Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Health minister brushes off queries on shabby Lahad Datu hospital

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam today brushed aside questions about poor facilities at the Lahad Datu hospital in Sabah which have hampered treatment for life-threatening cases and surgeries, saying he would only speak on the matter when visiting the state.
"When I go to Kota Kinabalu you can ask me about Sabah hospitals," he said today in response to a report by The Malaysian Insider on December 17 about problems faced at the government district hospital in the eastern district of Sabah.
A major problem at the hospital was its faulty air-conditioning system which prevented surgeries from being conducted. Repairs to the system required operating theatres to be sterilised for days before they could be used.
A source at the Sabah Medical Department had told The Malaysian Insider that the hospital was well-equipped for a period to handle cases during the incursion by armed Suluk militants on Sabah's east coast in February last year.
High-tech medical equipment such as a computerised tomography or CT scan as well as top-notch surgeons, had also been posted there to handle battlefield casualties from the incursion.
However, in just over a year, the hospital has slid back to the state in which it was before the conflict, facing problems like frequent air-conditioning system breakdowns that have rendered two of the three operating theatres (OTs) unusable for the most part of the last three years.
The degree of neglect prevented it from handling simultaneous cases if they were life-threatening and required immediate surgery. The situation had also stopped plans by a charity organisation to provide surgery for 14 children with cleft lips. This was confirmed to The Malaysian Insider by plastic surgeon Dr Margaret Leow of the Universiti Hospital in Kuala Lumpur.
The Tawau and Sandakan hospitals were also reportedly in a similar predicament as the Lahad Datu hospital.
Dr Subramaniam was on a working visit to the Penang Hospital today, where he proposed to the state health director and hospital director that outpatient services be relocated to another venue to ease congestion.
"If you have 1,000 outpatients daily, you get 2,000 to 3,000 people, such as the patients' family members coming to the hospital, that creates congestion and problems like insufficient parking spaces.
"If the outpatient services can be moved outside the hospital to a location that is nearer to patients, it could be more convenient for the people as well," he told a press conference during his visit to the hospital.
Dr Subramanian also proposed that the hospital look into setting up a standalone low-risk maternity centre for high-risk and high dependency cases, as well as a cardiology lab.
The ministry also has plans to integrate all government hospitals in Penang to distribute the workload by sharing manpower and resources, including specialists.
Construction of a new maternity and paediatrics hospital on Jalan Residensi near the Penang Hospital is also expected to begin in 2016.
The existing maternity hospital, which is in a 125-year-old building that will be demolished, had been emptied earlier this month and temporarily moved to different sections within the main hospital, he said.
"The old building was declared unsafe so we have no choice but to move. Maternity cases will be handled at the main hospital for the next four to five years.
"The new hospital, which will be built on the same site, has been approved and is now in planning stage. It will take three to four years to complete. We hope it will be ready by 2020," he said.
He added that the new building would add another 329 beds to the hospital and handle all future paediatric cases when it was ready. – December 22, 2014.

Relocate outpatient services, health minister advises congested Penang Hospital | Malaysia

GEORGE TOWN, Dec 22 — In a bid to clear the long, snaking lines at Penang Hospital, Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam suggested today a relocation of its outpatient services.
He ordered the state health director and the general hospital director to look into suitable locations for the move, saying splitting the outpatient services from the main building could cut down the waiting time that have left patients in queue for an entire day at times besides putting a strain on the staff.
“Patients can also get comprehensive healthcare at government clinics so they do not need to go to hospitals for outpatient care,” Dr Subramaniam said.
He pointed out that if the hospital was to receive 1,000 outpatient cases daily, it would mean two to three times the number of people thronging the hospital daily, clogging up the parking lots in its grounds.
Other than the outpatient care services, Dr Subramaniam also told the state health director and Penang Hospital director to set up a stand-alone maternity centre to handle high risk and high dependency cases for better maternal care.
“Hospitals in Putrajaya are doing this now so it can be done here too,” he told a press conference during his working visit to the state public hospital.
He also proposed that a cardiology lab be set up in the hospital to enable it to take in more cardiology cases.
Another measure to cut down congestion at the hospital is to integrate all the government hospitals in the state so that the hospitals could share resources and manpower in providing specialist healthcare services.
“I will appoint a team to come up with this integration plan for the hospitals here and the team will study each hospital’s capacity and strengths for the integration,” he said.
Earlier today, after visiting the maternity ward that was emptied out earlier this month for upgrading works, the minister said construction work on a new maternity and paediatric hospital will start in early 2016.
The current maternity ward, located diagonally across from the Penang Hospital along Jalan Residensi, is a 125-year-old building that has not been renovated and expanded for many years.
Dr Subramaniam said the building will be demolished to make way for construction of a new hospital.
The ward has been closed and temporarily relocated to the main hospital building.
“The old building is unsafe so we have no choice but to relocate the maternity and paediatric wards to the main hospital for the next four to five years pending completion of the new maternity hospital,” he said.
The new maternity hospital is scheduled to be completed by 2020.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Health Ministry keens on improving quality of service

