Sunday, November 30, 2008

HIV cases on the rise in Malaysia, says UN coordinator

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is suffering a setback in achieving the United Nations (UN) Millenium Development Goal (MDG) to eradicate the HIV/AIDS virus.
UN resident coordinator (Malaysia) Kamal Malhotra said the number of HIV infected people was increasing with the case reported since 1986 reaching 82,704 as of June.
He said the country faced a concentrated epidemic with 1% to 5% of certain categories having contracted the virus, adding that in line with UN guidelines, it needed to focus its resources on five high-risk categories.
These are drug users, sex workers, transsexuals, male homosexuals and migrant workers, he told a press conference after launching the Red Carnival organised by the PT Foundation at Sungei Wang Plaza here yesterday.
According to the United Nations Development Programme Malaysia website, the year 2000 saw 5% of the total population infected with HIV/AIDS. In 2006, the number had increased to 8%.
Malhotra said he believed that one of the best methods to prevent the continuous spread was better education and understanding of the virus itself, which was why he fully supported the Red Carnival.
The Red Carnival, sponsored by CIMB and UN Malaysia and supported by the Health Ministry and Malaysian AIDS Council, is aimed at galvanising the Malaysian youth to create awareness of the disease and reduce the stigma and discrimination against HIV-positives.

At least five doctors to suffer from mental woes every month

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: Every month, at least five doctors are found to be suffering from mental illnesses, director-general of health Tan Sri Dr Mohd Ismail Merican said.
He said these doctors were either psychotic or neurotic but still managed to get into medical schools because these schools were not screening students meticulously enough.
“When the doctors complete their two-year housemanship and their applications are submitted for registration with the Malaysian Medical Council (MMC), they fail to get registered.
“Their supervisors do not certify them as fit to be registered because of indiscipline and poor attitude arising from mental health problems.
“The mental cases range from psychotic to neurotic. Psychotic cases include delusions and hallucinations, and neurotic behaviour includes anxiety, fear and anger due to the competitive environment,” said Dr Ismail.
These medical graduates, totalling about 60 cases a year, are unable to cope with their housemanship as they may have been pressured by their parents to take up medicine.
Dr Ismail said it was disheartening to note this emerging trend due to an inefficient selection process, adding that the mental cases were referred to the Medical Review Panel (MRP).
Since many of these graduates have spent a lot of money on their medical education, the MRP may extend their housemanship and at the same time send them for psychiatric treatment.
“In the event they are assigned to work, they will be thoroughly supervised and counselled by experts and given light duties until their mental condition improves.
“I am not so sure whether we can identify those with attitude problems during an interview unless such problems are obvious,” Dr Ismail said at a forum on Training Future Doctors: Have we got it right?”
About 2,000 medical doctors are registered annually from 21 local medical schools and 400 recognised schools overseas.
Different medical schools around the world have different selection criteria for their students, Dr Ismail said.
However, he said that the ministry was also planning some form of examination to check their attitude, knowledge and experience after they complete their final examination.
Most of the mentally ill students, he said, could have undergone pressure and depression while studying and faced difficulty in coping in a hospital environment.
The other weakness was a lack of proficiency in the English language.
Higher Education director-general Prof Datuk Dr Radin Umar Radin Sohadi said the ministry was currently reviewing universities’ curricula to ensure high standards in medical education and training for doctors.
“Uppermost on our minds will be the safety and well-being of patients,” he said.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

HIV, AIDS patients still fear being ostracised

NST: PETALING JAYA: When she needed her family's support the most, Jenny (not her real name) was shunned by the people around her.
Her mother-in-law kept her daughter, Jasmine, away from her for three years -- all because she was HIV-positive.
Jenny, 38, finally told her 13-year-daughter that she was HIV-positive last November, five years after she was diagnosed.
"When I told her, she cried and cried. She just could not accept it."
Jenny said she had delayed telling Jasmine she was HIV-positive as she had feared that the young girl was not mature enough to understand the condition.
Today, however, Jasmine is her mother's rock. She reminds Jenny to take her medication and looks after her mother's needs.
Not everyone, however, is as understanding as Jasmine.
"People immediately move away from me when they learn that I am HIV-positive," said the widow, whose husband died of AIDS six years ago.
Speaking at a press conference held after the announcement of the results of the AIDS Treatment for Life International Survey (ATLIS) yesterday by the Malaysian Society for HIV Medicine (MaSHM), Jenny said she did not want to be identified or have her picture taken by the media as her daughter was facing discrimination in school for having a HIV-positive mother.
"I rarely expose myself but I thought today (yesterday) I should come and share my story to give other HIV and AIDS patients hope," said Jenny who is now an AIDS counsellor at a government hospital.
In the ATLIS survey, 85 per cent of HIV and AIDS patients worldwide did not reveal they have the condition for fear of social discrimination.
Three big reasons why they did not reveal their condition were fear of losing their family and friends (58 per cent), the impact the news would have on their current relationships (58 per cent) and loss of employment (51 per cent).
The survey also showed that Malaysia had the third largest number of HIV-positive and AIDS patients who were afraid of making their plight known.
"Because of these fears, many HIV and AIDS patients do not come forward to be diagnosed and treated, thereby presenting a danger to both themselves and their loved ones," said Dr Christopher Lee, MaSHM's president and an infectious disease specialist.
The survey also showed that some HIV-positive patients refused to seek or continue treatment as they were afraid of the side-effects.
"Patients are stopping therapy without the guidance of their doctors," said Dr Lee.
He added that there was a strong need for continued HIV and AIDS education regarding disease prevention, treatment adherence, benefits and tolerability of newer treatment options.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Methadone therapy can slash rehab costs

