Saturday, May 30, 2009

Ministry finalising purchase of Sabah Medical Centre

NST: KOTA KINABALU: The Federal Government, through the health ministry, is finalising the sale and purchase agreement (SPA) for the private hospital, Sabah Medical Centre (SMC).
Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai said yesterday the cabinet had approved RM280 million for the purchase and the renovation and refurbishment works to create more beds were expected to cost around RM90 million.
"The renovation works are expected to be done within six months from the date of signing of the SPA.
"After the renovation, 455 beds will be made available and at the same time, there will be more operating theatres to reduce the backlog of elective surgical cases after the main tower block of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) was declared unsafe," he said after visiting the SMC building here.
He said that tower block in QEH housed 589 beds and even after the closure of the block, the number of beds still remained at 502 beds, but the numbers were distributed among various hospitals around Kota Kinabalu.
"The purchase of SMC also marks another milestone for the medical services in Sabah, as cardiology and cardiothoracic services in this state will be in operation almost immediately without having to wait for another three to four years for a heart centre to be built.
"Sabah will be the fifth regional heart centre under the ministry, and heart patients in Sabah don't have to travel all the way to West Malaysia or Kuching for cardiothoracic services," he added.
In the meantime, he said the building of the twin towers at the QEH would proceed as planned under the Ninth Malaysia Plan while another new hospital would be built under the 10th Malaysia Planto cater to medical needs in the state.
On the QEH main tower block, he said that after inspection by engineers, it was found to be more practical to demolish it rather than to maintain it due to the costs.
Liow also said that the announcement by Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman that the Wisma Khidmat building would be turned into a private hospital, was not discussed by the ministry as it was a state matter.
Asked to comment about a suggestion that Sabah should revive its own state health ministry, Liow said: "It is up to the state government, but the federal government is willing to assist the people of Sabah."

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Ban lifted,more cases of poisoning

NST: THE National Poison Centre Universiti Sains Malaysia said the number of cases reported on paraquat poisoning has been rising steadily after the ban on the toxic herbicide was lifted in November 2006.
The government banned paraquat in August 2002.
"These are only the cases that have been reported to us," said an official.
"We do not know the outcome of the cases because there was no follow-up by the hospitals."
Exposure to paraquat, also known as dipyridylium, leads to a wide range of complaints such as rashes, vomiting, back pain, nausea, breathing difficulties, skin disorders, eye irritations and headaches.
A poison centre study in 2002 found that estate workers used backpack sprayers for an average of 262 days a year, many without protective clothing.
Irene Fernandez of Tenaganita had said that Malaysia's 30,000 women pesticide sprayers were being exposed to potentially toxic doses of the chemical.
While the greatest risk to workers is during the mixing of the concentrated paraquat and filling of the sprayers, prolonged contact with the toxic herbicide during spraying can also be fatal.
"Statistics from the (National) Poison Centre reveal that between 1987 and 1997, in 27 per cent of poisoning cases, death from paraquat came about through accidents and exposure during normal use by workers," she said.

Cosmetology Bill delayed to avoid redundancy

Star: PETALING JAYA: The proposed Cosmetology Bill to regulate the use of beauty services, products and devices in cosmetic practices, has been delayed because of the wide range of issues that have to be ironed out.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai said the Attorney-General’s Chambers was now going through the Bill.
“It is an important Bill and we want to make sure that it is well thought out,” he said, adding that he had been pushing for it to be completed and enacted.
Liow said the ministry also had to be clear what comes under the jurisdiction of the local government and the Health Ministry.
“The Cosmetology Bill has some sections that overlap with the Medical Act and this redundancy too, needs to be sorted out,” the minister added.
The Bill was originally scheduled to be tabled at the end of last year, four years after it was first proposed.
Liow said proper guidelines had to be in place for the aesthetic industry so that there would not be fly-by-night operators.
He said this was to ensure locals as well as foreigners would have confidence in the industry especially now that the Government was promoting medical tourism.
“The public is advised not to go to beauty salons offering procedures that are only supposed to be handled by doctors and beauticians must not flirt with the law,” Liow said.
Each of the 40 plastic surgeons in the country now report an average of two cases of procedures or operations gone awry a month – or up to 960 such cases a year.
The number could be much higher as most victims prefer not to report out of embarrassment.
Two years ago, the Health Ministry disclosed that there were between 8,000 and 10,000 beauty centres operating illegally.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Exit screening put to WHO

NST: PUTRAJAYA: Malaysia has tabled a recommendation to the World Health Organisation that all nations screen their citizens and travellers at exit points for symptoms of influenza A (H1N1) infection.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai, who returned from Geneva yesterday, said the exit screening was crucial to contain the disease, which has now spread to 41 countries and infected 10,243 people and killed 80 others.
"The exit screening is one way of averting the spread and a pandemic outbreak.
"It is prudent for people who are ill with fever and influenza-like symptoms to delay their international travel," he added.
He also advised Malaysian students returning home for holidays to delay their trip if they are sick.
"Get well and then fly. As much as we want you to return home, we also want to ensure that you are not infected with the disease.
"Those who fall ill after international travel should seek medical treatment and alert health authorities of where they had come from."
As of yesterday, Liow said, there were 172 notified cases of flu-like symptoms. To date, there were only two confirmed cases.
While everyone has been cleared of the disease, two more are still quarantined at the Sungai Buloh and Penang hospitals and would be discharged tomorrow if they showed no symptoms.
As for the WHO meeting in Geneva with health ministers worldwide, Liow said, a special technical committee chaired by WHO director-general Dr Margaret Chan, gave many suggestions on how to stop the spread of the disease.
He said although the world was better prepared for an influenza pandemic, the concern was if the virus strain changes and becomes very virulent, leading to higher morbidity and mortality.
"With the seasonal flu outbreak in the southern hemisphere, health experts are worried of mutation and rapid spread of the contagious disease," he added.
Liow said he had also participated in the Commonwealth Ministerial Meeting and the Asean+3 Health Ministers special meeting on influenza.
"I also had bilateral talks on the need for direct focal point interaction with health authorities in China and Indonesia," he added.
Effective now, Malaysian health officials can talk directly and get information from health officials in China and all Asean countries.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Quarantine ends for 169 passengers and crew members