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN: The Ministry of Health gives serious attention to the aspect of efficiency and effectiveness of Health Care management and administration for assessment and identification of the achievement level according to the international standard as well as the best practices, ©BRUDIRECT.COM reported.
Speaking at the Ministry’s Excellent Service Appreciation Ceremony yesterday, the Minister of Health, Yang Berhormat Pehin Orang Kaya Johan Pahlawan Dato Seri Setia Awg Haji Adanan bin Begawan Pehin Siraja Khatib Dato Seri Setia Haji Awg Mohamad Yusof said that apart from focusing on the administrative aspect, the management also includes the aspect of patients’ safety, standard procedure of operation and work environment, the medical and health services assessment programme carried out biennially also aims to appreciate and recognise various service disciplines according to the respective categories which have successfully displayed excellent qualities.
It is also to enhance the spirit of responsibility and commitment in working as a team to continue to make reforms, improvement and upgrade work quality and service efficiency from time to time.
The Minister added that in conducting the assessment, the assessing group could identify the aspects of service that need to be improved and updated, especially those with the potential to affect health care services.
Yang Berhormat Pehin said that the assessment results should be accepted positively and that they constituted a challenge for the Ministry to be responsible in together resolving and improving them in order to uphold its image and integrity.
Therefore, Yang Berhormat Pehin urged his staff to give serious attention towards the procedure of overcoming any problems identified that need prompt action and monitoring.
The implementation should be systematic and evidence-based so that the issues would not persist, but instead would enhance public confidence towards the health care services provided.
Yang Berhormat Pehin also reminded every management and administration of Health Centres and Clinics, wards and specialist clinics as well as Allied Health Services on the importance of strengthening the implementation of a systematic internal audit programme according to fixed methods or guidelines.
Yang Berhormat Pehin further clarified that the internal audit is not only to identify weaknesses or deficiencies but is also as a warning signal for the Ministry to take follow-up actions in addressing the weaknesses within a short time in giving a positive impact towards enhancing effectiveness.
It would even make the Ministry prouder if the service quality and excellence level could be further elevated. This does not mean having to wait for the defects to get worse or continue what more if they are to leave a negative impact on the organisation’s performance and administration.
The highlight of the ceremony was the presentation of certificates and souvenirs to the recipients of the Civil Service Excellence Award, the Civil Service Excellent Employees Award 2014, as well as certificates of appreciation to the Recipients of International Award in the Field of Health and the Ministry’s retirees.
The Medical and Health Services Award 2014 went to the Wards or Health Centres and Clinics based on the results of the Medical and Health Services Assessment Programme.
The programmes are one of the Ministry of Health’s initiatives towards improving the quality of Health Care Service delivery.
Among the objectives of the programme is to recognise the existing service in line with the needs and provisions towards achieving recognition of international standard.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Women dominating pharmaceutical sector?

KOTA KINABALU: The 21st century is dubbed the "women's century" with their influence being the most evident in the pharmaceutical profession – whereby their achievement in the field stands out against their male counterpart.