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: The government can effectively wipe out drug abuse and save about RM270 million annually in the process if it fully implements methadone maintenance therapy (MMT), said Prof Dr Mohamad Hussain Habil.
Hussain, head of the Psychiatry Department at the medical faculty of Universiti Malaya, said MMT also reduced the risk of HIV infection because no needles were used.
The government has spent RM300 million annually on tackling the problem through its zero-tolerance, long-term rehabilitation programme at 26 rehabilitation centres with little or no success.
This cost could be slashed drastically if MMT was used, he said.
Dr Hussain said it cost the government about RM3,000 per month per addict with its rehabilitation system, while the cost with the MMT method was RM300 per patient per month, a savings of 90 per cent.
Further, almost 75 per cent of the addicts who left the rehabilitation centres returned to their old habits within months, he said.
Dr Hussain said a nationwide study by the university in 2005 showed with the MMT method, most heroin-addicted patients gained employment after six months of therapy and did not engage in high-risk behaviour like self-injection or promiscuity.
He estimated there were at present about one million drug addicts in the country, with almost 800,000 addicted to heroin.
The rest were using drugs like Ecstasy, ketamine and ganja.
He said that with the MMT method, addicts were treated as if they were patients requiring medical attention for a disease.
"Drug abuse is just like any other disease like diabetes or hypertension, where long-term drug therapy is required to help the patient."
This contrasts with the situation in the 1990s when heroin addicts were treated like criminals and the general feeling was that they should be ostracised, jailed and condemned.
The criminalisation of heroin dependency caused suffering for addicts and their families and imposed a financial burden on the government.
Dr Hussain said methadone was a drug which helped to reduce cravings for heroin, thereby helping an addict to kick the habit.
"There is no known side-effect from the long-term use of methadone."
He said the university had trained about 1,000 local doctors in the private and public sectors on MMT.
"This makes it easy for heroin addicts to seek treatment from a private clinic nearest their home and still stay with their families."
He was glad the Ministry of Health had started using MMT in its hospitals and hoped that its use would be expanded to benefit dadah addicts and the nation as a whole.

Getting more to pledge organs

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: More than 4,000 people, on the waiting list for the “Gift of Life” would have their wishes granted if only the organs of 7,000 who died in road accidents last year had been transplanted.
To get more Malaysians to donate organs, the Government has launched a media campaign costing RM2.4mil which started yesterday.
National Transplantation Council Action Committee chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said it was unfortunate that there had only been 229 cadaveric donors since 1976.
“These donors were either brain dead or had died in accidents.
“Currently, our database has about 121,000 pledges for donation.”
However, he said that most of those people who had pledged had not informed their next of kin, causing problems later if they refuse.
“It is sad that donors have pledged to donate but the authorities cannot harvest the organs to save a life.”
Lee said the media played a vital role in creating awareness.
Stressing on the power and easy access of the Internet today as a tool, Lee also launched the transplant resource centre’s website.
“The website is designed to provide the public with the mechanics and details of organ donation and how one can pledge to be an organ donor.”
For more information on organ donation, go to or call 03-2615 6576 or 1-800-88-9080.

Cancer survivors dismayed by blanket ban on yoga

Star: PETALING JAYA: Many Muslim cancer survivors who practise yoga to promote general wellbeing are disappointed and confused over the National Fatwa Council’s edict on the ancient form of exercise.
National Cancer Society of Malaysia’s advisor Datuk Zuraidah Atan said she had been inundated with calls from the survivors who were confused and apprehensive over the edict or fatwa.
“An overreaching fatwa like this is not good for them as unnecessary worry can have a negative effect on them psychologically and physically. Some are already feeling guilty for practising it.
“There is a need for the Fatwa Council to explain their edict properly so that Muslims who practise yoga, including cancer survivors are not made to feel guilty,” she said.
Zuraidah said the council organised a weekly free yoga session for cancer survivors, especially those who were over 40 as a form of relaxation and breathing exercise.
“Besides yoga, we also have qi gong sessions. Is the Fatwa Council going to ban qi gong, too, because it has its origins in Buddhism? Then how about line dancing? We also organise that as a form of light exercise for cancer survivors,” she said.
She said yoga, qi gong and line dancing were good for cancer survivors because they were group dynamics which also helped promote positive thinking and unity among survivors of different race and religion.
She said there were many levels of yoga and only yoga in its purest form involved religious chanting.
“Most Muslims know this. The yoga that is being taught in yoga centres nationwide only concentrates on techniques and has nothing to do with the promotion of Hinduism,” she added.
The National Fatwa Council on Saturday declared that yoga is haram (prohibited) in Islam and Muslims are banned from practising it.
Chairman Datuk Dr Abdul Shukor Husin said yoga had been practised by the Hindu community for thousands of years and incorporated physical movements, religious elements together with chants and worshipping, with the aim of being one with God.
He noted that while merely doing the physical movements of yoga without the worshipping and chanting might not be against religious beliefs, Muslims should avoid practising it altogether as doing one part of yoga would lead to another.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Infectious disease woes in Sabah