Star: PUTRAJAYA: The 149 flight passengers and 20 crew members are due to be released from home qua­ran­tine today, Health Ministry deputy director-general Datuk Dr Ramlee Rahmat said yesterday.
The 169 people who had been monitored by the ministry over the last one week were from Malaysia Airlines Flight MH091 and AirAsia Flight AK5358.
However, 70 passengers and one cabin crew member from the two flights had not responded to the ministry’s call to come forward.
“The A (H1N1) patient in Sungai Buloh Hos­pi­tal and the one in Penang Hospital are up and about in the ward,” he told a press conference.
There are 9,245 confirmed A (HINI) cases and 75 deaths worldwide to date.
The number of countries affected reached 40 yesterday, the latest being Chile with two cases.
There was no new case in Malaysia apart from the two 21-year-old male and female students who returned from the United States and were detected last week, he said.
The man who was warded at Sungai Buloh Hospital was confirmed A (H1N1) last Friday and the woman in Penang Hospital the next day.
She had boarded Flight AK5358 from the Low-Cost Carrier Terminal in Sepang to Penang last Wednesday.
In Sabah, Dr Ramlee said two foreign tourists were quarantined in a house in Kota Kina­ba­lu because they had flown in the Cathay Pa­ci­fic Flight CX831 where an A (HINI) case was onboard.
The flight from the United States landed in Hong Kong last Saturday where the two took a connecting flight, Dragon Air Flight KA061, to Sabah.
Dr Ramlee said the two had landed at Kota Kinabalu last Sunday before the Sabah Health Department tracked them down.
Both were fine and should be released from their home quarantine this Saturday, he said.
The ministry had tested 134 suspected cases between April 27 and yesterday and 130 were confirmed negative.
Meanwhile, Bernama reports that six people, including two Swedish tourists, are under quarantine in Pahang since May 13 for suspected A (H1N1).
Pahang Health committee chairman Datuk Hoh Khai Mun said that the couple from Sweden had been quarantined at a hotel in the Jerantut district while a family of four had been quarantined at their house in Bentong.
None of them had shown any symptoms of the disease so far, he said.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A (H1N1): Search for 76 passengers on 2 flights

Star; KUALA LUMPUR: The Health Ministry is still searching for 76 passengers on board on AirAsia AK5358 and MAS MH091 on May 13 who were exposed to two patients infected with the virus.
Health Ministry Deputy Director General Datuk Dr Ramlee Rahmat said that all those passengers must join the others in home quarantine and call 03 88810200/300 immediately.
He said that seven passengers who were yet to be located had been on the MAS flight from Newark, United States while another 69 were on the AirAsia flight from the Low Cost Carrier Terminal in Sepang to Penang.
He urged those who showed any flu symptom to admit themselves into the nearest hospital.
He said that of the 11 suspected cases in Malaysia, so far, only two had tested positive.
He said that there had been no local transmission of the virus, so far, and if the nine current suspected cases did not develop symptoms, they could be declared A (H1N1) free on wednesday as the virus took seven days to incubate.
Dr Ramly said that the World Health Organisation had yet to recommend travel restrictions.
Meanwhile, the man who fainted in an AirAsia Kuala Lumpur-bound flight from Sandakan Sunday was not suspected of having A (H1N1) flu.
Dr Ramlee Rahmat said the man had not visited any countries affected by the flu recently.
The emergency landing in Kuching to allow him to be warded at Sarawak General Hospital was the usual practice airlines, he said.
In Johor Baru, state health department director Dr Mohd Khairi Yaakob said that the female passenger from MH091, who has been warded in Johor from Sunday after developing a fever, had tested negative for the A (H1N1) flu.
He said she was expected to be discharged Monday.
In Kuching, Assistant Public Health Minister Datuk Dr Soon Choon Teck said that two passengers on MH091 from Newark, New Jersey, who were warded at the Sarawak General Hospital after developing fever at the weekend have tested negative.
He said one of the passengers, a woman who was admitted on Saturday, was still in hospital but no longer in the isolation ward.
“She is no longer considered a suspected case of H1N1 and I think she will go home very soon,” he told reporters at the lobby of the Sarawak State Assembly here Monday.
The other passenger was a man in his 20s who was admitted on Sunday.
“As far as we are concerned there are no H1N1 suspected cases in the hospital at the moment,” Dr Soon said.
The two were among nine passengers from the flight who were now in Sarawak.
Dr Soon said the other passengers had been traced and placed under home quarantine.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Onus is on passengers to contact Health Ministry

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: There will be no efforts taken by Malaysia Airlines (MAS) to contact the 199 passengers on board flight MH091 which carried the first Malaysian infected by the influenza A virus.
According to a MAS spokesperson the onus is on the passengers who embarked the same flight as the infected student, to contact the Health Ministry at 03-88810200 or 03-888 10300.
"The information has been spread on all media channels including newspapers so its up to the passengers to call in, we will not be looking for them."
"However we are working closely with the Health Ministry on the matter," said Malaysia Airlines Director of Operations, Datuk Tajuden Abu Bakar.
Yesterday a woman believed to be the friend of the first patient was confirmed to be infected with the virus and is being warded at the Bukit Mertajam hospital in Penang. It is believed that both of them were infected with the virus from the United States.
They arrived from the United States on May 13 at 7.15am after a transit at Arlanda, Stockholm where 80 passengers disembarked and from Arlanda 199 people, comprising 184 passengers and 15 crew members, embarked.
The national carrier has since been in contact with the Arlanda authorities to provide them with the passenger list for monitoring purposes.
As a precautionary measure, 15 crew members who arrived in Kuala Lumpur with the infected passenger had been located and taken off the roster for a seven-day home quarantine.
MAS has also clarified that none of its pilots were warded as reported yesterday.
Meanwhile, checks at the Sungai Buloh Hospital showed that security was tight following the first Malaysian victim to be warded there since Friday.
The media was not allowed in and hospital personnel were tight-lipped on any developments concerning the patient.
Pressmen were only allowed to be stationed outside the hospital and had to wait by the roadside.
However the hospital authorities provided facial masks for the media.
Several ambulances from various hospitals were seen shuttling in and out of the Sungai Buloh Hospital and the personnel driving these vehicles were seen wearing protective masks and were fully clothed with protective gear.