It is a worldwide trend, not only in Malaysia, that women are increasingly dominating university admissions, and the pharmaceutical profession is a field that the fairer sex seemingly excel in many more ways than men.
Prof Datin Nur Mariani of Cyberjaya University College of Medical Sciences, one of the many female presenters at the 25th Federation of Asian Pharmaceutical Associations Congress (Fapa), said her study shows "an association between gender and future career choices as females seem to prefer a more stable working environment".
The pharmaceutical profession is one of the well remunerated professions with great opportunities for career or business advancement.
"The profession must make the shift to being seen as provider of care in which women excel. The public and other healthcare professions primarily see pharmacists as suppliers of medicines.
"There are widespread consensus that pharmacists are an under-utilised resource," she said at the Fapa event held at Magellan Sutera Harbour on October 9-12, this year.
"Pharmacists are well placed to help address many of the issues by supporting the care of older and vulnerable people, helping people to manage multiple long term conditions, helping people to stay healthy through public health interventions, support urgent and out of hours care, and helping people to get and stay out of hospital by treating them closer to their homes."
Participants also noted that the organising chair and head of the Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society Datuk Nancy Ho and the head of the Sabah Pharmaceutical Society Susan Pan are ladies as are Dr Salmah Bahri, the Director of Pharmacy Practice and Development of the Pharmaceutical Services Division, Ministry of Health Malaysia, Chief Pharmacist of Kuala Lumpur Hospital, Ministry of Health Malaysia, Adiba Haq Syed M Haq, Leonila Macuto-Ocampo, President of Asia Pacific Institute for Medication Management and Past President of the Philippine Pharmacists Association, Head Pharmacist Lita Chew of Singapore, and many others like Prof Vivian W. Y. Lee heading the Fapa's Education Bureau.
Dr Salmah said it is imperative that women pharmacists be courageous to go into politics and influence government policies especially in the interest of the profession as well as for public good. Presently there are only two women ministers in the Federal Cabinet.
Prof Vivian Lee, however, said that the profession accords equal opportunities for all through education.
"Pharmacy education is important for the training of capable future pharmacists and is crucial for the clinical pharmacy development.
"We nurture our next generation to be the future leaders of our society, and young people learn and grow academically and morally.
"The impact of university education on the development of students for the future of society cannot be underestimated.
"This is the time when they learn how to be independent and reliable individuals," she said.
"Understanding of patients' behaviour and psychology are paramount in order to achieve good outcomes from medication therapy.
"The concept of behavioural sciences and health psychology are embedded as the fundamental foundation of the field of social pharmacy and it is imperative that this field be taught and nurtured to the future pharmacy practitioners."
The practice of pharmacy, and consequently, the pharmacy curriculum had undergone significant change over the years in response to a rapidly changing economic, political and social environment.
Within this context, the role of the pharmacist now includes more direct interaction with the public in terms of the provision of health information and advice on the safe and rational use of medications.
In order to carry out this function effectively within the society, future pharmacists need to be well prepared on how to deal with patients' behaviour and psychology.
Understanding of patients' behaviour and psychology are paramount in order to achieve good outcomes from medication therapy.
Poor adherence led to increase in returned medications, escalation in healthcare costs, substantial worsening of diseases leading to increased mortality.
According to WHO study on patient medication compliance, 50 per cent of patients do not take their prescribed medication.
There is a need for the continuous training of healthcare providers, and education of patients.
Dispensing errors can harm patients. Hence, Dr Salmah outlined as one of the challenges to overcome was inadequate health literacy and lack of professional knowledge and skills which lead to lack of confidence.
"Health literacy contributes to compliance and safety practices, and differs between developed and developing countries.
"Government policy should incorporate the notion of health literacy into their design of policy with research agendas and research objectives for population health.
"Health professionals should fulfil patients' needs and also foster patients' health literacy.
"Lack of self-improvement calls for improvement on co-curriculum for training in pharmacy schools, and encourage continued professional development.
"We urge the government to implement accessible programmes to upgrade competencies by creating partnership to develop learning programmes, and promote inter and intra professional education and training.
"Developing countries face shortage of manpower which limit expansion of service as listed in 2012 WHO report on pharmacist to population ratio.
Capacity building efforts need to be carried out in all levels with a coordinated approach to forecast pharmacy workforce in order to meet the future healthcare system and the country's needs, she stressed.