NST: SANDAKAN: Lifestyle-related diseases such as high blood pressure and stress may be on the rise in the peninsula but in the state, infectious diseases still pose the main threat.
Deputy Health Minister Datuk Dr Abd Latiff Ahmad said the incidence of communicable diseases, such as tuberculosis and malaria, was still high in Sabah and was closely linked with poverty.
"Previously, when poverty was high in the peninsula, we saw the same trend but with economic progress and affluence, infectious diseases became less common.
"In Sabah, we still see a threat from infectious diseases due to the low standard of living. Lack of basic knowledge in hygiene and health is linked to this.
"There is also the problem of waterborne diseases due to the lack of clean water."
He said the ministry was reaching out to communities, that were living under the threat of infectious diseases, through 186 rural clinics state-wide. The state has a poverty rate of 16 per cent.
"Our staff meet with villagers to inform them about such diseases.
"One way of improving health in rural areas is by providing better facilities at rural clinics."

Tell family about organ pledge

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: Many people have pledged to donate their organs but many wishes have gone unfulfilled at the time of death because families did not give permission to harvest the organs.
Largely, it has been because the families did not know about the organ donation pledge made and could not come around to the idea in time for the organs to be used before tissue death set in.
"Families refusing to allow the organs of their loved ones to be removed is one of the last-minute challenges we face," said Organ Donation Public Education Committee chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye yesterday.
"Doctors can't remove the organs without the family's consent.
"So, in the end, the pledger failed to donate his organs," he said after launching the Organ Donation Media Campaign at the Kuala Lumpur Hospital.
National Transplant Resource Centre (NTRC) procurement manager Datin Dr Fadhilah Zowyah Lela Yasmin Mansor was present at the event.
A total of 120,838 people have pledged to donate their organs, 10,142 of them this year.
Dr Fadhilah said the harvest rate was 20 to 25 per cent. This year, the organs of only 23 people were donated.
"This could be because some pledgers did not inform their families of their intention. For various reasons, they are afraid to do so.
"It is a double tragedy when those who pledge can't donate their organs and others who are in need are dying on the waiting list."
According to the NTRC, 4,181 patients are on the waiting list for kidney, heart and lung transplants and 6,000 others are queuing to make the list.
Lee urged the pledgers to inform their families as soon as they signed up.
He said his committee was waiting for a reply from Pos Malaysia Bhd on its proposal to place donor pledger forms at post offices. "This is one of the best ways to reach the public."
The four-month campaign kicks off today in the form of advertisements in the electronic and print media to increase public awareness on the importance of organ donation.
The Health Ministry has given RM2.4 million for the campaign.
Lee also launched a new logo for the NTRC with the motto "A Gift of Life" and the website

Compulsory NS medical check-ups hit a snag

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: Confusion is growing over whether national service trainees will get to undergo compulsory medical check-ups at the start of their stint.
Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said any plan for the medical check-up required his ministry’s endorsement.
“It will need a lot of manpower and is very costly,” he said, adding that his ministry never promised to place five health personnel in each national service camp.
He said there could only be between two and four medical officers on stand by at each of the 87 NS training camps nationwide.
Liow was speaking to reporters after launching the 5th International Health Fair at the Putra World Trade Centre yesterday.
On Nov 17, The Star reported on its front page that all NS trainees would be subject to compulsory medical check-ups within two weeks reporting to their camp.
NS Training Department director-general Datuk Abdul Hadi Awang Kechil was quoted as saying that the move was to reduce health-related mishaps during training.
Liow said the medical screening that the department required for its trainees in the first two weeks of the programme could not include in-depth check-ups such as blood and urine tests and x-ray.
He said if what was being suggested was only screening by the department’s own staff, then he said the ministry has “no objection”.
In an immediate response, department senior operations officer Lt-Col Tengku Ahmad Noor Tuan Chik confirmed that compulsory health checks would be conducted on trainees.
Only trainees with a history of health problems would be sent to an outside clinic for a full medical examination, he said.
On the number of medical officers in camps, he said an initial meeting agreed that the Health Ministry would place five of its officers on standby in each camp.
“But now, it is a minimum of three medical staff from the ministry due to their manpower shortage,” he said.
He said there would be two armed forces paramedics, one qualified civilian nurse, and a minimum of three officers from the ministry in every camp.
On an unrelated matter, Liow said the ministry had outlined a plan to combat non-communicable or lifestyle diseases such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
He said he would submit a memorandum on the plan for the Cabinet’s approval soon because it involved the cooperation of the Education and Women, Children and Community Development Ministries.
Later when launching the Meatless Day Pledge Signing ceremony, Liow urged restaurants and school canteen operators to display the calorie content of their food and drinks to educate diners and children on proper food intake and nutrition.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Ministry to assure importers on safety of Malaysian biscuits