Ministry: No need to don face masks

Star: PETALING JAYA: There is no need for the public to don face masks as a precautionary measure against the influenza A (H1N1) virus, said the Health Ministry Medical Practice Division director Dr Nooraini Baba.
She said the ministry had not issued a directive for the public and health practitioners to do so.
“We do not want to cause panic to the population,” she said at a press conference after launching the Tropicana Medical Centre’s GP Plus programme in Kota Damansara yesterday.
Dr Nooraini said the ministry had placed a “crawl” — a moving line of text at the bottom of the television screen — to ask passengers who had been on the same flight from the United States as the student who had contracted the virus to come in voluntarily.
“We’re trying to contact them and we are looking into whether they should be quarantined.”
She added the ministry was also investigating how the second patient had travelled to Penang.
“She landed at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport and we are investigating whether she went to Penang by plane, car or bus,” she said.
Dr Nooraini stressed the ministry had the expertise in tackling this virus as it had experience from handling the SARS outbreak previously.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A (H1N1): Second case in Malaysia confirmed

Star: PUTRAJAYA: A second Malaysian has been confirmed with the Influenza A (H1N1) virus at the Penang Hospital, said Health Ministry deputy director-general Datuk Dr Ramlee Rahmat.
The patient, a woman, was admitted to the Penang Hospital on Friday and the results were confirmed this morning, he said.
Dr Ramlee said she was a friend of the first patient who was confirmed with the virus at the Sungai Buloh Hospital on Friday, adding that she was also on the same flight as him from the United States.
Both patients are in stable condition.

Hospital plan for Wisma Khidmat

NST: KOTA KINABALU: Committed to overcoming the critical shortage of hospital beds here, the state government through the Sabah Credit Corporation (SCC) will turn the abandoned Wisma Khidmat here into a 250-bed private hospital.
Estimated to cost more than RM100 million, work on the project is expected to begin soon.
"The development plan is ready and we hope to start work on the project as soon as possible," chief minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman said after a working visit to the headquarters of the state-owned SCC.
The plan is to make it a well-equipped surgical hospital with all the emergency services.
Abandoned for the past five years, Wisma Khidmat consists a nine-storey office block tower and a four-storey supermarket.
Musa had discussed the proposed take-over of the abandoned building with Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai in March this year as an interim measure to overcome the severe shortage of hospital beds here.
The state capital has been faced with the problem after the tower block at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital was declared unsafe.
Musa, who is also state finance minister, expressed confidence in the SCC's ability to ensure the speedy implementation and completion of the project.
The state government's involvement in the medical services business is not new as it had before this built the Sabah Medical Centre (SMC) in Likas which was later privatised.
The federal government, recognising the need to urgently tackle the State's healthcare needs, recently decided to buy back the SMC for RM245 million.
Announcing the decision during his recent visit here earlier this month, prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said the takeover and renovation works at the SMC would be fast-tracked and when completed, an additional 400 beds could be expected.
As a long-term solution, the Federal Government planned to build a new general hospital in Kinarut, about 30km from here.
During the visit to SCC, Musa was briefed by its general manager Datuk Vincent Pung on the consistent growth enjoyed by the company both in profit and assets size.
Pung said for the financial year 2008, SCC reported an audited surplus before tax of RM37.8 million, an increase of RM11.2 million, compared to 2007 results.
Noting that SCC was also known for its Corporate Social Responsibility, having built numerous hostels in the rural areas of Sabah, Musa said the SCC was a fine example for other state-owned companies to emulate.

21-year-old student from US has H1N1

Star: PUTRAJAYA: The influenza A(H1N1) virus has landed in Malaysia.
The first case of the flu with pandemic potential was confirmed when a young student who returned from the United States on Wednesday de­veloped a fever and was hospitalised.
Test results yesterday confirmed that the student had the virus.
The 21-year-old student, who flew on Malaysia Airlines flight MH091 from Newark, New Jersey, to the KL International Airport (KLIA) via Stockholm in Sweden, has been placed in an isolation ward at the Sungai Buloh Hospital since Thursday evening and is being treated with anti-viral medication.
Acting Health Minister Datuk Seri Kong Cho Ha said all five family members of the patient, who live in the Klang Valley, had been placed under quarantine in their home and their condition was being monitored.
They will be observed for a week before they can be declared clear of the disease.
Kong said the ministry was trying to identify all those who came in con­tact with the student since he re­­turned home so that they could be tested.
“We are also working with MAS to trace all passengers and crew members on board the flight so we can have them tested as soon as possible,” Kong said.
He said it was possible that not all those on the flight were still in the country as Kuala Lumpur may have just been a transit stop before they continued their journey but the ministry would be providing information on the case to the World Health Organisation.
Asked if it was possible that some passengers on the flight may not want to be identified for fear of being placed under quarantine, he said the measure was to ensure their safety and that of others around them.
“We urge all those on the flight to contact the nearest hospital or the ministry so that they can tested and not wait for us to contact them or for the symptoms to show before acting,” he said, adding that they should immediately go to a hospital if they had symptoms linked to the disease.
Kong said all major hospitals in the country had already set aside space so that patients testing positive for the A(H1N1) virus could be placed in isolation wards.
He said that the patient managed to pass through the scanners at KLIA undetected but did not mean that they were ineffective as it was possible the student did not show any symptom at that time.
He said the virus had a two- to three-day incubation period during which symptoms linked to the disease were not visible and that could have been why the scanner did not detect a fever after his flight landed at 7.15am on Wednesday.
Kong said the Health Ministry would continue to use the scanners at entry points and take all precautionary measures.
“The ministry has taken all the possible precautionary measures to control and contain the disease after the WHO issued a level-five alert. We are urging the public not to panic as the situation is under control,” he said.
In Malacca, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Mohd Yassin expressed confidence that the Health Ministry and other government agencies would be able to contain the spread of the A(H1N1) flu.
He told reporters after opening the national-level Youth Day celebration yesterday that the fact that the health authorities managed to detect the infection revealed the effectiveness of the National Pan­demic Preparedness Plan implemented by the ministry.