Monday, September 22, 2014

MH17: Health Ministry to document forensic experts’ experiences

KUANTAN: The Health Ministry will collect and compile the findings and experiences of its forensic experts involved in the process of identifying Malaysia Airlines (MAS) flight MH17 victims in the Netherlands.
Its director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the valuable information would be documented in a book, which will serve as a reference for high profile cases in the country, as well as to facilitate investigations.
“The opportunity to conduct forensic investigations in the case of flight MH17, that was shot down and crashed in Ukraine, is priceless.
“In this regard we will record our forensic experts’ every activity and role in the investigations.
“I have also urged them to relate their experiences in forensic medical journals,” he told reporters after closing the National Forensic Medicine and Sciences Convention 2014 here, Saturday.
Also present were Pahang Health director Datuk Dr Norhizan Ismail and Forensic Medical Consultant Dr Mohd Shah Mahmood.
Noor Hisham said the Ministry’s forensic officers’ capabilities in conducting the investigations had also impressed other nations.
He also reminded forensic officers in the Ministry, Royal Malaysian Police, and Malaysian Armed Forces against uploading reports and photographs of victims on social media.
He said such actions were an offence under the Medical Act 1971. – Bernama

Health Ministry spends nearly RM20m for dengue advocacy programmes

SHAH ALAM, Sept 21 — The Health Ministry has spent nearly RM20 million since January this year for implementation of various dengue advocacy programmes nationwide.

Its minister, Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam said the programmes were implemented to enhance public awareness on dengue and also as an approach towards reducing dengue cases in the country.
He said a total of 70,000 dengue cases had been reported in the country since January this year.
“Through integrated action by the ministry and various agencies, the number of dengue cases is showing a drop, including in Selangor and Kelantan, which had been recording high number of dengue cases,” he told reporters after attending a health programme for the 1Malaysia Indian Community here today.
On the programme, he said it was to educate and expose the Indian community on early detection of diseases. — Bernama

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Malaysia steps up Ebola screening

PUTRAJAYA - The screening of travellers for Ebola symptoms has been further stepped up at immigration checkpoints to allay fears over the spread of the disease.
Apart from screenings conducted at the country's entry points, Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam said affected countries would also take up exit health screenings.
Malaysian airports will also query travellers coming from high-risk zones in a quarantine area.

Symptoms of Ebola include fever exceeding 38.6 °C, severe headache, muscle pain, vomiting and diarrhoea."Those intending to visit Malaysia from yellow fever zones, such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria, will be asked to produce evidence of vaccinations before they are granted a visa," Dr Subramaniam said to reporters at the ministry here yesterday.
Dr Subramaniam stressed that a person would only be at risk of Ebola if he came into contact with someone who had contracted the disease.
As such, he said it was wrong for news reports to describe the recent hospitalisation of a Zimbabwean student in Kuching as a case of suspected Ebola.
The 24-year-old has been discharged, said Sarawak's Assistant Public Health Minister Datuk Dr Jerip Susil.
The Sarawak Health Department was working closely with the Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre to ensure that the monitoring of travellers were carried out strictly, added Dr Jerip.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Malaysia not slamming door on African students over Ebola fear, says placement firm

PETALING JAYA, Aug 19 — Foreign students from west African countries are still allowed to enter Malaysia despite the rising number of Ebola cases being reported in those nations. 

Education Malaysia Global Services (EMGS), a one-stop centre to handle the enrolment of foreign students in private universities and colleges, said it had not come across cases of students from West African countries whose application had been put on hold or rejected.
EMGS chief executive officer Mohd Yazid Abdul Hamid said all foreign students were screened in their countries of origin and their applications would only be processed once they obtained a clean bill of health.
“When students enter Malaysia, they are screened at our entry points just like everyone else. They also undergo a second medical screening as required by EMGS,” he said
“However, Ebola is not listed in part of our screening tests as it has to be treated differently.”
EMGS has received 6,500 applications from students in West African nations since last year. There have also been 3,500 renewals for west African students over the same period.
“We have active applications from students coming from the concerned region but we have not received any directive from the government to put these students on any waiting list,” Mohd Yazid said.
“We have received directives from the Health Ministry and we have notified all colleges about the virus. We have also informed the colleges to advise returning foreign students to get themselves screened if they develop any signs related to the virus.
“At this point we are focusing on the pre-entry medical tests as it’s all about prevention as we do not want those who have contacted the virus to leave their country.”
He said the agency had also not come across foreign students being stopped at Malaysian airports because of Ebola-related symptoms.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) classifies Ebola as a severe, often fatal illness, with a case fatality rate of up to 90 per cent. It is one of the world’s most virulent diseases.
The infection is transmitted by direct contact with the blood, body fluids and tissues of infected animals or people. Severely ill patients require intensive supportive care. During an outbreak, those at higher risk of infection are health workers, family members and others in close contact with sick people and deceased patients.
According to WHO’s latest data, the death toll has risen to 1,145 in the four afflicted west African countries of Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
The Health Ministry had said in a report that although the probability of Ebola spreading to Malaysia was quite low, it was not taking chances.
The ministry’s director of the disease control division, Dr Chong Chee Kheong, said healthcare personnel in Malaysia were trained and equipped to ensure they were prepared to manage any eventuality of Ebola breaking out in the country.

