of the public cord blood banking facility at the National Blood Bank and Sultan Abdul Halim hospital in Sungai Petani.
Another RM5.57 million is to strengthen stem cell and bone marrow transplantation services at Ampang hospital.
Liow, however, warned that stem cell research and treatment must be within the agreed ethical guidelines.
He said clinical use of embryonic stem cells was not permitted, while all forms of experimental stem cell therapies for myocardial infarction, spinal cord injuries, Down's Syndrome and cerebral palsy must be approved by the Institute's Research and Ethics Committee.
To further protect potential patients, Liow said the development and application of new, innovative and investigational cell therapy was also subject to the approval of the ministry.
A National Stem Cell Committee has also been formed to provide governance and leadership.
"It will develop and support organ, tissue and cell transplantation units in designated hospitals, work with the relevant agencies to ensure that institutions are accredited and practitioners are credentialled," he said.
The committee which reports to the National Transplantation Council, chaired by the director-general of health, is the main governing body of the transplantation programme.
Liow was speaking yesterday after attending a briefing on the status of stem cell therapeutics in Malaysia at Wisma Perintis.

Najib: Take sick trainees to hospital promptly

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: The National Service Training Department has been instructed to adopt a "better safe than sorry" approach on sick trainees.
Camp commandants had been told to take all ill trainees to hospital, regardless of how minor or trivial their complaint might seem, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said.
Najib briefed the 85 commandants from around the country on the new approach at a meeting yesterday.
Also in attendance were department director-general Datuk Abdul Hadi Awang Kechil, National Service Training Council chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye and the military service chiefs.
Najib said the national service programme was sensitive because parents were placing their trust in the government to take good care of their children.
"If they get sick, they must be taken to the hospital as soon as possible. It's okay even if it is just a minor problem like a fever as it is better to be safe than sorry."
He said there was no change in policy per se, but that camp authorities needed to be more proactive in carrying out their duties.
He said the government was driving for zero deaths in the programme.
"Although not all deaths were caused by problems in the camp as there were those who died during holidays and those who had illnesses before going to the camp, there's no denying that there have been a few incidents that could have been avoided."

Thalassaemia major cure out of reach of most

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: Of the 3,000 thalassaemia major sufferers in Malaysia, only around 100 have been lucky enough to undergo the bone marrow transplant procedure necessary to cure their illness.
In each case, fully-compatible donors were found from within the patient's family.
Thalassaemia Society of University Hospital president Professor Dr Chan Lee Lee said most of the donors were siblings of the thalasemic patient.
In fact, on average, one in four of a thalasemic's siblings is a suitable donor. Parents and unrelated people are very rarely a close enough match.
Dr Chan said only three hospitals in Malaysia can perform the bone marrow transplant procedure: Kuala Lumpur Hospital (HKL), University Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) and Subang Jaya Medical Centre (SJMC).
"A patient who is to undergo the procedure is admitted (to these hospitals) for at least two to three months. A series of tests is done before the marrow is taken from the donor."
The marrow is extracted from bone that is rich in it, such as the hip bone, using a syringe.
Once that is completed, space must be made in the thalasemic patient's bones before the marrow is transplanted. This is done by placing the marrow in a blood bag and running it into a vein, just like with a blood transfusion.
Dr Chan said the procedure is quite expensive, costing about RM150,000 if conducted at UMMC, and RM500,000 if done at SJMC.
For patients unable to locate a compatible donor within the family, some embark on searching for non-related donors, which is very difficult and rare.
Dr Chan said the 3,000 thalassaemia major patients in Malaysia were still on regular blood transfusion and iron chelation therapy.
She said 97 of these patients had been undergoing oral chelation therapy since 2006, when the pharmaceutical company responsible for manufacturing the drug took in the patients for its clinical trials. The company was still supporting these patients by providing the drug for free.
Dr Chan said she hoped the government would also provide the oral chelation therapy drug so that patients need not undergo the agony of other painful therapies, which included injecting drugs into the bloodstream five times a week for up to 12 hours each time.
One thalassaemia major victim who is now leading a normal life after a bone marrow transplant is Nik Ahmad Hashimi, 8. His donor was none other than his younger brother, Nik Abdullah Ariff, 4.
Nik Ahmad Hashimi was diagnosed with thalassaemia major when he was 21 months old and had the transplant in 2006 at HKL.
His mother, 45-year-old accounts executive Nik Rosenidah Jaafar, said Nik Ahmad Hashimi "came down with fever too often, vomited whatever he ate and he looked yellowish".
He was diagnosed at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Hospital.
"The whole family was screened and all of us were found to be carriers, except for my eldest son," she said. She has four sons and a daughter, aged six to 15.
Nik Ahmad Hashimi began receiving blood transfusions in 2002, and in 2005, he began chelation therapy when he was found to have "iron overloading" - a common side effect of the body not being able to remove the build-up of iron naturally.
In August 2006, it was found that younger brother Nik Abdullah Ariff's bone marrow was a compatible match, and the next month he had the transplant.
Nik Rosenidah said neither she nor her husband had known that they were carriers of the disease until Nik Ahmad Hashimi fell ill.
"I felt so sorry for causing my son to suffer. I kept apologising to him every time I saw him in pain. I definitely would not have conceived if I had known both my husband and I were carriers."
She said the two boys had developed a close bond and they were even starting to look like each other.
"Many people have asked if they are twins. They look so much alike. Even I am surprised at the change," said the relieved mother.

Govt move to spread hospitals' patient load

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: Patients with chronic diseases currently being treated at government hospitals may be referred to private clinics.
This is to cut down the patient load in public hospitals besides making it easier for them to obtain treatment nearer their homes.
Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said this was only for those with problems like diabetes which needed regular consultation with a doctor.
"It is for those who need to see the doctor and get medication regularly," he said after witnessing the signing of a Memorandum of Co-operation between Kojadi Institut and Ikram Skills and Retraining Company and ABS Consulting (M) Sdn Bhd.
He also launched a welding course for Kojadi.
Liow said the idea was still under study with the ministry working out a payment scheme for consultation and medication prescribed by the clinics.
It is learnt that the move, if implemented, would be financed by the National Healthcare Financing Scheme with co-operation from Pharmaniaga, a local healthcare company.
This is among ministry strategies to cope with an overload of patients and shortage of staff at public hospitals.
The doctor-patient ratio in Malaysia is 1:1,200 whereas the ideal position is 1:600.
"We have also started getting doctors from private clinics and hospitals to serve in government hospitals for a small fee," Liow said.
Liow said the number of doctors doing this as "national service" had been encouraging with participants receiving RM80 per hour for their services.
The government is still finding ways to iron out kinks including insurance for participating doctors. A ministry source said the rates should attract doctors who earned an average of RM50 an hour as locums at private clinics.
Liow said he had issued a directive to government doctors to adopt "patient ownership" with one doctor responsible for an in-patient.
"We are starting off by putting names of doctors above patients' beds. That way, patients can also be comforted knowing who their doctors are."

Private clinics roped in to help

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: Private clinics may soon be roped in to help the Health Ministry ease its patient load.
Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said that if implemented, patients with chronic ailments would be sent to the clinics for follow-up treatment and medication.
He said the Government would pay for the consultation fees and medication of patients referred to private clinics.
“It is being studied. I have asked the (Health) Director-General to see how we can do it. This will be for those with chronic diseases like diabetes,” Liow told reporters yesterday, after witnessing the signing of a memorandum of co-operation between Kojadi Institute, Ikram Skills and Retraining Academy and ABS Consulting.
“This is because they need to see the doctor every one or two months, when they can get their medication. The doctors will also give them a check-up.”
Liow also said that doctors at government hospitals, who were on call, were now allowed to be off the next day. He said this was to further decrease the possibility of medical negligence.
“I want them to be at their fittest and not have problems handling patients,” he said.
Liow also urged more private sector doctors to volunteer their time at government medical establishments at least once a month.
“It is national service and we pay a token fee of RM80 an hour,” he said.
He added the ministry was still working out logistics such as office space to accommodate the private sector doctors.
Liow said as of two weeks ago, doctors at government hospitals were required to place their names at the beds of patients to create a “patient ownership” environment.
“This is so that the patient will know the doctor in charge. It does not matter if the system at government hospitals has doctors treating patients on a rotation basis.” he added that the “primary” doctors would place their names at the hospital beds.
Liow also said the ministry was willing to consider applications from companies wishing to start cord blood banks.
“Currently, four have registered with the ministry,” he said.
He added that government doctors had been sent for overseas training to enable them to operate cord blood banks.