Outbreak of leptospirosis at Juru detention camp

Star: BUTTERWORTH: Twenty-six detainees from the Juru detention camp for illegal immigrants have been admitted to two hospitals here following an outbreak of leptospirosis at the camp.
A 21-year-old detainee from Myanmar died on Tuesday of the bacterial disease after being admitted to the Bukit Mertajam Hospital.
State Health, Welfare and Caring Society Committee member Phee Boon Poh said 24 detainees have been warded at the hospital while two are at the Seberang Jaya Hospital.
He said the 26 detainees could have consumed water contaminated with the urine of an animal.
He said the Myanmar, who was admitted on May 7, had symptoms of pedal oedema, fever, decreased urine output, constipation and lethargy.
He said three more cases were admitted to the hospital with similar symptoms on Tuesday.
Phee said more detainees were found with the symptoms and subsequently referred to the Bukit Mertajam Hospital.
He said the state government had carried out active case detection and investigations since May 12 at the camp, which houses 529 detainees, including 69 women and two boys.
He added that disinfection was also carried out in all four blocks at the camp, including the bathrooms and toilets.
“We have also taken samples from all water sources in the camp and are also making daily visits to the camp,” Phee said.
Phee asked the people not to panic as the outbreak of the disease was only confined to the camp.
Those who have queries can contact him at 012-471 1111

Friday, May 15, 2009

Incentive for all govt doctors and dentists

Star: SEREMBAN: Doctors and dentists pursuing full time post-graduate programmes or specialist courses at local universities will be paid a RM750 critical service incentive from this month.
Previously, only those doing these courses on a part-time basis were paid the incentive while those doing so full time were given half the amount, Public Service Department director-general Tan Sri Ismail Adam said.
“We decided to standardise the incentive to RM750 because doctors and dentists in both open and closed systems carry out the same duties and responsibilities,” he said.
When contacted, a PSD official said those pursuing these courses full time came under the closed system while those who did so part-time were under the open system.
Doctors and dentists pursuing post-graduate or specialists courses at Universiti Malaya, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Universiti Putra Malaysia, Universiti Teknologi Mara, Universiti Islam Antarabangsa, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, Universiti Malay-sia Sabah and Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia will benefit from this.
Ismail said medical lecturers at public universities and hospitals would also gain from the new directive.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Ministry steps up virus watch

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: The Health Ministry has increased its vigilance against influenza A (H1N1), heightening surveillance at all entry points to Malaysia to stop carriers from spreading the disease here.
Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai said 31 countries have already been struck by the virus and feared the potential havoc the strain could unleash here if precautions were not taken.
"Even if it is a mild outbreak, we cannot take the situation for granted.
"I have ordered ministry officials to increase their efforts to protect the nation. It is a long-term effort. We have to protect our people," he said after launching International Nurses Day here, yesterday.
Liow stressed that the battle against A (H1N1) must also be fought by the public, who needed to know exactly what to do if it actually spread in Malaysia.
"This is why we also want to educate the people on the virus and how to contain it if they discover any cases.
"We have also mobilised our national pandemic preparedness plan. We have planned earlier for an emergency response to an A (H1N1) outbreak, so we have sufficient medication should the need arise."
Liow noted that with the virus having already infiltrated 31 countries around the world, Malaysia faced increased pressure to ensure it did not spread here.
"We must be on guard and not allow the strain to cross into our borders," he said.
Neighbouring Thailand became the first and only South-East Asian nation struck by the virus, after its government confirmed two cases of the flu in people who had travelled to Mexico recently.
The global death toll has also risen after Mexico confirmed a tally of 56 deaths yesterday, up from 48 reported on Monday.
The Foreign Ministry has advised Malaysians to defer all non-essential travel to the United States, Mexico, Canada, Spain and the United Kingdom, the countries worst hit by the outbreak.
The ministry recommended that travellers get vaccinated first and learn as much as they could on the outbreak situation at their destinations in the event that overseas travel was necessary.
Upon arrival at their destinations, travellers are encouraged to inform the nearest Malaysian mission of their whereabouts.
The ministry also suggested that Malaysians follow local health guidelines, which might also include movement restrictions and preventive recommendations, while at the same time avoiding contact with the sick.
"If you think you are ill with influenza A (H1N1), avoid close contact with others as much as possible. Stay at home or in your hotel room and immediately contact the local health authority," the ministry said in a statement.

Liow: Health authorities trying to trace meningitis carrier

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: The number of people hospitalised with suspected meningitis in Malacca Hospital rose to 38 on Tuesday, from 31 the day before.
This brings the number hospitalised nationwide to 39 including one Road Transport Department (JPJ) academy trainee hospitalised in Kepala Batas who is in stable condition.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai said four of the new patients who developed symptoms were trainees who had been quarantined at the academy hostel in Tiang Dua, Malacca.
Two more are radiographers while another is the fiancee of one of the trainees, he said, adding that all of them were in the isolation ward while the two trainees in Intensive Care Unit were now able to walk.
“The source of infection has not been discovered and we are working hard to find the carrier,” he said yesterday after the International Nurses’ Day celebration.
On whether the family members of the trainee’s fiancee needed to be quarantined, Liow said the Ministry would find out if they had been in contact.
On the influenza A(H1N1) virus, Liow said Malaysia was keeping a check on its borders and that there was enough Tamiflu stocked up in the event the flu hits Malaysia.
“I have told the health director-general to step up precautionary efforts so that hospital staff do not get infected,” he said adding that they were monitoring the situation closely.
Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican said surveillance against the disease was constantly being beefed up with more thermal scanners placed at entry points.
“There are updates in the Ministry website, apart from calling the National Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre for information.
“As of today, Malaysia remains free of the infection as no cases are detected on our shores,” he said, adding that on Monday 6,440 individuals, most of whom entered the country via airports, were s creening and none were referred to hospitals. A total of 55,002 air passengers have been screened so far.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry in a statement urged non-essential travel to the United States, Mexico, Canada, Spain and Britain to be deferred because 96.8% of reported A (H1N1) cases are from these countries.
Travellers, it said must especially defer going to Illinois, Wisconsin and California in the US.
If trips to these places are unavoidable, travellers are advised to consult physicians for seasonal flu vaccination.
Travellers should also inform the nearest Malaysian mission of their whereabouts.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Deal for govt docs reasonable