Star: MALACCA: The Health Ministry will send its officers overseas to help restore confidence in locally-manufactured biscuits with the help of the International Trade and Industry Ministry.
Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said the officers would brief concerned parties on the measures the Government had taken to produce melamine-free biscuits.
The move was important be­­cause Malaysian biscuits were exported to more than 50 countries, he said.
He added that 70% of Brunei’s im­ported biscuits were from Ma­­laysia.
Speaking to reporters here after signing a joint statement in conjunction with the fourth bilateral Health Ministers meeting between Malaysia and Brunei yesterday, he noted that the source of recent traces of melamine in some 12,000kg of locally-produced biscuits in Seberang Prai was from imported ammonium bicarbonate.
But the problem has since been resolved, he said, assuring that locally-made biscuits were safe for consumption.

Chua: Better to get answers via feedback

Star: PETALING JAYA: Having National Service (NS) trainees undergo compulsory medical examinations will not prevent medical mishaps, former Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek wrote in his blog.
He said it would be better to find out more about their medical conditions by getting them to answer the medical questionnaire truthfully.
“It is the answers they provide in the form that will provide the biggest clue, not a physical medical examination by the doctor in the camp. Trainees must be truthful in answering the questions in the health declaration form.
“They should not think the medical screening will pick up all the medical conditions. If they do so, I am afraid there may be more medical mishaps, despite the screening and may provide more ammunition for an outcry.”
In his blog (, he wrote that a cursory medical examination of a person would not detect any medical conditions.
“The logic involved in the medical service is mind boggling. Assume there are 140,000 trainees divided into 87 camps with each camp holding an average of 1,600 trainees. The question arises regarding the effectiveness of the medical screening, since screening is done in the camp by medical officers.”

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Tampin clinic gets WHO recognition

NST: TAMPIN: The Tampin Health Clinic has been recognised by the World Health Organisation for the management and implementation of its methadone replacement therapy programme.
The local district clinic emerged the top treatment centre for incorrigible drug addicts, beating 50 countries, including the United States, Europe, Africa, Australia and other countries in Asia.
Its Reduced Drug Dependence negotiation specialist, Dr Robert Power, said throughout his 23-year career, he found that the clinic here had the best management in implementing the programme compared with centres in 50 countries.
"The problems faced by clinics around the world are the same. There are no differences. But the Tampin Health Clinic has proved that they are able to overcome the obstacles," he said after attending a briefing.
"The success of this centre should be an example to others and I will recommend centres abroad to visit the Tampin Health Clinic to learn from its experience."
He added that he was very impressed with the teamwork shown by the clinic and its cooperation with various government agencies and non-governmental organisations.
Also present were state Health Department deputy director Dr Omar Mihat and the clinic's family medicine specialist Dr Norsiah Ali, who said the programme was initiated three years ago with 10 former addicts.
She said the figure increased to 121 participants with the cooperation of departments in the state such as the District Office, Agriculture and Fisheries Department, Veterinary Services Department and the district rehabilitation centre.
Dr Norsiah said the pioneer projects like the "Clean Needle Exchange" and "Free Condom Distribution" programme to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS began on July 14.
"To date, we have 29 participants in the programmes, of whom 52 per cent (15 persons) have stopped using needles, and are now under the methadone replacement therapy programme."

Medical body calls for cooperation on road safety

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: With the controversial e-kesihatan system scrapped, the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) has called on those implementing new schemes to ensure that there are sufficient safeguards for orderly and ethical work practices.
MMA president Datuk Dr Khoo Kah Lin said as traffic accidents were a major cause of morbidity and mortality in Malaysia, any new scheme should look for ways to improve safety on the roads.
"The MMA has long been involved in this important road safety issue. We have worked with the regulatory agencies to ensure that commercial drivers are screened for serious illnesses before being issued licences and also during annual renewals."
Dr Khoo also pointed out that all doctors nationwide were already registered with the Malaysian Medical Council and there was no need for a middle person or panel to register them again.
"A driver can seek the services of any doctor for medical examinations and drug screening tests."
He said the MMA was happy that Transport Minister Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat had decided to scrap the e-kesihatan scheme and replace it with a new system that would prevent monopoly.
Dr Khoo said the MMA's technical committee had prepared a detailed format of the clinical and laboratory tests relevant for screening and certification of drivers of commercial vehicles.
"We would like to urge the Road Transport Department to consult the MMA and other relevant authorities before any such scheme is introduced in the future."
He said they realised that there were many stakeholders in the transport industry but safety should not be compromised because of cost or pressure from lobbyists.