MMA: Explain ‘licensed to kill’ statement

Star: PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) is demanding a full clarification over Deputy Health Minister Datuk Dr Abdul Latiff Ahmad’s statement that doctors were “licensed to kill”.
“We are not sure in what circumstances this word 'to kill' was used and as such a full clarification would be helpful,” its president Datuk Dr Khoo Kah Lin said in a statement yesterday.
He said the association wanted to impress on the public that doctors were only licensed to heal and supported patients by helping to ease suffering due to illnesses.
Any death, which happened during the course of treatment, was due to the severity of the disease, he said.
“Any negligent cause of death during treatment is answerable. This is to reassure the public that neither the Malaysian Medical Council nor the MMA condones the notion that doctors are licensed to kill at any point in time,” he added.
It was reported that Dr Abdul Latiff had in the Dewan Rakyat on Monday wanted to adopt the James Bond movie Licence to Kill when replying to a supplementary question by Alexander Nanta Linggi (BN – Kapit) during Question Time.
Dr Abdul Latiff said doctors were given the “licence to heal” as well as the “licence to kill.”
He later retracted his statement but said he would not apologise.
Dr Khoo said the association was shocked to read about the remark uttered by Dr Abdul Latiff, adding it was unfortunate that he had “blurted out such a remark.”
Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai, when asked by reporters yesterday, said he had the highest regard for doctors.
He said it was an ethical profession where the doctors “had the heart” to save lives.
“And the ministry has always ensured that negligence is minimal,” he said after witnessing the signing of a memorandum of cooperation between Kojadi Institute, Ikram Skills and Retraining Academy and ABS Consulting.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Ministry to tighten Fomema screening system

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: The Health Ministry will take immediate steps to close loopholes in the Fomema screening mechanism to avoid negligence.
Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said the ministry would strengthen the medical screening mechanism to "prevent hanky-panky" in the system.
"Any Fomema clinics found to have made false reports will be blacklisted immediately. We can't allow these clinics to make false medical reports."
Liow was speaking after handing RM100,000 in earthquake aid to Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia Cheng Yonghua for victims in Sichuan, China.
Liow was responding to the New Sunday Times report on unfit foreign workers working in the country despite Fomema's strict entry requirements.
All foreign workers are required to be medically screened by Fomema - the independent agency appointed by the government to monitor and supervise the mandatory health-screening programme - within a month of their arrival in Malaysia.
"It is unfair for employers to have to send their maids for second-opinion medical tests when they have paid Fomema to conduct these screenings," Liow said.
He urged employers whose maids tested positive for infectious diseases during the second-opinion screening to lodge reports immediately with the Immigration Department and Health Ministry.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Lacking paediatric heart surgeons

NST: THERE is a shortage of paediatric heart surgeons in government hospitals, the Dewan Rakyat was told yesterday.
Deputy Health Minister Datuk Dr Abdul Latiff Ahmad said this was because it took a long time to train these surgeons, especially in performing complex congenital heart operations on children.
"Currently, we only have six specialists in the National Heart Institute and two other specialists in every government hospital, and these specialists are only able to perform non-complex operations," he said in reply to a supplementary question by Dr Lee Boon Chye (PKR-Gopeng).
Dr Lee had questioned the capacity of government hospitals to perform heart operations and whether the ministry was considering outsourcing such operations to private hospitals.
Dr Latiff said 10 out of every 1,000 babies born in Malaysia every year had congenital heart diseases.
"This translates into an estimated 5,000 children born with heart problems, with 2,000 to 3,000 needing operations."
Dr Latiff said his ministry had extended an invitation to outsource specialists from local private hospitals, but these hospitals had only come forward after the ministry's announcement that it would be sending paediatric cases to the Narayana Hrudayalaya Hospital in Bangalore, India.
Last month, the government announced that 200 children with congenital heart diseases would be sent to the Indian heart centre for surgery.
The move was to help ease the waiting time for children, especially those from poor families, who needed operations urgently.
Earlier, responding to the original question by Dr Lee, Dr Latiff said a heart operation in Malaysia could cost between RM15,000 and RM30,000, depending on whether one opted for public or private hospital.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Asean nations must make health warning on tobacco a priority

NST: ASEAN nations should speedily introduce strong tobacco packaging and labelling laws which have proven effective in spreading the anti-smoking message.
This was the message from senior government officials, civil society officials and World Health Organisation representatives from the grouping who met in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.
Joining their appeal were experts from Mongolia and Australia attending a two-day regional workshop on tobacco controls.
The call comes at the end of a three-year deadline for the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Cambodia to introduce large and effective health warnings on tobacco product packages and comply with the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC).
All Asean countries, with the exception of Indonesia and Myanmar, have ratified the WHO FCTC, committing to implement tobacco control policies that, among others, will require more prominent and graphic health warnings on tobacco products within three years.
Thailand and Singapore have implemented the requirements.
Article 11 of the WHO FCTC states that warning messages on tobacco product packages should cover at least 50 per cent of the principal display areas of the package.
It also requires multiple health warning messages to be sent out, encourages the use of pictures and pictograms, and prohibits misleading terms such as "light" and "mild".
Thai National Committee for the Control of Tobacco-Ministry of Health member Dr Prakit Vathesathogkit said Asean governments should play a crucial role in providing support for national tobacco control policies to be put in place.
"All Asean countries should consider making action on health warnings on tobacco products a top priority," Action on Smoking and Health Foundation secretary-general said.
South East Asian Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) director Bungon Ritthiphakdee said Asean nations must place prominent warnings in public places as required by the WHO FCTC as pictures spoke louder than words.
She said studies in the region had found that prominent health warnings in cigarette packs, including pictures, were far more effective in educating smokers and the public about health risks than text-only warnings.
The two-day Article 11 meeting, supported by the Singapore Health Promotion Board, ASH Thailand and Vichealth Centre for Tobacco Control-Australia, also focused on best practices, examining experiences as well as challenges in drafting laws and implementing such laws.