Fewer places for medicine due to glut of doctors, says ministry

The government has offered places to only 418 brilliant students to take up medical studies (first degree) at public institutions of higher learning for this year's intake.
Deputy Education Minister P.Kamalanathan (pic) said the limited number of offers was meant to control the number of new medical graduates and avoid a flood of new doctors in the employment market.
"A total of 1,163 students with a Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) of 4.00 applied to do medicine, but offers were only made to only 418 of them and the selection was also based on interview results.
"We made this decision following discussions with the Health Ministry and the Malaysian Medical Council (MMC)," he told reporters here today.
He said the others who were not offered medical studies were offered other courses, but related to the field.
He said this in response to complaints by students with CGPA of 4.0 in the Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM) and matriculation who failed to get offer to study medicine.
Kamalanathan advised those who failed to get places at IPTA to appeal to the Education Ministry online at upu.moe.gov.my before August 23.
"A total of 37,467 students have received offers at IPTA, there might be some students who are not happy with their course.
"For them, I suggest they accept the course and register first, then put appeal in writing directly to the university concerned," he added.
The ministry, he said, made sure that all students with CGPA of 4.00 received offers at IPTA for the 2014/2015 academic session. – Bernama, August 18, 2014.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

BP Healthcare wants to take on the big boys

SHAH ALAM: Integrated healthcare services provider BP Healthcare Group has come a long way from when it started out as a clinical laboratory in Ipoh 34 years ago, to the nationwide presence and 1,200 staff it is today. Its director Datuk Chevy Beh (pix), however, says that what it has achieved is only 25% of its target.
" At 100% (of my target), I would have at least 20 hospitals and be controlling the whole value chain in the market - from primary, secondary to tertiary care," he told SunBiz in an interview.
Beh said it aims to expand its five BP Specialist Centres to 20 in three to five years' time and then convert them into hospitals, which is part of its plans to build a chain of hospitals. Each specialist centre costs between RM20 million and RM40 million, depending on location.
"The ultimate game plan is to convert all of it to hospitals and compete with KPJ Healthcare Bhd and Pantai Holdings Bhd. But we are privately held, we have limited funds. We have to be very careful how we expand but we're quite fortunate, we've been in the business for 34 years which gives us a huge head start and we will continue growing at that momentum," he said.
The group currently has five specialist centres in Cheras, Petaling Jaya, Klang, Glenmarie (Shah Alam) and Ipoh. It has two more under renovation in Penang and Johor and it will acquire another two more in Muar and Batu Pahat before the year ends, bringing the total to nine centres.
"It is quite capital intensive but for us we're not going in as greenfield. We have already identified the locations where we want to do up, it's mostly upgrades, sort of like an extension of services. We're pretty confident because it's quite safe, we know the area is doing well, then we expand. We're using our own funds so we make sure everything is well spent. Our funds are a combination of internal generated funds and bank borrowings," said Beh.
He said converting its specialist centres to hospitals would complete its value chain, as it would be able to offer the entire range of health services to its patients instead of referring them to other hospitals. This would also offer convenience and quality, coordinated healthcare to patients.
Besides organic growth, the group is also looking at acquisitions and is looking at buying hospitals to grow faster.
"We're evaluating a couple of hospitals but by year-end we should close at least one hospital acquisition. The cost depends on the asset size, type and maturity of the business - whether it is in growth or distress stage, whether it needs refurbishment; all this will be factored into the pricing of the asset," Beh said.
On overseas expansion, he said the group has been courted by various parties from the region including Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, the Philippines and Vietnam but it has yet to come across any deals that have the right formula or chemistry for the group.
"Not that we don't want to go in…but we want to go in because there's a reason for it. Domestically, I still have so much ample growth opportunity. As I mentioned, from where I am to where I want to be, I'm only 25% there. I still have another 75% to go and I haven't hit that," he said.
He said despite the relationship it has with Red Bull International of Thailand, there have been no concrete plans for a partnership between the two.
"It's a shareholding issue. They need 51%. We don't want to go in and get into trouble after building everything and get taken over. What's the point of doing business that way? It would be better to put money in the bank. A lot of these countries are not very business friendly to foreigners, depending on the industry you're in. Food and beverage is easy but healthcare, like banking, is extremely regulated.
"To put money there for six months with zero revenue or sales, are you going to say, go flood the market? But why flood the market there when there is a gestation period there? Here there's almost no gestation period for us, my branding is so strong here," he added.
Beh said ultimately, it has to have a strong foundation in the local market before expanding overseas.
Last year, the group recorded an additional 800,000 new patients, bringing its total to some three million patients per year, which he said, is more than the total patient load of KPJ and Pantai hospitals combined. Revenue and profit rose 50% and 38% respectively last year.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Health D-G: Don’t practise self-medication blindly