Sarawak prepares for HFMD epidemic

NST: KUCHING: Sarawak is bracing for an outbreak of hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD)in the next few months.
Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr George Chan said there were indications that a HFMD epidemic among young children, caused by the deadly Enterovirus 71 (EV71), would start during the Christmas and Chinese New Year period.
"We have positively identified quite a number of EV71 cases among the more than 9,000 HFMD patients in the state this year, and it seems that the three-year cycle of the disease is taking shape.
"Parents and teachers dealing with younger children, especially those attending nurseries and kindergarten, ought to be extra cautious and monitor the symptoms such as rashes, sore throat, blisters in the mouth and recurring fever," he said.
Speaking after opening the Public and Media Awareness Talk on Disaster Management and Mitigation here, Dr Chan said the authorities were closely monitoring the situation and would initiate action to contain any outbreak.
He said some kindergartens had taken proactive steps by voluntarily closing for a few days after one or two pupils contracted HFMD.
"The only way we can minimise the effects of HFMD and the EV71 virus infection is by ensuring cleanliness and hygiene at all times.
"If parents, teachers and all those concerned take heed of this advice, then we will be safe.
"Take the child to the nearest hospital when there are indications or symptoms of HFMD because your child's life could be at risk if you choose to wait."
HFMD caused by EV71 paralyses the cardiopulmonary functions of children which could result in death.
Dr Chan stressed that lives could be saved through early detection and treatment.
"But as the saying goes, prevention is better than cure. So, I'm urging the people to be more focused on cleanliness and hygiene."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

KK may get third hospital

Star: KOTA KINABALU: A third hospital is being considered for the state capital as the Health Ministry is mulling over whether to buy the private Sabah Medical Centre (SMC) with a view to turning it into a cardiac centre.
Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said a new general hospital was needed to ease congestion at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) which would be made a specialist facility.
“We need a referral centre to serve the needs of patients from around Sabah requiring specialist treatment.
“The QEH could take on that role as a tertiary hospital,” he said after visiting the hospital.
Liow said the ministry would be holding further discussions with the state government which had offered land here for a general hospital.
Chief Minister Datuk Musa Aman had made the offer after the QEH main tower block was declared unsafe and patients had to be relocated to other hospitals in the city and nearby districts.
On buying the SMC, he said the ministry was still studying the matter but noted that the state needed a cardiac treatment centre urgently.
“If we build one, it would take at least three to five years. Having a cardiac centre will reduce the need for Sabah heart patients to seek treatment at the National Heart Institute in Kuala Lumpur,” he said.
Liow said that the last of the 119 patients were relocated from the QEH tower block to Likas Hospital, SMC, Damai Medical Centre and the Beaufort and Kuala Penyu hospitals.

Government scraps e-Kesihatan plan

Star: SHAH ALAM: The Cabinet has agreed to scrap a controversial plan that would have allowed a private company to run medical check-ups on commercial vehicle drivers.
Transport Minister Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat said the Cabinet in a recent meeting gave its consent to discontinue the agreement with the company, Supremme Systems Sdn Bhd.
He said the scheme, e-Kesihatan, was re­­ferred back to the Road Transport Department (JPJ) for recasting.
The whole scheme has to be re-studied, including the clause and details of the agreement as well as its legal implications, he added.
“We insist there should not be any form of monopoly even if it is for a good cause,” he told reporters after the naming ceremony of Jalan Multimedia in i-City yesterday.
I-City is a RM2bil integrated commercial development on a 29ha site in Section 7 here.
Ong said the Government wanted something that served the public’s purpose, by ensuring medical certification for all commercial vehicle drivers without burdening them.
The original e-Kesihatan programme, which was to have started on Oct 1 last year, would have seen medical check-up results of the drivers being electronically transmitted from panel clinics and laboratories to JPJ.
The JPJ would then issue or renew a licence once the medical check-up result was seen. Supreme Systems was also allowed to maintain a database of the drivers.
The move to appoint Supreme Systems, a limited number of panel clinics and the high fees for check-ups drew criticism from the Malaysia Medical Association and associations representing the commercial vehicle drivers.
He said the ministry also wanted to ensure the clause really matched the purpose of the scheme and if the various medical tests carried out would help to reduce road accidents.
Ong said the Government would leave it to the JPJ to make a new proposal.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Liow: Acute shortage of cancer specialists

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: Up to 40,000 new cancer cases are diagnosed in the country every year, but there are only 39 oncologists (cancer specialist doctors) to treat them.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai said Malaysia should ideally have eight oncologists per million population.
"With about 26 million people, we need about 200 oncologists," he said after officiating the first Asia Pacific Conference on Health Policy and Planning here.
Of the 39 oncologists in the country, 10 are serving in public hospitals. They attend to more than half the cancer patients in the country.
Liow said the ministry would try to get more doctors trained in oncology.
"We are also considering employing oncologists from other countries to work here."
He said the country has only 21 radiotherapy and oncology centres, with six run by the government. The ministry will build a National Cancer Institute in Putrajaya, which will be a tertiary and national referral centre for cancer, in the manner Institut Jantung Negara is for heart disease.
At the conference themed "In an Era of Emerging Technology and Cancer", Liow announced a seven-year national cancer management blueprint, which would streamline and rationalise the fight against cancer.
"Through the blueprint, our vision is that by 2025, cancer will no longer be a public health problem in Malaysia.
"All preventable cancers, effectively prevented; all potential curable cancers, cured."
He said the blueprint would address and improve the key areas of cancer management: prevention, screening and early detection, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation, palliative care, traditional and complementary medicine, human capital development, facilities, equipment, drugs and funding.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Medical screening for all trainees at camps