RM5.20 minimum price for a pack proposed

NST: A PACK of cigarettes will not dip below RM5.20 under a Health Ministry proposal to place "cancer sticks" beyond the reach of students and the poor.
Discussions between the ministry and the industry on the minimum price are in the final stages with an announcement expected soon.
The ministry will also require cigarette manufacturers to carry pictorial warnings on packs to drive home the message that smoking leads to health problems.
A third move will be to gazette National Service Training camps as non-smoking areas, raising to 20 the number of areas which are off-limits to smokers.
The New Straits Times has learnt that these are the major amendments to the Control of Tobacco Products Regulations (CPTR) 2004 to be signed by the health minister by the end of the month.
The regulations rely on the administrative powers of the minister and do not need to go through Parliament.
The minimum price is expected to be enforced as soon as the amendments are gazetted, while enforcement of the pictorial warnings is being targeted for December.
The amendments are to ensure Malaysia fulfills her obligations as a signatory to the World Health Organisation's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
As a party to the treaty signed in 2005, Malaysia had three years to fulfil cigarette labelling and packaging requirements.
Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai confirmed the proposed amendments, adding that the minimum price would prevent youngsters from taking up smoking.
"To put cigarettes out of the reach of young users, we need to do something drastic," Liow said.
Ministry senior officials explained the pricing mechanism at a briefing for the tobacco industry earlier this week.
The proposed minimum price is based on 26 sen per cigarette, taking into account the manufacturer's cost, sales and excise taxes, and gross profit.
However, the ministry wants the 14-stick pack to cost the same as a 20-stick pack, a move that non-premium brand manufacturers disagree with.
According to industry sources, certain non-premium brands are selling 14-stick packs for as low as RM1.50 to RM2.
If there is an increase in the sales and excise tax for cigarettes, the nett increase per stick will be added to the existing minimum price and multiplied by the number of sticks in a pack.
On the pictorial warnings, the ministry will come up with the pictures and distribute them to cigarette makers.
Each picture on a pack will depict a specific health consequence as a result of smoking such as mouth cancer, neck cancer, lung cancer, heart attack, stroke, premature babies and erectile dysfunction.
The amendments also stipulate the wordings that cannot be used on cigarette packaging. Words and phrases must no longer give the impression that some brands are relatively safer to smoke than others, or denote a glamorous lifestyle.
Words like "light", "ultra mild", "mild", "cool", "low tar", "slim", "extra", "special", "full flavour", and "premium", will not be allowed. Packs must also clearly state that the product cannot be sold to those below 18 years of age.
Packs must also carry the phrase "this product contains more than 4,000 chemicals including tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide" instead of the current explanation that each stick does not exceed 1.5mg of nicotine and 20mg of tar.
The regulations also state that cigarettes can no longer be sold with accompanying products like lighters, or be sold at a discount or with promotions.
Immediate reactions from some industry players at the dialogue revealed that the big companies were most concerned with labelling and packaging requirements.
Asking for a longer grace period to implement the pictorial warnings, they said these and other requirements to print additional information such as the manufacturing date would pose a challenge to their printing systems.
"We'll have to keep changing the printing cylinders after every run and this will cost a lot. It could run into the millions," a company representative said.
Questions were also raised as to whether the minimum pricing affected cigarettes sold in duty free zones, as these areas could arguably be considered as being "outside Malaysia".
There were also concerns about whether importers of foreign-made cigarettes had to follow the packaging and labelling requirements.
The ministry will continue with two more rounds of dialogue before the end of the month to gather feedback before the minister approves the amendments.

Dangers of smoking 'underestimated'

NST: PETALING JAYA: The risk of disease and death from smoking is real.
Deputy Health director-general Datuk Dr Ramlee Rahmat said many underestimated the risk attached to smoking.
He said smokers had the right to be warned about the dangers of cigarettes, just like other people who use hazardous consumer products.
"Well-designed and prominent pictorial warnings on cigarette packs and packages have been shown to increase public awareness of the hazards and provide meaningful information to tobacco users in the most cost-effective manner."
Dr Ramlee was speaking at the regional meeting on the implementation of the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) Article 11 (tobacco packaging and labelling).
"Malaysia is in the advanced stages of amending the Control of Tobacco Products Regulations 2004, making it obligatory for cigarettes sold in Malaysia to carry graphic health warnings."
He said the target date for implementation was December, which was within the three-year deadline to comply with FCTC Article 11 on "Packaging and Labelling".
He said the regional meeting in Malaysia was timely as it would help the ministry to learn from countries that had introduced graphic health warnings.
Dr Ramlee said Malaysia had seen momentous improvements in tobacco control, among which were legislative controls over tobacco advertisements and sponsorships, expansion of smoke-free areas, raising of tobacco taxes, nationwide anti-tobacco and health promotion activities and smoking cessation services.
"We believe these efforts have collectively contributed to the two per cent reduction in the overall prevalence of smokers identified during the 3rd National Health and Morbidity Survey in 2006 compared with the same survey 10 years ago."
South East Asian Tobacco Control Alliance policy adviser and Framework Convention Alliance (FCA) chairman Dr Mary Assunta said the general warning on cigarette packs in Malaysia was already more than 25 years old and no longer served the purpose they were intended for.
She said Malaysia was already exporting cigarettes containing graphic warnings to Thailand, Singapore, Australia and Hong Kong.
"Therefore, implementing graphic warnings on Malaysian packs to warn Malaysian smokers can be speedily done by the industry. The government should have no problems implementing this measure."
Dr Assunta said an advantage in using graphic warnings on cigarette packs was that it did not cost the government anything and was an effective way to educate smokers.

Manufacturers: Ban 14-stick pack

NST: PUTRAJAYA: Tobacco industry players are asking the government to ban the sale of the 14-stick cigarette pack if a minimum price is on the cards.
Smaller manufacturers, especially those producing non-premium brands, said it was pointless to have the same minimum price for a 14-stick pack and a 20-stick pack.
The government has proposed RM5.20 as the minimum price for a pack of 20 sticks, and wants this to apply to 14-stick packs as well.
The reason, according to Health Ministry sources, is that 14-stick packs are banned under the Control of Tobacco Products Regulations 2004.
Though the law exists, 14-stick packs are still being sold because of a cabinet directive in 2005 to continue their sale until 2010 to help the industry.
"If we want to enforce the law and ban the sale of 14-stick packs, we'll have to table a proposal to revoke the cabinet directive.
"That will be up to the minister," a ministry official said.
The law already bans the sale of individual cigarette sticks and seven-stick packs.
Non-premium brand producers, whose cigarettes take up about eight per cent of market consumption, appear to be the ones who stand to lose the most from the government's move to impose a minimum price on cigarettes.
"The big firms are already selling their brands at above RM5.20.
"For the small firms, a minimum price that is higher than what they're selling at could mean lower sales volume," a tobacco company representative said.
Overall, larger manufacturers are willing to comply with the minimum pricing, packaging and labeling requirements to help the government meet its health objectives.
"We know we are a controversial industry selling a controversial product, so we expect some regulation," an industry representative said.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Probe into baby's death to go on

NST: KAJANG: The Health Ministry will continue investigating the death of a newborn baby at the Kajang Hospital on April 11 despite his mother filing a RM2 million civil suit on the matter.
Its minister, Datuk Liow Tiong Lai, said it was Noor Hidayu Hashim's prerogative to do so.
"We, on our part, will conduct investigations into the incident," he said when commenting on the 21-year-old's suit.
He said the probe began as soon as the parents lodged a complaint on the death of their first-born who was delivered using the vacuum procedure.
An independent committee headed by a doctor is conducting the investigation.
"If the investigation reveals negligence, disciplinary action will be taken against person or persons concerned," he told reporters after a surprise working visit to the Kajang Hospital yesterday.
Kamaruddin Mohd Yasin, 28, a Kajang Prison officer, filed the case on behalf of his wife on Tuesday through their counsel, M.K. Othman & Co.
In the 13-page writ, Noor Hidayu, a private sector employee, named Dr Wan Shahruliza Wan Shaharan, the hospital director and government as defendants in the suite for alleged negligence in her son's death.
Noor Hidayu said her son who weighed 4.75kg was delivered by Dr Wan Shahrulizaabout 6pm using the vacuum procedure and was warded at the intensive care unit after developing problems. He died at 9.30pm the same day.
Liow said the number of negligence cases over the years had fallen tremendously to seven at the moment.
He said the ministry's Patient Safety Council, headed by the Director-General of Health Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican, had taken pains to advise healthcare providers on the need to avert medical negligence.
"I must stress that every complaint, be it medical negligence or otherwise, big or small, is immediately investigated.
"This is one way of learning from our mistakes and improving our service to patients. As far as possible, we do not want the mistake to be repeated."
Liow said all members of the board of visitors of hospitals should meet every month or once in two months to discuss issues related to their hospital and patients.
"Every complaint filed by patients or visitors to the hospital must be investigated and resolved," he said, adding that all hospitals should be community friendly.
He said professionals, irrespective of whether they were specialists, doctors, nurses, medical assistants or staff should ensure that patients and those who accompanied them were treated well.
Liow said his visit to the Kajang Hospital was also with regard to complaints of congestion in specialists' clinics and wards.
He said he had directed the Serdang Hospital to open more wards to take in patients from the Kajang Hospital.