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysians are reminded not to practise self-medication without getting appropriate advice or supervision from professionals.
Health director-general Datuk Seri Noor Hisham Abdullah said it was imperative for patients or individuals to equip themselves with knowledge and understanding of their respective ailments and medication before proceeding to self-medicate.
He noted that some medications could result in complications or side-effects which could lead to organ failure in the long run.
“Even if you have basic understanding of the disease in question, there must be advice or supervision from doctors. If you do it blindly without properly understanding the disease and the medications involved, it can be very dangerous,” he said in a recent interview.
Noor Hisham cautioned that self-administering what might appear to look like simple medication may result in serious complications such as brain failure.
The director-general noted that self-medication was not similar to buying prescribed medicines from doctors or pharmacies.
“Self-medication means no consultation at all, you just order from the internet and take the medicine. You can end up with liver failure, kidney failure and so on,” he said.
He said the worst scenario is to find out that the affected person was in such a serious predicament, at a much later stage. — Bernama

Friday, August 01, 2014

Malaysia uses Muslim drawcard in medical tourism push

Muslim tourists have long chosen Malaysia, its beaches and its malls as a holiday destination thanks to cultural affinity.
Now the Southeast Asian country, where Muslims make up about 60% of the population, wants to parlay its visitor dividend into a bid to overtake its neighbours for the world's medical tourism crown.
It seeks to appeal to less affluent patients with reasonably priced treatments. But figures show it has some ground to make up on Thailand and Singapore in boosting its share of an industry that generates US$38 billion (RM121 billion) to US$55 billion annually.
Malaysia is a new player in the market, competing with experienced, branded names. But it is quickly attracting the attention of patients, earning third place for "best and most affordable healthcare" by International Living, a lifestyle magazine.
"Thailand's pricing is not attractive any more and Singapore can't cope with the flood of patients," said Jacob Thomas, president of the Association of Private Hospitals of Malaysia.
"We are one of the easiest countries to enter. Most foreigners don't need to fill in a landing form."
The number of foreigners seeking care in Malaysia more than doubled over five years to 770,134 in 2013. Most patients are from Indonesia, followed by the Middle East and North Africa, areas with plenty of new money and where healthcare is inadequate or dogged by long waiting lists.
That compares with 850,000 in Singapore in 2012 and nearly 2.5 million last year in Thailand, though that figure includes spa stays and resident expatriates.
Spending by foreign patients totalled US$216 million in 2013, dwarfed by Thailand's US$4.3 billion, again including spa stays.
Medical institutions have promoted cardiology and orthopaedics, areas with high demand in Indonesia and the Gulf states. And the mainstay, according to Patients Beyond Borders, a medical tourism publisher, is health screenings, which account for more than two-thirds of business.
The United Arab Emirates spent over US$2 billion in 2011 to send patients abroad, according to Medical Tourism Guide 2014.
Also being tapped are middle class patients from countries with poor health systems. Kuala Lumpur's Prince Court Medical Centre received almost 2,000 from Libya and more than 1,000 from Iran in 2012.
Cheaper, shorter recovery time
Lower costs, a shorter recovery time and high quality care have helped put Malaysia on the radar.
A heart bypass, at about US$20,000, is less than half the cost in Singapore, and 10% cheaper than in Thailand, Patients Beyond Borders says. Hospital rooms and follow-up treatments are also cheaper.