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: All national service trainees for the next intake will have to undergo medical screening after they report for training.
The 140,000 trainees due to attend training will be screened by one of the seven medical officers at each camp.
The screening will be done in the first two weeks of the programme.
National Service Training Department director-general Datuk Abdul Hadi Awang Kechil said this would be the standard operating procedure for future intakes to prevent any medical mishaps among trainees.
“Some teenagers will not declare that they have any problem when they report for training. So, we have to examine them,” he said in an interview.
He said if a trainee was deemed unfit for training and required further treatment, the medical officer on duty would defer his training. It, however, would not be cancelled outright.
“This means, they would still need to attend training after recovering from any medical condition they had,” he said.
According to the National Service Training Act, each trainee is obliged to attend NS training up to the age of 35.
Abdul Hadi said there would be five Health Ministry medical officers and two health department medical officers on standby at each of the 87 camps.
Every camp trainer has also received comprehensive first aid training by the Malaysian Red Crescent Society.
The next batch of 140,000 trainees will be the largest yet, an increase of 30,000 from this year. He said more than 900 volunteer trainees have applied so far.
To meet the number of the new intake, the department has altered its trainers roster to accommodate more than 5,500 trainers to achieve a ratio of one trainer for every 25 trainees.
“We called our temporary trainers and absorbed them as contract trainers. We were also open for applications.”
To ensure that trainers were prepared for the job, each new trainer was sent to a 20-day training-of-trainers course.
He said the safety and health condition of camps were checked by the Health Department, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and consultants appointed by the camp operators that are approved by the department.
Local health departments are also given a free hand to go into camps and decide whether to close or take action on errant camp operators or food handlers as they saw fit.
The first of three batch of next year’s NS trainees would be notified from Nov 17 through the media. They will report for training from Dec 27.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Even seven-year-olds get Type 2 diabetes

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian children, as young as seven are developing Type 2 diabetes, thanks to a couch-potato lifestyle and gorging on high caloric food.
Type 2 diabetes used to be seen only in adults over 45.
Hospital Putrajaya, the referral hospital for diabetes cases in the country, has been recording an "alarming" increase in cases.
Its paediatrics department head, Dr Fuziah Md Zain, said parents discovered their children had the disease when they were treated for obesity.
She strongly urged parents to have their children's blood checked on a regular basis.
"If the children's health is not monitored, we will see young adults in the future walking around not knowing that they have Type 2 diabetes," she said yesterday after the launch of World Diabetes Day at the Federal Territories level by Federal Territories Health Department director Dr Ismail Abu Taat.
Children with a propensity for Type 2 diabetes are usually the youngest in the family.
"We believe that because the youngest child is usually the pet in the family, parents give in to their demands for high caloric food," said Dr Fuziah.
Patients diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes do not usually require insulin injections. They can control the glucose in their blood by watching their diet, exercising regularly and taking oral medication.
The International Diabetes Federation estimated in 2006 that Type 2 diabetes in children was expected to grow by 50 per cent within 15 years.
In the United States, between eight and 45 per cent of new-onset diabetes cases are children.
The federation also found that Type 2 diabetes in children had doubled in Japan over a 20-year period.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Not enough health officers on the ground

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai wants public health officers to be more active in efforts to curb communicable and non-communicable diseases in the country.
He said health officers could not be complacent when it comes to educating the public on diseases like dengue and chikungunya.
“I want to see more effective action. We haven’t got enough of our people working on the ground,” he said Thursday at the 5th Public Health Conference organised by the Ministry and the Malaysian Public Health Physicians Association.
He said besides holding more awareness and education talks, both the public and health officers need to adopt a paradigm shift to tackle public health issues.
“The public need to change their lifestyle and take these diseases seriously and handle it together with the public health officers,” he said.
He said despite knowing the dangers of communicative diseases such as dengue and chikungunya and non-communicable diseases such as heart diseases and diabetes, he felt that both public health workers and the public needed to take them more seriously.
“I’m saying this knowing it is not good enough. They must turn this into action.
“Behavioural change is important,” he said.
When asked whether tougher laws were needed to help the public realise the importance of public health, Liow said stringent enforcement was in place but that punitive laws would not help as much as behahavioural change.
“Behaviour change is more effective than punitive laws and actions. It is not good enough on its own. We need the cooperation of the public,” he said.
Liow said the fact that there were 38,000 dengue cases and 83 deaths from that figure this year meant that more stringent action by public health officers and the community were sorely needed.
”I don’t want to see communicable diseases going out of control. We cannot accept it as part and parcel of our country,” he said.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