Shorter wait for treatment

Star: KAJANG: The wait to seek treatment at government specialist clinics will be shortened.
Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said yesterday that patients currently waited an average of 90 minutes before being attended to by specialists.
“I have already set a target waiting time for general outpatient treatment. Now, we will study what should be the ideal time for specialist treatment,” he said after a working visit to the Kajang Hospital.
Liow said the targeted waiting time for specialist treatment would not be 30 minutes that he set for outpatient treatment.
“One must understand a specialist takes more time to examine patients,” he said.
He also advised patients to come to the hospital or clinic according to their appointment time, and not earlier.
“Some have an appointment at 10am, but they start waiting at 8am. And then they complain that they have waited for two hours to get a number.
“We give the appointments en bloc. There will be one batch at 8am, another at 9am and one at 10am. So, come according to your appointment,” he said.
Liow also called for the board of visitors of hospitals to meet more often.
“They should meet monthly, as board members can get the community to help with activities such as fund-raising and gotong-royong.
“At some hospitals, the board only meets once in three months,” he said.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

New requirement for nursing certificate

Star: PETALING JAYA: Come next year, it will be compulsory for nurses to achieve the relevant points by attending continuous professional development (CPD) courses to obtain a nursing practice certificate.
Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said the requirement was important to ensure they continued to upgrade their nursing knowledge and skills.
He said this after launching the International Nurses Day here yesterday.
Liow also encouraged nurses to acquire multiple skills, including technology and soft skills, to help them continuously improve.
On the shortage of nurses, Liow said this was only a problem at rural clinics, paediatric wards and intensive care units.
In conjunction with the celebration themed “Delivering Quality, Serving Communities: Nurses Leading in Primary Health Care”, three nurses were awarded the “Anugerah Tokoh Jururawat” (Outstanding Nurse Award).
They were Chan Kum Sum (education), Rose Paul (community) and Lim Chooi Ewe (service). – Bernama

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Gotong-royong to fight dengue

NST: GEORGE TOWN: The state government has launched a gotong-royong campaign to fight the outbreak of dengue.
Health, Welfare and Caring Society Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh said the campaign would address the dengue menace, which traditionally begins in May.
"Certain drains are badly clogged up and have become the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes.
"Some of them have been turned into mini 'gardens' with overgrown parasite plants," Phee said after launching the campaign at Taman Free School here.
He said he would make sure the campaign was held throughout the state.
"Our goal is to nip the dengue menace in the bud. The massive clean-up in every residential area is vital to destroy the Aedes mosquitoes before they get to us."
Phee said the Penang Island and Seberang Prai municipal councils would be stepping up their cleanliness campaigns.

NS to outsource check-ups

NST: BERA: The government will not stop the National Service programme, but will enlist the help of the private sector to conduct compulsory medical check-ups on all trainees.
Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who announced this yesterday, said the NS Training Department would have to outsource the service due to the limited number of doctors in government hospitals.
This move follows the death of 18-year-old NS trainee Too Hui Min on Wednesday. She was the 16th trainee to have died during training since the programme began four years ago.
"We cannot scrap the programme just like that as many parties are involved," Najib said after launching the National Youth Day and Week at Felda Sebertak.
"In many cases, the trainees who died at the camps had the illnesses before they joined the programme."
The NS Training Department had been instructed to study the implementation aspect and cost of compulsory medical check-ups.
Najib had said before that it was difficult for government doctors to conduct the check-up as there were more than 30,000 trainees for each batch.
At present, the trainees make a declaration on their health status in a form before they join the three-month programme.
NS Training Department director-general Datuk Abdul Hadi Awang Kechil on Friday had said it was the government's policy to continue the programme and rectify the problems.
There have been calls from various parties to scrap the programme following the latest death.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said NS trainees may be asked to declare if they have constipation before entering camp.
Too had died of toxic megacolon resulting from constipation.
The condition, according to Medline Plus Medical Encyclopaedia, is characterised by extreme inflammation and distention of the colon. The common symptoms are pain, distention of the abdomen, fever, rapid heart rate and dehydration.
Liow, who was speaking after launching Sunway Medical Centre's first outpatient clinic at Wisma Perintis in Damansara Heights yesterday, said the NS Training Department would have to have more details when the trainees report to camp.
At present there are 27 health problems listed in the health declaration form, with an additional five for female trainees.
Liow said he had instructed all medical assistants at the NS camps to immediately send any trainee to a hospital if they had doubts about the trainee's condition.
The ministry is investigating Too's treatment before her death. A report is expected to be ready next week.
In George Town, Melissa Darlyne Chow reports that DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng wants the federal government to scrap the NS programme if it cannot ensure the safety of the trainees.
Lim, who is also Penang Chief Minister, said if the government wanted to continue with the programme, the trainees should be allowed to opt out so that someone else who was keen, but not picked, could replace them.
"The government should not make it compulsory for these students to undergo this programme."

Family to sue over trainee's death

NST: KLANG: The family of National Service trainee Too Hui Min will be suing the government over her death last Wednesday.
Hui Min's mother, Chin Kwei Choo, 52, said they were seeking legal action because they did not believe the 18-year-old died of toxic megacolon or infection of the colon.
"We cannot accept the official explanation. We are suing to get the truth."
Chin said based on what she heard from her daughter's fellow trainees, camp authorities were slow in taking Hui Min to hospital.
"My daughter may still be alive if they had acted promptly."
Chin said the compensation of RM40,000 and funeral expenses of RM3,000, to be given to the family by the National Service Training Council, was no consolation.
"She is gone for good. Money cannot bring her back."
Chin and her husband, Too Jong Sing, 55, yesterday sought the assistance of Pandamaran state assemblyman Ronnie Liu at his service centre.
Liu, who will assist the family in getting a lawyer, said he would be referring the matter to Batu Gajah MP Fong Po Kuan who is putting in a notice for an emergency motion to debate the tragedy in Parliament.
Liu said he would also be visiting the Geo Kosmo National Service camp to seek answers on behalf of the family. Hui Min was taken to the Slim River Hospital where she died at 10.45pm on Wednesday.
She had complained of an upset stomach during firearms training at a shooting range in Jugra, in Banting, Selangor.
Hui Min was to have completed the NS programme on June 7.

''Foreign' doctors may not have to serve three years

NST: PETALING JAYA: Doctors who have worked abroad may no longer have to do the three-year compulsory service in government hospitals.
Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said the requirement was under review.
Provided they comply with certain conditions, the ministry may allow them to practice in private hospitals or academic institutions.
"Specialists, especially, may not necessarily have to serve the whole term in a government hospital. We have to see where they serve and how they can lend their expertise where needed," he said.
The ministry wanted to make it more attractive for Malaysian doctors abroad to return home, he said, and many changes had been made to the system to make it more appealing to do so.
There is now a one-stop centre at the ministry to help doctors who have returned to process their documents. A multi-entry salary scheme has also been introduced.
"Under the previous fixed salary scheme, senior doctors overseas were reluctant to return to Malaysia.
"Now, they can enter at any level, depending on the number of years they have worked overseas," he said after launching the Anything Butterfly Photography Exhibition at the 1Utama shopping complex here.