Star: THE Public Service Department (PSD) wishes to refer to the letters “Doctors suffering in silence for far too long” (The Star, April 21) and “New docs getting a better deal now” (The Star, April 23).
The Government has continuously improved the scheme of service for medical officers in terms of salaries, allowances, perquisites and career development.
In fact, the initial salary of government medical officers is the highest compared to those of other schemes of service in the public sector.
lt starts at RM2.456.39 (Grade UD41, P1T6) as against those of other schemes of service. The initial salary takes into consideration the period of six years that an undergraduate takes to qualify as a medical officer.
Furthermore, the total takehome pay for newly-appointed medical officers is RM4,058.39 when all the monthly allowances and Incentive Payment for Critical Service (the highest compared to those of other critical schemes) are factored in .

In addition, medical officers also receive the following allowances:
> On-call allowance at the rate of RM150 per night;
> Locum at the rate of RM80 per hour; and
> Incentive payment for specialist ranging from RM1,600 to RM3,100 per month, depending on the grade of the officer.

The ruling that will entitle newly-appointed medical officers to receive RM6,000 per month will take affect in 2010, after the current batch of medical graduates have completed their internship at a local government hospital.
To further advance their career prospects, the Government has improved promotion opportunities of medical officers by creating more promotional posts. At the same time, the Government has increased the number of scholarships for the Masters programme to 600.
The courses undertaken by medical officers are also recognised as fulfilling the conditions of the Competency Level Assessment for promotion to Grade UD48 and recognition as specialists. Additionally, medical officers have the opportunity to attend and present papers at conferences locally and abroad.
The Government recognises that the work done by medical officers is crucial to maintaining a viable public health system that would provide quality medical care to all Malaysians. The Government, therefore, will continue to improve the terms and conditions of service for medical officers.


Govt to rope in more private doctors

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: Private doctors are encouraged to volunteer for "national service" to ease the shortage of doctors in government hospitals.
With a 50 per cent shortfall of doctors in pubic hospitals, the Health Ministry is scrambling to fill the vacancies.
There are about 15,000 doctors in public service, making up a 53 per cent operating capacity at the 130 government hospitals nationwide. This figure includes those who have taken study leave or serving in housemanship, meaning there are in reality fewer doctors on active duty.
Comparatively, there are about 10,000 doctors in the private sector, an abundant human resource that Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai wants to tap.
He noted that if Malaysia were to take into account the number of private doctors, the country's present doctor to population ratio stood at 1:1,145, not far from the benchmark of 1:600 in developed nations. He projected Malaysia would reach the benchmark in 2015, but stressed the need to reach out to doctors in the private sector if the country intended to fully harness that potential.
Liow said his ministry had set up a central committee, chaired by himself, to work out a mechanism to get more doctors into the civil service.
He said there were many private doctors who had volunteered for national service, so the onus was on the government to get them to do so.
"We need to open an avenue where doctors in private practice can voluntarily come aboard. They have performed their national service in the first three years of their careers, but we encourage them to do more," he said after witnessing the MS ISO-9001:2000 accreditation of Tung Shin Hospital here yesterday.

Liow: Meningitis outbreak under control

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: The Health Ministry has given an assurance that the diplococci meningitis outbreak in Malacca is under control.
The infection was contained within the Road Transport Department training academy and would not be a threat to the country, said Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai.
“Consult a doctor quickly if you have fever and body aches,” he said.
The first patient who died from the meningitis outbreak went to hospital too late, said Liow.
On May 4, a trainee at the academy in Tiang Dua, Malacca, died of the infection while being rushed to hospital.
Liow said the outbreak was investigated as soon as possible and it was then discovered that it was not a viral infection. This enabled the ministry to give the right medication to the patients.
As of yesterday there were 32 patients hospitalised with two in intensive care and 29 in the isolation ward in Malacca and another patient in Kepala Batas, Penang.
The number of trainees in the isolation ward increased from 18 from the day before, he said.
“They are all in stable condition,” said Liow, adding that they were being put on treatment and each treatment cycle takes one week.
The ministry would know in a day or two the subtype of the diplococci bacteria that infected the trainees, said Liow who witnessed the presentation of MS ISO 9001:2000 certificate by Sirim to Tung Shin Hospital.
Water samples were taken from three training places in Negri Sembilan, Johor and Malacca, and from a pond in Pedas, Negri Sembilan where some of them had swum in, he said.
Liow also said that the infection was spread through droplets and people are advised to close their mouths when they cough or sneeze.
At present, there are 89 people who are still quarantined. Another 234 trainees returned to their hostels but were not allowed to leave the academy.
Meanwhile Bernama quoted Kelantan Health Department director Dr Lila Mohamed Meeran as saying that the outbreak of meningitis did not originate from the East Coast state.
She said Mohd Hafiz Zainudin was down with fever and brain membrane infection a day before he returned to Kota Baru for a holiday on May 1.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Special quarantine rooms at 28 hospitals for A(H1N1)

Star: MALACCA: Health authorities are beefing up the nation’s pandemic preparedness capability by setting up special quarantine rooms in 28 hospitals throughout the country following the Influenza A(H1N1) global outbreak.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai said the move was in line with the implementation of a national pandemic preparedness plan as called for by the World Health Organisation.
Every state would have hospitals with a designated quarantine area, he said.
Speaking to reporters after visiting Road Transport Department trainees warded for meningitis at the Malacca Hospital yesterday, Liow said the ministry would increase the number of thermal scanners at all entry points into the country.
He noted that the strengthening of the pandemic preparedness plan was crucial not only against H1N1 but also for other types of infectious threats such as bird flu (H5N1).
“Don’t think that the threat of the avian flu is not there,” he said, adding that during the Asean Health Ministers meeting in Bangkok last week, Malaysia was deemed as having one of the best pandemic preparedness plans in the region.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Langkawi gets its sea ambulance