An extra RM3m to clean up fungus attack

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: Some RM14 million was spent to solve the problem of fungus attack at the Sultan Ismail Hospital in Johor in 2005.
Now the government will have to spend another RM3 million on the same problem.
This is the amount Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai has set aside after directing his officers in the ministry's engineering division to solve the problem once and for all.
Acknowledging the problem yesterday, Liow told the New Straits Times that the ministry was made aware of the fungus attack before yesterday's report in the paper.
He said a consulting company, Sistem Hospital Awasan Taraf Sdn Bhd (Sihat), had been engaged to check the hospital.
"We are aware of the problem. It's because the ground beneath the hospital is wet," said Liow.
He said the problem has been there ever since the RM557.8 million hospital was built near the swampy area.
The hospital initially started operating in July 2004, with the opening of the outpatient department and its haemodialysis centre.
Two months later, it was ordered closed as the infection of the aspergillus and penicillium fungi had spread throughout the hospital, contaminating the equipment. It only reopened 17 months later in February 2006.
The hospital is again infected and the fungus is said to be of the aspergillus variety.
Liow said the ministry had been monitoring the hospital's condition and was taking remedial measures to rectify the problem.
"What we need to do is to find ways to stop water from flowing into the ground beneath the hospital. The Sihat team, together with experts, are studying the matter, including studying how to divert the water flow.
"The fungus attack poses no danger to staff and patients at the hospital. Business at the hospital will go on as usual while the ministry carries out repair and refurbishing works," said Liow.
When told that similar problems have also affected the Sarawak General Hospital, Liow said, Sihat and a special consultation team were looking into conditions of all hospitals in the country.
Non-governmental organisations, however, have questioned whether the initial amount of RM14 million spent on treating the fungal attack years ago was worth it.
Malaysian Nature Society adviser Vincent Chow said this was a case of taxpayers' money not being properly spent.
"I remember clearly saying in February 2005 that it was ridiculous to spend RM14 million for the clean-up although there are cheaper and better alternatives."
Chow said the government should consider using anti-fungus paint, installing dehumidifiers, improving the lighting and imposing tighter regulations for visitors.
Federation of Malaysian Consumer Associations research manager Cheah Chee Ho said the hospital was a classic case of first-class facilities but third-class maintenance.

Don’t use these products, ministry warns public

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: The public has been advised not to use the O’lynn skin lightening cream and Langsing Alami slimming products as they have been found to contain scheduled poisons.
The Drug Control Authority recently cancelled the registration of O’lynn beauty cream after it was found to contain Tretinoin, said Health Ministry Pharmacy Services director Eishah A. Rahman.
Tretinoin is not allowed in cosmetics as it could cause side effects such as skin irritation, peeling and other complications if used without prescription by doctors or pharmacists.
“Traders of the product can be fined a maximum of RM5,000 or jailed a maximum of two years, or both, for violating the Poisons Act,” she said.
As for Langsing Alami slimming products, they have been found to contain Sibutramine, a scheduled poison not permitted in traditional medicines.
Eishah said the use of Sibutramine without monitoring by doctors could cause cardiovascular complications such as high blood pressure and heart failure.
She said the traders could be fined up to RM25,000 or jailed three years, or both, for violating the Control of Drugs and Cosmetics Regulations.

Friday, November 07, 2008

67 issued summonses for puffing in non-smoking areas

Star: SHAH ALAM: The Selangor Health Depart­ment issued 67 summonses to smokers, including four women and eight foreigners, for lighting up in non-smoking areas yesterday.
All the offenders were caught smoking in public areas such as restaurants and shops in the PKNS shopping centre, Plaza Alam Sentral and SACC Mall during eight hours of enforcement from 10am.
Department director Dr Rosnah Hadis said the operation was the first after the Health Ministry widened the ban on smoking to more areas last month.
“Many still smoke at non-smoking areas despite various awareness campaigns and repeated warnings by the Health Ministry,” she told a press conference.
Dr Rosnah said those who received the summons were aged between 20 and 60.
They were required to settle their compounds within two weeks at any Health department office, she said.
A compound fine of up to RM5,000 or a maximum fine of RM10,000 or two years jail or both if the case goes to court awaits those who flout the law.
Dr Rosnah said the department carried out 123 operations in the state and issued 115 compounds to smokers from January to September this year.
She said 440 cases were brought to court with fines totalling RM29,804.
During the period, 26 teenagers aged 18 and below were compounded for smoking and having cigarettes.
Dr Rosnah urged business owners to display no-smoking signs at their premises or action could be taken against them for failing to do so.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Experienced nurses to get higher pay

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: Government nurses with degrees can now reach higher pay grades un­­der the Health Ministry.
Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said nurses with first degrees would be in pay grades from U41 to U54.
Currently, the highest pay grade nurses reach is U48.
The basic pay for fresh graduates in grade U41 is nearly RM2,000 per month excluding housing, personal, cost-of-living, critical post and public service allowances.
The salary with allowances for nurses at U48 is about RM8,000.
To reach the top grade of U54, nurses have to have at least a Masters, served more than 20 years as a nurse and have the necessary experience, skills and competence.
The U54 grade is normally for department directors who can be paid up to RM10,000 including allowances.
Medical assistants, X-ray technicians and health inspectors with degrees are also eligible for the same higher pay grades.
Liow said that by improving the overall sa­­lary of nurses, the ministry hoped they would be more focused on giving quality care.
“I hope these graduates will provide quality healthcare services not just by stressing on improving their knowledge and skills but also have positive values and attitudes towards patient care,” he said.
He told reporters this after witnessing the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the ministry and 24 public and private institutions of higher learning to use its facilities for various healthcare education programmes yesterday.
Liow said the higher pay scheme was also to stop nurses from leaving for higher salaries in countries like Dubai.
“This should be good news for nurses. Ma­­laysia cannot continue to have cheap labour. If we want to retain our workers, we can’t pay them less,” he said.
He added the country did not have enough nurses as the ratio was one nurse to 375 people.
“We need to reach one nurse to 200 residents to meet World Health Organisation standards by 2015,” he said.