Come back and we’ll treat you right, Malaysian medical specialists told

Star: Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said the ruling was being reviewed as the Government wanted to attract Malaysian doctors home.
Currently, all doctors are required to undergo three years of public service in government hospitals.
“We are making it easier for Malaysians who want to come back and practice. A one-stop centre has been set up to help facilitate their return,” he said.
Liow said there was no way that the Government could match doctors' salaries offered at private healthcare institutions.
He said about 1,500 medical students graduated from public universities each year, and another 1,500 from private institutions. “We have housemanship and the compulsory service, but after that, they leave for private practice, so we are short (of doctors).”
Liow said only 60% of the positions for doctors in Government hospitals and clinics were filled, and encouraged doctors in the private sector to help ease the shortage.
“Giving more money (higher salary) is not the way to solve the shortage. We need to find a mechanism where private and government doctors can work hand-in-hand,” he said.
Liow said private doctors who helped out at public hospitals were paid RM80 per hour, and added that they should consider the act as a social obligation and national service.
“They can come (help) on their day off,'' he said after launching Sunway Medical Centre’s outpatient satellite clinic in Damansara Heights.
“Let us keep in mind that the practice of medicine is a noble art, not a trade; a calling, not a business.”
Later, when launching World Lupus Day in Bandar Utama, Liow said that a national registry of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) patients would be set up to monitor the disease among Malaysians.
He said the exact number of SLE (commonly known as lupus) patients in the country could not be ascertained as there was no registry. “It is important to diagnose and treat lupus early because it can cause disfiguring rashes and scarring, multiple miscarriages, kidney, heart and lung failures, impaired neurological function, strokes, heart attacks and even death,” he said.
Liow said SLE was an auto-immune disease in which the body produces antibodies that attacked its own organs. It can affect virtually any system in the body, particularly skin, heart, lungs, kidneys and brain.
“It is like a self-allergy where the body’s immune system runs riot.''
Liow said the Ministry would grant RM250,000 to the SLE Association to help kick-start the formation of the registry.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Maids taking over parenting role

NST: PETALING JAYA: A leading psychologist warns that maids are beginning to replace parents. Children are growing up interacting more with the maid than with their parents as they spend less and less time with their children due to work commitments.
Monash University and Sunway Medical Centres clinical psychologist Paul Jambunathan said many children were learning their values from the maid rather than from their own parents, and "the presence of a maid affects family bonding in a very big way".
Speaking at the launch of the Gain Family Discovery Camp organised by health food company Abbott Malaysia yesterday, he said it is common to see children giving more respect to the maid than their parents.
"In some cases, the maids are the boss of the house and children obey the maid rather than their parents when told to stop doing something.
"Children are not being brought up by the right people any longer. Parents might as well have a shoplot, take their children and dump them there and let other people look after them," he said after the launch.
He said employers should provide day-care centres so parents can still interact with their children during working hours.
"Maids, teachers and drivers have taken away the God-given role of parenting," he said.
He said parents should be the primary educators of their children.
"Parents have to give their children love and attention, the primary diet for emotional development," he said.
The three-day camp for five families on Pulau Tioman from June 6 to 8 will include events to help parents bond with their children.
These include plays, taking walks and counselling with Jambunathan, who will take notes on how parents are interacting with their children.
"I will be available to the parents 24 hours a day for them to share their parenting problems with me," he said.
The five families will be chosen through a contest organised by Abbott. The families of two adults and two children will be selected based on their creativity in answering two questions on the entry form that is available at retail outlets.

400 to go home after quarantine

NST: IPOH: Some 400 National Service trainees and their trainers, held under quarantine at the PLKN Jiwa Murni Camp in Semanggol, some 100km from here, were allowed to return home yesterday.
This included the remaining four trainees still warded at the Taiping Hospital after coming down with fever, said state Health, Environment and Human Resources Committee chairman A. Sivanesan.
"All of them were allowed to return home for a week-long break after having their blood samples taken."
He said the outbreak was first detected on Tuesday after 32 trainees came down with fever and close to 200 others complained of cough, flu and throat infection.
"Eleven trainees were referred to the Taiping Hospital while the rest received treatment at the camp. As a precautionary measure, all of them were placed under quarantine by the Kerian district health office," Sivanesan said.
The actual cause of the outbreak had yet to be identified pending the test results expected to be out in a few days, he said.
It is learnt that the Health Department had carried out active case detection by screening everyone at the camp after the outbreak was first detected.
Sivanesan also suggested that all NS camps be placed under the purview of the Defence Ministry to avoid such cases from recurring.
"The army has been running camps all over the country over the years and there have been no cases of deaths, injuries or outbreak.
"The army has all the expertise and they should be allowed to run the show," he said.
He also vowed to get to the bottom of things by visiting all the NS camps in Perak acompanied by Health Department officials.

National Service to stay despite another death

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: The National Service programme will not be scrapped despite another death among the 18-year-old trainees.
National Service Training Department director-general Datuk Abdul Hadi Awang Kecil reiterated that the training programme will not be scrapped "just because of one or two deaths (this year)".
"It is our policy that the NS camps go on. What we are doing now is to rectify the problem," he told the New Straits Times.
He was commenting on calls by bloggers for the scrapping of the programme following the death of 18-year-old Too Hui Min on Wednesday. She was the 16th NS trainee to have died during training since the programme began four years ago.
Abdul Hadi said the department's officials would be meeting Health Ministry officials on June 3 to decide on a technical committee to make it compulsory for all trainees to undergo health check-ups before entering the three-month programme.
Several departments have to streamline the processes before the health check-ups can be done.
In Too's case, Abdul Hadi said the trainee had a colon problem.
"She might have been suffering from it for a long time and was not aware of it."
He also said that the department was doing its best to ensure that the facilities in the camp were safe by getting the Health Ministry and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health to certify the campus premises.
The chairman of the National Service Training Council is Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye.
Participants, aged 18, go through a three-month programme likened to a summer camp.

Ministry to review NS trainees’ health procedures

Star: PETALING JAYA: Operating procedures for health matters regarding national service trainees will be reviewed.
Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said yesterday this would include requiring trainees to provide a more up-to-date and indepth details of their health condition on derclaration forms.
“We will review the standard operating procedures. Trainees should tell the medical attendants immediately if they have a problem.”
He was commenting on the death of trainee Too Hui Min at the Slim River Hospital on Wednesday. She had been stationed at the Geo Kosmo National Service Training Camp .
Hours earlier she had complained of an upset stomach while undergoing firearms training at the shooting range in Jugra in Banting, Selangor.
Her family said she had complained of constipation for three days before she died and they want to know why camp officials did not take her to the hospital earlier.
Liow said the cause of death had been determined as being toxic megacolon and her colon had been swollen and the lining had thinned due to septicemia.
“I have directed our director-general to investigate the incident and determine is there was negligence,” he said.
“From what we were told, she was sent to the hospital quite late and that was because she was at the shooting range which was hours away from the camp.”
He said that Too was examined by the camp’s medical attendant when she returned to the camp and was immediately sent to the Slim River Hospital.
“That took another hour . By then, it was too late.”
Liow also said that trainees at Kem PLKN Jiwa Murni Semanggol had came down with the common flu.
“Everything is under control and we are sending health officers to help control the situation,” he said.
Its 196 trainees have been quarantined by the Kerian district health office.
They have also been instructed to improve their personal hygiene while face masks have been distributed.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Important to correct cleft lip and palate at young age

Star: A SMILE goes a long way into shaping the future of a child. It helps him to make his first friend, fit in among his peers and slowly work his way into his future.
Realising the importance of it, the Pantai Group of Hospitals launched the Gift of Smile campaign in 2003 to help restore the smiles of Malaysian children born with cleft palate and lip through corrective surgery.
Cleft lip is a congenital defect in which there is a separation in the upper lip while a similar defect in the roof of the is known as a cleft palate.
Under the programme, a patient will be fully funded until the age of 18 and priority is given to families with more than one child, and have a household income of RM2,000 and below.
The corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme is also aimed at creating a greater awareness of the rectifiable birth defect among the Malaysian public.
Since the programme’s inception, more than RM1mil has been raised and utilised for the corrective surgery, with the support of the public and corporate partners, Pantai Hospitals and ING Insurance.
More than 150 children have been effectively treated and many have undergone at least two operations before the age of one.
On average, each corrective procedure costs between RM4,000 and RM5,000.
The campaign, which is also one of McDonald's main CSR efforts through its Ronald McDonald Children's Charity (RMCC), is headed by cosmetic surgeon Dr Kim Tan.
“The idea is to get the young patient to look as normal as possible so that he or she can fit into society and lead a normal lifestyle.
“It is not a life-threatening situation but it is certainly life-changing,” Tan said, adding that one in 600 newborn babies suffered from the condition in Malaysia.
Tan said children born with the condition suffered from low self-esteem and were inclined to shy away from the public.
“And, the condition isn't just cosmetic; these children may experience breathing difficulties, speech and hearing problems, trouble in swallowing food and drink, and facial growth impairments.
“So, if a child grows up with the condition, it is not good for his future,” he said.
Comparing “before” and “after” operation photographs of a toddler and a middle-aged man, Tan explained the urgent need to have the problem corrected while a patient was young.
“Look at both patients. They look normal but look at their eyes. The younger one has hopeful eyes with a bright future ahead of him, while the older one has lived through it, deprived of a normal life. He has sad eyes,” Tan pointed out.
Tan added that the hospital planned to make the project accessible to children outside of the Klang Valley. Currently, Tan and his team of doctors have already started cleft lip clinic sessions in Sabah and Sarawak.
“Logistics is the main problem facing patients especially in Sabah and Sarawak. We plan to have more of these outreach clinics in both Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah and Sarawak,” Tan said, adding that the medical centre would continue to partner RMCC for the project.
Tan said that as a provider of premier healthcare service, the hospital wanted to ensure the medical needs of the less fortunate were taken care of, especially those of children and the disabled.
“This is our way of giving back to society. Our corporate social responsibility has to be ethical and full of compassion,” said Tan.