Star: LANGKAWI: The much-awaited sea ambulance has finally arrived in Lang­kawi.
The sea ambulance is a ferry which has been equipped with the latest medical equipment. It also has a room for patients and a medical team to accompany them during the journey.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai said the ferry would be used to send patients to the mainland for treatment and for sea rescue.
“The people in Langkawi had been asking for such an ambulance and now the Government has fulfilled its promise to provide one.
“Patients from Langkawi previously were transferred using the normal ferry or a chartered ferry,” he told re­­porters after jointly launching the sea ambulance with Transport Minister Da­­­­tuk Seri Ong Tee Keat at the Telaga Harbour Park here yesterday.
Liow said the ministry spent about RM500,000 last year to charter ferries to send patients with chronic illnesses to the mainland, adding that with this sea ambulance, the ministry was able to reduce costs and dependency on such ferries.
“In 2007 and 2008, 154 and 142 pa­­tients respectively were sent to mainland hospitals using these ferries.”
During the same press conference, Ong said that the sea ambulance in Langkawi was among seven approved under the Eighth and Ninth Malaysia Plan.
“The other six sea ambulances were placed in Port Klang, Mersing, Pulau Tio­­man, Pulau Pangkor, Kuala Tereng­ganu and Labuan. The ambulances cost RM56mil.”
On another note, Liow said that the Government would beef up its preven­tive measures to prevent the spread of influenza A (H1N1) to the country.
“I will be attending a conference with my counterparts from Asean to discuss ways that we could work together to prevent the virus from entering our countries. So far, the A (H1N1) has not not hit any South-East Asian countries.”

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Fed Govt to buy Sabah hospital for RM245m

Star: KOTA KINABALU: The Federal Government is buying privately owned Sabah Medical Centre (SMC) as an immediate measure to overcome the critical hospital bed shortage problem in the city here.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said the Government was in the final stages of taking over SMC at a cost of RM245mil.
“We are committed to providing the best available healthcare to Sabahans,” he said at a “meet-the-people” gathering at the historic Padang Merdeka in his first visit to the state as premier.
Dismissing talk that the acquisition would cost nearly RM450mil, he said the SMC takeover would be “fast-tracked” as the Government was aware of the urgency in tackling the healthcare needs of the state capital following the closure of the Queen Elizabeth hospital main tower block.
He said the Government would also be refurbishing the recently completed SMC located in suburban Damai, 2km from downtown Kota Kinabalu.
Later Najib told reporters that that the refurbishment cost would depend on the requirements of the Health Ministry while under the purchase, SMC will be renting two floors from the Government.
Previously the Government had acquired the first SMC building in Likas and converted it into a women and children’s hospital that is now known as Likas Hospital.
Najib said RM500mil of the special RM1bil allocation pledged to Sabah had already been delivered for various development projects.
The Prime Minister in his speech reminded Sabah Barisan Nasional leaders that they were servants of the people.
He said the leaders should constantly see for themselves the everyday situations faced by ordinary folk so that they could solve their problems.
“As elected representatives, there is no need to wait for invitations, red carpets or TV cameras. We need to work for the people.
“I don’t want leaders who are feared. I want leaders who are appreciated and respected,” he said.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Empowering rural folk on cancer

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: A group of doctors, nurses, oncologists and volunteers will visit rural areas to educate people about cancer.
The disease is the third biggest killer of Malaysians.
Empowered, a non-profit organisation, will reach those who do not have ready access to information on the disease.
"We will travel to rural areas and provide information on the symptoms and how to detect the disease. Many cancers can be cured if they are detected early," said founder and president Dr Christina Ngafter the organisation's launch on Thursday.
Ng, a consultant oncologist, said Empowered would give greater access to information on the disease, cancer screening and early treatment.
Dr Ng said: "Many rural people either cannot afford treatment or are ignorant about it. Anyone who wishes to volunteer his time and knowledge is welcome."
On Wednesday, 36 volunteers from government hospitals received training to form the first support group to work with cancer patients.
This group will become mentors to future trainers, who will be assigned to a number of cases.
At the launch, Health Ministry medical development division deputy director Dr Rohaizat Yon represented director-general Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican and read his speech.
Dr Ismail said networking between the public and private sectors and non-governmental organisations was important to control cancer.
Statistics showed that colo-rectal cancer was the most common, followed by breast cancer, leukaemia and lung cancer, he said.
"Despite numerous awareness campaigns, screening for cancer, especially among women, is not widespread enough," Dr Ismail said.
Dr Rohaizat said: "The ministry has strengths and groups like this have different strengths.
"NGOs like this one are more in touch with the people and this can help the ministry to reach out."

Virologist: Use Tamiflu and vaccines wisely

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: Eminent virologist Emeritus Prof Datuk Dr Lam Sai Kit has expressed concerned that anti-virals like Tamiflu and Relenza could be abused if they are readily available over-the-counter.
“If any medication is overused and abused, and not prescribed by doctors, then the chances of the virus developing resistance is high.
“There are people who think that by taking Tamiflu, they can prevent the onset of flu but that is using the medication wrongly,” Dr Lam, who is with Universiti Malaya’s Institute of Research Management and Monitoring said.
He added that there were also people who quickly popped a Tamiflu in their mouths when they had ordinary flu, and by doing so, they might diminish the potency of the drugs.
Dr Lam, who was a director of the World Health Organisation’s National Influenza Centre (Malaysia), said Tamiflu worked by killing the virus before it could go through its entire life cycle, thus preventing it from replicating or growing.
He said the majority of influenza infections did not require treatment with anti-virals since they were mild and confined to the upper respiratory tract and did not go down to the lungs.
He added that Tamiflu should only be used if there was evidence that the influenza is caused by something life-threatening, such as pneumonia or lung infection.
When asked if Tamiflu was still safe to be prescribed for children after recent reports of psychiatric disturbances, heart and lung disorders and deaths among 12 children, Dr Lam said the benefits outweighed the complications.
“WHO is still recommending its usage. The evidence is obviously not strong enough and the benefit far outweighs any rare complications,” he said.
In 2008, the US Food and Drug Administration changed the drug’s label to acknowledge reports of “delirium and abnormal behavior leading to injury, and in some cases, resulting in fatal outcomes,” among flu patients taking Tamiflu.