Melamine scare: RM3.28m worth of China food products banned

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: The Health Ministry has banned food products worth RM3.28mil from China due to the presence of melamine.
Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said 366,681kg of food products that contained melamine were banned under the Food Act 1983.
“Until October, 360 types of food products were tested to determine their level of melamine content while products like chocolate, vegetables and fruits imported from China were continuously being monitored.
“31 types of biscuits were also tested and later banned due to the presence of melamine-tainted additive, ammonium bicarbonate, a raising agent, imported from China,” he told reporters Tuesday after winding up of the debate on the Supply Bill 2009 for his Ministry here.
Liow said his Ministry conducts test at reputable labs in the country that are able to identify even a small quantity of melamine in products.

Monday, November 03, 2008

1:200 nurse-patient ratio by 2015

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: The Health Ministry is training 5,000 nurses annually to beef up the number of nurses in hospitals.
According to its minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai the current nurse to patient ratio is 1:375.
With the training of new nurses every year, the ministry hopes to improve this ratio to 1:200 by the year 2015.
He said this Monday at the signing of a five-year Memorandum of Understanding with 24 public and private institutions of higher learning to use the ministry's facilities for nursing, dental and health sciences education programmes.
This brings the number of institutions that have an MoU with the ministry to a total of 48.

Restaurant owners will pay if patrons smoke

NST: SUBANG JAYA: The Health Ministry will intensify its enforcement to punish restaurant owners who allow smoking in air-conditioned restaurants.
Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said the ministry had been receiving complaints from the public about smokers in air-conditioned restaurants, which are supposed to be smoke-free.
"If the owners want to have smoking areas, they should partition their restaurants and equip them with separate air-conditioning systems to prevent pollution," he said after launching a Health Day campaign here yesterday.
Liow said, however, that there has been a sharp decline in the number of compound notices issued by the ministry this year to those who smoked in prohibited areas compared with the last two years.
The ministry had issued 2,622 compound notices from January to October, with fines amounting to RM564,170, compared with 7,166 in 2006 and 9,196 last year, the fines amounting to RM2,490,915 and RM3,071,474, respectively.
More than 85 per cent of this year's compound cases have been settled while 44 per cent of 2006 cases and 40 per cent of those issued last year were settled.
Those who smoke in prohibited areas can be fined between RM300 and RM500. If they repeat the offence, the fine could reach RM10,000.
The ministry is also intensifying its efforts to nab retailers who sell cigarettes to underage smokers.

Nipah virus threat 'under control'

NST: SUBANG JAYA: The Health Ministry has given an assurance that its Centre for Disease Control and Prevention is always on the alert for the Nipah virus.
"Our centre is advanced. In fact, we were the ones who identified the Nipah virus and we know how to control it," Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said after launching the Health Day campaign organised by the Women Development Organisation of Malaysia and Puchong MCA division here yesterday.
"We are confident if there is an outbreak, we will know the source and be able to handle it. I don't think there is a threat here."
Liow said there has been no new cases of the Nipah virus in the country since the 1998-1999 outbreak when more than 100 people died.
None of the 649 encephalitis cases reported to the ministry from 2000 to October this year was caused by the Nipah virus.
The minister was commenting on the New Sunday Times front-page report "Nipah virus still a threat", which said that Universiti Malaya's department of medicine did not rule out the possibility of another Nipah outbreak in the country.
The NST quoted the department's consultant neurologist Dr Tan Chong Tin as saying the country was vulnerable as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia and India have discovered bats infected with the Nipah virus.
Dr Tan had also said the movement of labour across borders could also pose a threat to Malaysia, home to migrant labour from these countries.
Liow said there was little evidence that the foreigners posed a threat. "The risk they carry is small or non-existent."

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Ministry warns of risks in using Osim and Surgipack hot/cold packs

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: The Health Ministry yesterday warned the public against using hot/cold packs produced by Surgipack and Osim as they can cause side effects.
Its medical equipment bureau, in a statement here, said the ministry was recently informed by the Health Sciences Authority of Singapore through the Asean information sharing network that the hot/cold packs sold there contained ethylene glycol, a toxic substance that could affect the nervous system and eventually lead to renal failure.
The Health Sciences Authority listed the products as Surgipack Soft Hot/Cold Pack Large, Surgipack Soft Hot/Cold Pack Small, Soft R&R ColdHot Pack M, Soft R&R ColdHot Pack L, Osim uBaby Fever Band, Osim Shoulder PAd, Osim uKids Fever Band, Osim Face Mask, Osim Eye Mask and Osim Hot/Cold Com- press.
The bureau said the packs were safe to use if users followed the instructions on them.
“But users should not be exposed to the contents,” the statement said, adding that the danger lay in the plastic packs which could tear.
It advised those who wanted to continue using the products to contact the distributors to get full details first.
The statement also said the bureau had advised the manufacturers and distributors to voluntarily withdraw the products from the market.
Follow-up monitoring showed Surgipack is not sold in Malaysia while Osim has heeded the bureau’s advice, it added.