All-out plan to make Malaysia herbal hub

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: The government has drafted an action plan to enhance the growth of the herbal and biotechnology industry, which is estimated to be worth about RM2.5 billion by 2010.
Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Douglas Unggah said medicinal plants had been identified as one of the main commodities to make Malaysia a centre for herbal product development and a supplier of raw materials for industrial use.
"This is in line with the government's initiative to transform the forestry field and to find non-timber resources."
Douglas, in his speech read by his deputy Datuk Maznah Mazlan at the launch of "Herbal Asia 2008" at the Matrade Exhibition and Convention Centre, said the government was confident that as one of the mega-biodiversity nations, Malaysia had the potential and the resources to be among the leading global players in the herbal industry.
"We acknowledge the potential of developing some of the traditional remedies based on traditional knowledge into commercial products."
He said the ever-expanding market for herbal products had also increased demand for raw materials.
In many developing countries, Douglas said, this surge of demand for herbal medicine had been met by indiscriminate and spontaneous harvesting of flora, including those in the forest. As a result, many plant species have been lost and some faced extinction.
He said Malaysia, as one of the leading producers of sustainable timber products, was aware of such danger and was putting in place appropriate policies and programmes to prevent such a situation.
To ensure continuous supply of raw material as well as reducing the pressure on the natural forests, the Forest Research Institute Malaysia had also developed a pilot project in Maran, Pahang, to cultivate tongkat ali and kacip fatimah.
Douglas said such research and development was necessary to ensure medicinal plants conformed to physical and chemical standards.
"I hope the herbal industry will adopt the prescribed integrated approach, which includes the application of modern scientific methods in the selection, cultivation and manufacture of proven herbal medicines. Only through such an approach can we transform traditional trade into modern industrial practices."

100 'state-of-the-art' ambulances for hospitals

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: State-of-the-art ambulances will help save more lives with computer technology that allows readings of a patient's vital signs and electrocardiograms (ECGs) to be sent ahead to the emergency room.
The Health Ministry is spending more than RM30 million on 100 ambulances which will be stationed at government hospitals nationwide.
Emergency room staff can help medical assistants to treat patients while they are on their way in the ambulance, rather than wait till they reach the hospital.
"Pre-hospital care is important. Therefore the number of ambulances has to be increased, and existing ones upgraded to provide quality service to patients," said Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai, adding that he had already requested funds to order another 100.
He said, in addition to the 200, another 400 ambulances would be needed in the near future to meet the country's needs.
Currently there are 568 government ambulances serving hospitals across the country, excluding the 50 owned by the Malaysian Red Crescent Society (MRCS).
He said this after launching the Red Crescent Bazaar at Lake Titiwangsa.
MRCS is celebrating Red Crescent Day and its 60th anniversary.
He also said ambulance services could be improved through better inter-departmental co-ordination and communication.
"The sharing of information is crucial to expedite the process of transferring victims from the accident site to the ambulance."
In his speech he said the ministry was looking at changing its current analog communications system to a digital one, enabling control centre staff to monitor ambulance movements.
He said the 26 emergency call co-ordination centres set up nationwide last year had reduced ambulance response time to 30 minutes.
Previously there were reports of ambulances taking an hour to reach patients.

Free health check on mum’s day

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: Forget about those fancy little gifts you give to your mother every year on Mothers Day and instead take her for a free health check this year.
The National Population and Family Development Board (LPPKN) will be conducting free screenings for both women and men at 50 of its clinics from May 11 to 18.
Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Dr Ng Yen Yen said the check would cover blood pressure, cholesterol, breast and pap smear examinations and menopause service (hormone therapy medication).
“Whenever mothers are sick, they just take Panadol and believe that it will cure them. We hope that through this campaign, children can give their mothers something special by bringing them to this check-up session,” she told a press conference here yesterday.
She said the screening, which was worth RM80, was also available for men, who were entitled for a prosthetic enzyme check.
For information on the clinics, call the LPPKN hotline at 15999.

Fast relaying of info can help to save lives, says Health Minister

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: Getting the vital medical statistics of a patient in an ambulance to a hospital even before the vehicle gets there is the latest digital project to be considered by the Health Ministry.
This will be the main target of the ministry’s plan to change its emergency communication system from analog to digital mode.
Its minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said that if implemented, medical assistants in the ambulances would be able to obtain help from emergency rooms to treat the patient during the journey to the hospital.
“If this digital system is implemented, it will not only make communication between those in the ambulance and control centre easier, personnel could also monitor the movement of the ambulances under their care through a computerised system,” he said in his speech when opening the RC Bazaar 2008 organised by the Malaysian Red Crescent Society yesterday.
He added that patient information such as blood pressure reading, pulse, breathing rate and ECG could be transmitted to the control centres.
Speaking to reporters later, Liow said the project was still being studied and, if approved, would be implemented in stages.
“I hope it can be done because all this is important to save lives,” he said.
Liow also said that 400 ambulances were needed in the future to serve Malaysians efficiently. An initial 100 units worth about RM300mil has been ordered and another 100 will be bought soon.
The locally-manufactured ambulances will be sent to areas which need them the most.
Liow said the setting up of call coordination centres under the ministry had resulted in ambulances reaching the emergency sites within 30 minutes.
The centres are part of the ministry’s initiative when the 999 Emergency Call Service Centre was set up by the Government last year.
There are 25 hospitals which are involved, with another located at the ministry in Putrajaya.
Staff members at the centres would give advice to the caller on what should be done while waiting for the ambulance to arrive, he said.
Liow said coordination between government agencies which handled emergency situations needed to be streamlined so that the rescue process could be expedited.

Note: PETALING JAYA: In the report “Liow wants to go digital” which appeared in The Star on Friday, it has been pointed out that the correct cost of 100 units of ambulances should have been RM30mil and not the amount stated.
The error is regretted.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Blood infection the main cause of deaths

NST: BACTERIAL infection of the blood or septicaemia is among the main causes of death among Malaysians in government hospitals, Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said.
He said 16.8 per cent of the 40,000 deaths in government hospitals in 2006 was due to septicaemia, also known as blood poisoning.
"Septicaemia is a condition related to chronic diseases, like infections of the lung, abdomen or urinary tract, which can occur before or during infection to the bone (osteomyelitis), or to the neurosis system (meningitis) or other tissues," he said in response to a question from Datuk Mohamed Aziz (BN-Sri Gading) in the Dewan Rakyat yesterday.
Liow said that besides septicaemia, the other main causes of death among Malaysians were heart and pulmonary diseases (15.7 per cent), cancer or malignant neoplasms (10.59 per cent), strokes due to cerebrovascular disease (8.49 per cent), pneumonia (5.81 per cent) and accidents (5.59 per cent).
On measures to enhance the delivery system in government hospitals, Liow said the focus would be on providing the best health service to the people, including reducing the waiting time to be treated to 30 minutes and providing a special lane for the disabled and senior citizens seeking outpatient treatment.
Liow said efforts were being made to enhance the corporate culture practice at all its facilities with emphasis on three values - caring, team work and professionalism.