New reagent from CDC to speed up tests

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: A new reagent to directly test samples for the influenza A (H1N1) virus will enable the Health Ministry to cut down the waiting time for results to be produced.
Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai said the new reagent which would be sent by the Center for Disease Control in the United States, would allow quicker tests to determine the existence of the H1N1 virus in a given sample.
“Currently, there must be one test to determine if the sample is the A-type influenza which will take six hours for results,” he told a press conference yesterday after visiting the Institute for Medical Research.
“Another test, which will take 10 hours, must then be done to determine what sub-type it is,” he said.
Liow added that specific testing for the exact strain would then take a week or two for results.
He said if results for the third test were positive for the H1N1 virus, then it would be categorised as a confirmed case, but if the sub-type could not be determined, it would be categorised as a probable case.
On a related matter, Liow said thermal scanners would also be placed at the airports in Sabah, Sarawak and Penang to step up Malaysia’s precautionary measures in light of a confirmed H1N1 case in Hong Kong.
“These airports have flights coming in from Hong Kong, so this measure needs to be done,” he said.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Influenza A: 'Jabs won't give protection'

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: The flu vaccine jabs to be given to some 200,000 of the country's frontliners will not protect them from the pandemic influenza A (H1N1) virus, but they can help in identifying potential cases.
Prominent virologist Prof Emeritus Datuk Dr Lam Sai Kit said the vaccination could help filter out those suspected to be infected with the mutated H1N1 virus strain as the vaccine could not protect them against it.
"If they come down with flu-like illnesses even after being jabbed, then one would be more suspicious because they shouldn't be coming down with ordinary flu.
"It could be a new strain which is not covered by the existing influenza vaccine," he told Bernama yesterday.
Lam, who is currently with Universiti of Malaya's Institute of Research Management and Monitoring, said the existing influenza vaccine covered three different viruses but the composition of the vaccine changed every year.
"The current vaccine contains the latest strain of influenza A, the H3N2, and the latest strain of H1N1, as well as influenza B.
"However, the H1N1 strain in the vaccine is not going to protect against this mutated strain of influenza."
He advised the public not to get panicky and view every flu-like case as that caused by the mutated H1N1 strain.
"You must remember that there are flu cases going on in every country all the time."
Lam, who was instrumental in the discovery of the Nipah virus, said he understood the public's concern as the virus was believed to have spread initially through pigs to humans and transmission was now human to human.
He said viruses were usually species-specific, meaning that they could not jump between species.
Lam said even in rare cases of bird flu, where a human was infected through contact with an infected bird, the virus could not be easily passed on to another person, causing the illness to come to a "dead end".
However, Lam said, pigs could facilitate "genetic exchange" between viruses as they could carry more than one virus strain.
"When you have more than one virus strain in an animal, you call it the mixing bowl. This is a fantastic way of genetic exchange and when the virus replicates in the pig, there is a very high chance of them acquiring human and other animal genetic materials."
This acquisition would help the new mutated strain survive longer in the human body and pass it on, thus increasing the possibility of human to human transmission.
Although there are small numbers of influenza A cases among humans in the past, the cases had been mild and recovery usually uncomplicated.
However, the current mutated strain contains genetic elements from swine, avian and human, and is resistant to several common amantadine drugs, and the current seasonal influenza vaccine cannot prevent influenza A.
Fortunately, Lam said, drugs such as oseltamivir (marketed as Tamiflu) and zanamivir (marketed as Relenza) were still useful to treat such cases but should be used only if prescribed by a doctor as indiscriminate use could lead to resistance to the drugs.
Lam is also the past president of the Asia-Pacific Society for Medical Virology and also the former director of the World Health Organisation's National Influenza Centre (Malaysia).

Medical tourism not healthy

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: Overall quality of healthcare in the country will suffer if medical tourism is allowed to sap medical staff in public hospitals, health experts warn.
North Carolina’s Chapel Hill University’s Maternal and Child Health associate professor Trude Bennett said the glamour and profitability of medical tourism tended to “crowd out” public health.
“Government resources such as land, financial subsidies and tax incentives tend to be diverted to start up private facilities with high technology.
“Meanwhile public health services and primary care will be left to languish,” said Bennett in her speech on medical tourism at the Health Systems in Transition workshop on Thursday.
University Malaya Medical Centre infectious disease head Prof Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman added that the lure of medical tourism could further lead to brain drain, resulting in the lack of senior doctors and specialists to mentor younger medical staff.
“When that happens, the quality of staff produced would be low and those who leave for the private sector too would be of low quality.
“Without a check-and-balance on medical tourism, the public and the private sector would be affected as well,” said Dr Adeeba.
On whether private specialists could set aside some time to return to the public sector to teach young doctors, Dr Adeeba said such a scheme had worked well in Australia but not Malaysia.
“Here, the specialists tend to focus more on their own practice and less on the teaching part,” she said.
Universiti Sains Malaysia Women’s Development Research Centre director Prof Datin Dr Rashidah Shuib said going to private hospitals was not an equitable choice for the poor.
“There must be some guiding principles and not just wealth creation,” she said, adding that the Government’s policy on medical tourism needed to be debated.