World Thalassaemia Day 2008: A million who have that gene

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: It is estimated that over one million Malaysians carry the gene that causes beta-thalassaemia, mostly in the Malay and Chinese communities.
Thalassaemia is a blood disorder passed from parent to child which affects the body's ability to produce normal red blood cells that carry oxygen in the body.
There are two types of thalassaemia - minor and major. Thalassaemia minor is not a problem. But if two people with thalassaemia minor have children together, there is a one in four chance their offspring will have thalassaemia major, which requires lifelong treatment and can be fatal.
It is for this reason the Thalassaemia Association of Malaysia advises people to go for blood screening for the disease.
Thalassaemia major patients need regular blood transfusions and drug therapy. The transfusions give the body a temporary supply of healthy red blood cells with normal haemoglobin that carries the oxygen around the body.
Association president Datuk Dr Zulkifli Ismail says the blood cell transfusions greatly improve the patients' quality of life and they can live longer.
But because there is no natural way for the body to eliminate iron, the iron in the transfused blood cells builds up in a condition known as "iron overload", and becomes toxic to tissues and organs particularly the liver and heart. Iron overload typically results in the patient's early death from organ failure.
To help remove excess iron, Dr Zulkifli said, patients undergo "iron chelation therapy", in which a drug that binds with the excess iron is infused into the blood and removes it through the urine or stool.
It is a painful and difficult process. A needle is attached to a small battery-operated infusion pump and worn under the skin of the stomach or legs. The drug Desferal is slowly released into the bloodstream five to seven times a week for up to 12 hours.
Dr Zulkifli says there are about 3,000 transfusion dependent thalassaemia major patients in the country.
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia medical faculty Department of Paediatrics senior medical consultant Prof Dr A. Rahman A. Jamal said every year between 120 and 240 new thalassaemia major cases are reported nationwide. But he believes this number could be higher as many seek treatment in private hospitals and abroad.
He said Cyprus and Greece have mandated premarital screening for thalassaemia, reducing the number of new patients by 90 percent. And prenatal testing can determine whether the foetus has thalassaemia major.
In Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran, aborting a foetus of less than 120 days is allowed, but not in Malaysia unless the pregnancy endangers the mother's life.
Dr Zulkifli said thalassaemia patients are often discriminated against because their appearance is different. Their height, skin colour and facial features are affected.
And he said employers are often reluctant to hire thalassaemia patients because they fear they would have to pay the medical bills. But two years ago, the government set aside RM49 million to treat them.
"Employers need not worry about their medical expenses as the government is paying for their treatment. All they need to do is allow them one day in a month to go for their blood transfusions.
"We want the private sector to accept them into the work force as this would help their self-esteem and independence," he said, adding that he knows of several thalassaemia patients who have carved out successful careers.

World Thalassaemia Day 2008: Patients must strictly adhere to treatment

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: Mohamad Zanel Ibrahim has thalassaemia major. But the 22-year-old executive secretary of the Thalassaemia Association of Malaysia lives his life to the fullest.
Laughing, he says: "I get pulled over by the police all the time, especially at road blocks. They think I'm an underage school kid and ask me for my 'P' (provisional driving) licence. When I show them my driving licence, they give me a quizzical look."
Zanel has the short stature and looks common to thalassaemia patients.
His 19-year-old brother, Mohamad Zarul, and sister Siti Nur Atilla, 16, are carriers of the disease. Both his parents have the beta-thalassaemia gene, but only discovered it when Zanel started showing symptoms of the illness at six months old.
Zanel's mother told him that he used to vomit, had no appetite and often had fever. He was diagnosed with thalassaemia major at Penang Hospital and referred to Kuala Lumpur Hospital.
Thalassaemia major children are normal at birth, but develop anaemia during the first year of life. Growth failure, bone deformities, and enlarged liver and spleen are some of the problems that occur.
Zanel has been having regular blood transfusions since he was diagnosed.
"I had an enlarged spleen, and it was removed when I was 4. When I was 10, I was put on Desferal, the chelation therapy.
"My mother used to inject me in the stomach. I had to be on the therapy five times a week for 12 hours each time."
Zanel started injecting himself in Standard Five, carrying a small pump.
"I was and still am on penicillin, vitamin C and folic acid," said Zanel, who attended Sekolah Rendah Kebangsaan Kampung Baru and Sekolah Menengah Seri Titiwangsa.
He now goes for blood transfusions every two months and is taking the oral iron chelator, Exjade.
His next dream, he says, is to improve his income so he can marry his girlfriend.
He wants all thalassaemia major patients to know they can live life to the fullest if they strictly follow their treatment regimen, going for regular blood transfusions and doing the chelation therapy.

World Thalassaemia Day 2008: Need to screen carriers

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: There is no national screening programme to identify thalassaemia carriers.
Thalassaemia Society of University Hospital president Professor Dr Chan Lee Lee says unless a programme is put in place, it would be difficult to control the number of children born with thalassaemia major.
But, she says, at least awareness of the disease is much higher now than it was five years ago.
"The government has also taken the initiative to develop a thalassaemia group last year, and they are now drafting clinical practice guidelines for the management of thalassaemia patients," Dr Chan said in conjunction with World Thalassaemia Day. It will be marked at the national level from May 26-29 at Berjaya Times Square.
She said the treatment of thalassaemia patients has improved, with the government making available one of the essential drugs, Desferal, for free since 2006.
About 3,000 thalassaemia major patients now get free treatment at government hospitals.
Dr Chan said with proper treatment, a thalassaemia patient can live for many years, but in Malaysia the oldest patient is 35 years old. Sabah has the most thalassaemia patients, with Selangor and the Federal Territory believed to be second and third.
Dr Chan's advice to those starting a family is - test for thalassaemia. A simple blood test is all that it takes. She warned that a thalassaemia major child without treatment could die before two years of age.
Dr Chan also called on Malaysians not to stigmatise thalassaemia patients - it is a hereditary problem and not contagious.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Private hospital for Iskandar Malaysia

Star: JOHOR BARU: A private hospital will be built at Afiat Healthpark in Nusajaya, which is within Iskandar Malaysia.
The 70-bed hospital is expected to begin operations in 2010.
It will be equipped with laboratory and diagnostic services, outpatient and inpatient services, and ample parking facilities.
The project is a joint venture between Nusajaya Medical Park (NMPSB) – a subsidiary of UEM Land – and Columbia Asia.
A sale and purchase agreement was signed on April 14 between UEM Land managing director Wan Abdullah Wan Ibrahim and Columbia Asia Group of Companies chairman Rick Evans.
Under the terms, Columbia Asia shall purchase more than 1ha from NMPSB for a total consideration if RM4.818mil.
Wan Abdullah said the project was to be carried out in view of the tremendous potential and growth prospects of Iskandar Malaysia (formerly known as Iskandar Development Region).
“Afiat Healthpark is intended to meet the under-served healthcare needs of the community in Nusajaya.
“We are confident that the hospital will cater to demand for better healthcare services and facilities,” he said.
The hospital will be part of the first phase of Afiat Healthpark, which will include a private specialist clinic and health-screening centre.
The second phase will comprise a dialysis and rehabilitation centre, a nursing college and a traditional and complementary medicine academy.
Afiat Healthpark is located on the northern part of Nusajaya, which houses Johor's new administrative centre.
Other developments in the area are Puteri Harbour (a waterfront precinct), an education city, an international destination resort with theme parks, and residential and commercial blocks.