Swine flu tag now called A(H1N1)

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia will now refer to the swine flu as influenza A(H1N1) in line with a move by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
“It was earlier called swine flu because it was believed to have originated from pig farms in Mexico,” said Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai in explaining the name change.
“For the name change, we are just abiding by WHO’s recommendation,” he told the press after recording a public service announcement on preventive measures for the flu outbreak at the Red FM studio yesterday.
The exact origin of the virus is still unknown.
Foreign wires had earlier reported that WHO was re-examining the name of the virus after complaints that the term was causing an unjustified clampdown on the pork trade.
Foreign health experts had said the virus cannot be transmitted by eating pork despite its original name of “swine flu,” believed to be a new strain which combined bird, swine and common human influenza.
The WHO’s phase five alert status signalled widespread person-to-person transmission and that a pandemic was imminent.
Liow, however, said that Malaysia was still clear from the infection as of yesterday.
He urged Malaysians and visitors to continue to be on high alert and to take precautionary measures.
Two mass thermal scanners from the Defence Ministry have been installed at the KL International Airport and one at the low-cost carrier terminal (LCCT) to speed up the screening process for international arrivals.
Liow said that only travellers from the countries which have confirmed cases were being screened.
On Thursday, 829 passengers from 16 international flights were screened.
Bernama reports that the Immigration and marine departments at airports, border check points and ports were checking visitors’ country of origins and disembarkation points.
Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein said that a second examination would also be carried out on nationals using the auto gate at international airports.
In Petaling Jaya, the Health Ministry’s national and state-level operation centres would continue to monitor the situation in the country, its director-general Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican said.
Dr Ismail said in a statement that details would be disseminated to the public, embassies, media and health practitioners about the disease through the operation centres.
The information could also be obtained from the media and the ministry’s website

Friday, May 01, 2009

Chikungunya epidemic under control

NST: KUCHING: Nearly a month after an outbreak where 150 people were infected, the state government yesterday disclosed there was a chikungunya epidemic in coastal areas of Sri Aman and Betong.
Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr George Chan, who is also state Disaster and Relief Committee chairman said there were no deaths and the epidemic had been contained.
"The number of suspected cases reported is also fewer now," he said at a press conference to announce measures to tackle swine flu.
The chikungunya epidemic broke out in five coastal areas in the two divisions. The first case was detected on March 26.
State Health director Dr Mohd Kamil Hassan said Sarawak migrant workers who had worked in chikungunya infected states in the peninsula could have carried the virus back, adding there were thousands of Sarawakians working in Johor.
Dr Kamil said the poor environment in villages in the affected areas had also contributed to the outbreak.
The state Health Department had distributed mosquito nets to villages and carried out extensive fogging.
On swine flu, Dr Chan said the state had banned the import of live pigs and fresh pork products to curb the possible spread of the flu.
He said the ban, effective from Monday, would be in place until the threat was over.
The state imports about two per cent of its pork needs and Dr Chan said the ban would not affect the supply of pork.
To screen international travellers who could have visited swine flu infected countries, all passengers on direct flights from Pontianak, Singapore, Jakarta, Brunei and Macau into Kuching would now have to fill a health form similar to the ones that travellers are required to fill when flying into this country.
Dr Chan also said the Sarawak General Hospital here and the hospitals in Sibu and Miri had been designated swine flu quarantine centres.

Malaysia on high alert

Star: KUALA LUMPUR: The Govern­ment is now on “high alert” after the World Health Organi­sation (WHO) raised the swine flu alert to Phase Five, meaning that a worldwide pandemic is imminent.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai, however, urged the public to stay calm. He also said that to date, no cases had been reported in Malaysia.
“The National Influenza Pan­demic Preparedness Plan is working well,” he told reporters after taking part in a live interview session here yesterday.
Under the plan, the ministry will go all out to raise awareness on swine flu by distributing to all states multilingual leaflets, posters and VCDs on proper ways to wash hands and wear masks as well as the dos and don’ts about hygiene, said Liow.
All doctors at private clinics, he added, have been told to contact the ministry immediately if they detect any symptoms of swine flu.
The ministry has two million doses of Tamiflu and Relenza anti-viral medication and is trying to top up the stockpile with an additional 10%, he added.
Liow said the ministry had also issued a swine flu travel advisory on its website.
He said the National Pandemic Preparedness Committee chaired by Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican would meet with representatives from non-governmental organisations and government staff on Monday.
The ministry, he said, would ask for at least RM10mil extra from the Government to provide vaccinations for 200,000 frontliners including doctors, nurses, police and immigration personnel.
On an apparent flu scare on Wednesday, Liow said that two men who had travelled to Mexico and the United States had been discharged from Sungai Buloh Hospital yesterday after they were found to had the normal flu.
“I am thankful that they informed the ministry about their visit to the countries recently,” he added.
Ismail said the Information Ministry would work with the Health Ministry to spread the health advisory to the public.
“It also includes the private mass media,” he said in a statement yesterday.
Dr Ismail also said the Institute for Medical Research is the referral laboratory for the testing of the swine flu virus A/H1N1.
The institute, he said, was prepared to accept specimens of suspected swine flu cases, adding that the technical committee on flu pandemic would also meet more frequently.

How to protect yourself
Practise general preventive measures for influenza:
• Avoid close contact with people who appear unwell and who have fever and cough.
• Wash your hands with soap and water frequently and thoroughly.
• Practise good health habits including adequate sleep, eating nutritious food and keeping physically active.

If there is a sick person at home:
• Try to provide the sick person a separate section in the house. If this is not possible, keep the patient at least one metre in distance from others.
• Cover mouth and nose when caring for the sick person. Masks can be bought commercially or made using readily available materials as long as they are disposed of or cleaned properly.
• Wash your hands with soap and water thoroughly after each contact with the sick person.
• Try to improve the air flow in the area where the sick person stays. Use doors and windows to take advantage of breezes.
• Keep the environment clean with readily available household cleaning agents.

If you feel unwell, have high fever, cough and/or sore throat:
• Stay at home and keep away from work, school or crowds as much as possible.
• Rest and take plenty of fluids.
• Cover your mouth and nose with disposable tissues when coughing and sneezing and dispose of the used tissues properly.
• Wash your hands with soap and water frequently and thoroughly, especially after coughing or sneezing.
• Inform family and friends about your sickness and seek help for household chores that require contact with other people such as shopping.