Research on ageing men

Star: There was a flurry of activities at the Subang Jaya Medical Centre (SJMC) last Sunday when the first group of almost 200 men turned up for a health study.
They were part of the 1,046 men chosen to take part in the Subang Longitudinal Study on the Ageing Men (SAM).
According to Hospital Universiti Kebang-saan Malaysia urologist and senior lecturer Dr Lee Boon Cheok, 38, the objective of the rese-arch is to identify important reversible risk factors that can potentially affect men’s health and their quality of life.
“This will help in the development of a future health intervention programme in Malaysia to emphasise greater awareness of the importance of men's health,” Lee said.
The study involves men above 40 years old in Subang Jaya and Kelana Jaya and will be conducted over 10 years.
“Participants were invited by post and telephone calls and we've interviewed them before this,” he said.
The first 200 participants were at the SJMC to fill in questionnaires, take a blood test and undergo a physical examination, facilitated by researchers led by chief researcher Datuk Dr Tan Hui Meng, an Universiti Malaya medical faculty adjunct professor.
“We hope that the rest of the respondents will show up over the next few days,” Lee said.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Your favourite pillow or teddy could be making you tear

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: What do dust mites and frequent contact with pets have to do with eye allergies?
A great deal, according to Pantai Medical Centre consultant allergist Dr M. Yadav, who said a survey recently found that 70 per cent of allergies, including ones affecting the eyes, were caused by dust mites.
"They can multiply by 50 times due to the tropical weather and can be all over the house, even if it is clean."
He said the dust mite problem was critical in Malaysia but most people were unaware of the harm they caused.
They feed on flakes of shed human skin and are the most common cause of asthma and allergic symptoms worldwide.
Dr Yadav said children tended to touch things like carpets and toys, which had a large number of dust mites, and rubbed their eyes afterwards.
"This is how they contract eye allergies. In some conditions, they would start to wheeze and eventually suffer from asthma," he said, adding that dust mites could also cause eczema.
While children were targets of allergies caused by dust mites in pillows and mattresses and stuffed toys, hair from cats and dogs taken to bed could also cause allergies.
He said parents were as generally unaware of this as they were of the fact that eggs and milk could also cause allergies.
Dr Yadav said parents should take prevention of dust mites seriously by using special fabric pillow cases available in the market.
He added that an anti-dust mite spray could be used for the sofa and carpet while air cleaners or filters could keep the air clean.
Dust mites are killed by micro-predators and exposure to the sun.

Eye on children who don't see properly

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: More children are having poor vision from long hours of television and reading.
Tun Hussein Onn National Eye Hospital consultant ophthalmologist Dr Vijaya Mohan said the hospital received about 2,000 cases of reflective error a year.
Most people with low vision were either very old or very young, she said, adding that her case load had increased by 15 per cent over the past 10 years.
She put this down to changes in lifestyle and quite a number of her patients were children.
"Of the total number of cases we receive, more than half involves children. We examine four to five children a day."
Shortsightedness, a common manifestation of reflective error, was often found in children.
Dr Vijaya said another common eye condition among children was allergic conjunctivitis, of which the hospital received about 2,000 cases annually.
Allergic conjunctivitis is the inflammation of the membrane covering the white part of the eye due to an allergy that causes itchiness, redness and teary eyes.
"Children who have this condition may also have asthma and skin problems as their weakened immune system makes them susceptible to pollutants."
She said the government should make eye checks compulsory for pre-schoolers to ascertain if they had reflective error, which could lead to a condition called "lazy eye".
She added that most parents did not realise that the condition could be prevented from worsening if detected by age 10.
"They can actually improve the eyesight with early detection. But after age 10, even surgery can't correct defective vision," she said, adding that eye patching and exercise, however, could help improve lazy eyes.
Dr Vijaya said the hospital had been conducting a seminar since 1997 for kindergarten teachers to identify eye problems among children aged 2 to 6 so that the problems could be treated early.
Nearly 2,600 teachers have been trained to recognise children with squint eyes or those who like to rub their eyes.
There are more than 30 clinics in government hospitals to treat poor vision among children. The Tun Hussein Onn National Eye Hospital is the nation's only eye-care hospital.

Reward organ donors and give their families incentives

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: Organ donors should be rewarded and their families given incentives in a bid to save more lives, medical officers have suggested.
Cambridge University Visiting Professor and consultant surgeon Sir Roy Calne, who attended a seminar on organ transplantation at the Universiti Malaya Medical Centre yesterday, urged the Government to be more committed to increase the number of organ donors.
“More coordination and determination by Government officials will benefit those in need of an organ to improve their health condition.
“With more doctors trained in transplantation, the rate of transplants will increase,” he said.
Neurosurgeon Dr C.M. Vickneswaran suggested that the Government consider paying the funeral expenses of a deceased donor.
“Another incentive is to provide medical benefits to the immediate family members of the deceased. For example, like pensioners are given medical benefits, the children of donors could receive medical benefits until they are 18,” he proposed.
Universiti Malaya Vice-Chancellor Datuk Rafiah Salim said that kidney transplantation, which was the most effective treatment for kidney failure, had unfortunately lagged in Malaysia.
“In Malaysia, our transplantation rate remains one of the lowest in the world as there is slightly less than one transplant per million people compared to countries in Europe, where the transplant rate is at 33% per million population.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

'Warrior mosquitoes' will not be released in Pulau Ketam

NST: KANGAR: The Health Ministry will not allow the release of genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes in Pulau Ketam, Selangor in a bid to combat the dengue scourge.
Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said the ministry would conduct another study tofind other ways of carrying out the research, which is being conducted by the Institute of Medical Research (IMR) and a company partly owned by the University of Oxford.
"It is research which has been proven successful in the laboratory. But we will conduct another study.
"We will not release the mosquitoes because the findings are still at research-level," he said when asked about the proposed Pulau Ketam study.
Liow was speaking to reporters after attending the national-level World Health Day launch in Dewan 2020 here.
The study involves releasing GM male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which carry killer genes, to mate with female Aedes mosquitoes at Pulau Ketam.
Laboratory tests, conducted over the past year, have shown that the method could kill Aedes mosquitoes.
Only the female Aedes mosquito can transmit the dengue fever virus.
Liow said the ministry would consider the views of residents near Pulau Ketam, an island 30 minutes by boat from Port Klang.
"The people of Pulau Ketam have been saying that the mosquitoes would be released on the island.
"The ministry would not do such a thing."
The New Sunday Times reported last week that the IMR and British bio-tech company, Oxitec Ltd would release these male "warrior mosquitoes" in Pulau Ketam off Selangor.
However, environmental non-governmental organisations fear that releasing these GM mosquitoes in the wild may affect the ecosystem and cause further damage.
On dengue prevention, Liow said the ministry needed the help of local councils, NGOs and the people to maintain cleanliness to prevent the spread of the disease.
He said about 13,000 dengue cases were reported between January and April this year. Of that number, 35 were in Perlis.
The number had decreased by 23 per cent compared with the same period last year.
Liow urged the people to take care of their health in light of the uncertain global climate.
He said climate change was interrelated with common Malaysian diseases such as malaria, dengue and leptospirosis, which usually occurs during floods.
He said the ministry focused on preventive and control measures when it came to diseases brought about by natural disasters.

Helicopters for Langkawi Hospital

NST: KANGAR: The Health Ministry is thinking of setting up helicopter services for the Langkawi Hospital to ferry patients to the mainland.
Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said a proposal from residents to have a special boat to transfer patients to the mainland would also be considered.
Langkawi residents and Kuah assemblyman Datuk Nawawi Ahmad recently requested for a special boat ambulance to ferry those in need of medical attention from the island to the Sultanah Bahiyah Hospital in Alor Star.
Patients are now transferred by the public ferry service from Kuah, Langkawi to Kuala Kedah.
Nawawi had said it was difficult if an emergency occurred outside the operational hours of the public ferry service.
Yesterday, Liow said the ministry's medical division would study the proposal to have a boat ambulance and helicopter.
He said that once they were approved, both facilities would be equipped with a medical team.
On the lack of medical staff and equipment in Langkawi Hospital, Liow said: "We expect to increase the number of specialists, especially doctors in Langkawi Hospital. This is to ensure that patients receive due treatment and attention.
"We are aware of the need for the emergency transport.
"We are working to fulfil the needs of Langkawi residents, considering that the island is a popular tourist destination," he said.after attending the launch of the national-level World Health Day celebration at Dewan 2020 here
The Raja Perempuan of Perlis Tuanku Fauziah Tengku Abdul Rashid officiated the event. Also present was Menteri Besar Datuk Dr Md Isa Sabu.