"Malaysia's strength has been at conducting high-end surgeries like the heart bypass and orthopedic procedures that are done non-invasively, so they don't have to stay too long to recuperate," said Mary Wong, chief executive of the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council, a government agency.
Not all industry players back the low-price strategy.
"The number of people coming in doesn't necessarily translate into higher revenue," said Suresh Ponnudurai, chief executive of private medical travel company Malaysia Healthcare.
"Singapore and Thailand are targeting those who are really wealthy, whereas those who come to Malaysia aren't as wealthy."
Hospitals say most Gulf governments sponsor their citizens to specific countries. But they are more inclined to choose Singapore and Thailand, so persuading patients to switch to Malaysia, regardless of price, has been a challenge.
At least three countries - Kazakhstan, Libya and Oman - already have government-to-government agreements to send patients to Malaysia.
"The way to gain ground is to secure these accounts with government agencies since they are paying for the patients," said Amiruddin Satar, managing director of KPJ Healthcare, one of three big hospital groups.
Still, institutions anticipate an influx of patients.
KPJ Healthcare, along with fellow health giants IHH Healthcare and Ramsay Sime Darby Health Care have sought increased bed allocations for foreigners.
KPJ hopes by 2020 to see the share of its revenue from medical tourism jump to 25% from 4% last year.
To the north, business is still flourishing in Thailand, but the military coup in May has posed a problem for patients whose governments have issued travel advisories.
Thailand had a head start, promoting its services after the 1998 Asian financial crisis, when the value of the baht currency sank. Middle East business rose after the September 11, 2001 attacks on US targets, as patients felt unwelcome in the West.
But competition is also heating up from elsewhere.
South Korea last year flew actor Song Joong Ki, its medical tourism ambassador, to Qatar and the UAE to drum up business. Dubai and Istanbul are also marketing themselves as hubs for Middle East patients reluctant to travel long distances.
Halal treatments
Malaysia is also pursuing a larger share of the Muslim market through halal treatments, which exclude products forbidden under Islamic law, such as those derived from pork.
"For example, insulin, a widely used product in hospitals, we are sure which are bovine or porcine based. Where we can help it, we offer patients halal options," said KPJ's Amiruddin.
Islam allows for the consumption of non-halal ingredients in matters of life and death, but hospital pharmacies inform patients of products that are gelatin and porcine free. That includes offering the drug Dhamotil as a halal option for diarrhoea, instead of the commonly used Imodium.
Hospitals are also using sutures manufactured by a local firm made from lambs slaughtered under Islamic law.
Work is underway to produce the world's first halal vaccines for meningitis and hepatitis by 2017. The target would be Muslim pilgrims going for the Hajj in Saudi Arabia, which requires visitors to be vaccinated for meningitis.
"We realise that if we can come up with halal pharmaceutical products, there's a big market for it," said Jamil Bidin, chief executive of Halal Industry Development Corp.
"As far as Muslims are concerned, if you have a halal product, there's no compromise." – Reuters, July 30, 2014.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Six get new lease of life

PETALING JAYA: Six patients on long term dialysis who are on the national waiting list were given a new lease of life when they became recipients of kidneys.
In disclosing this to theSun, Kuala Lumpur General Hospital (KLGH) nephrology head department Datuk Dr Ghazali Ahmad said the donors were an Australian, Shelley Elizabeth Mahoney, and the rest Malaysians – two from Klang, one from Kota Baru and another from KLGH.
The six patients, among 18,000 on the national waiting list for organ transplant, underwent kidney transplants within the last few days.
Ghazali said two kidneys were from Mahoney, following her family's decision to withdraw her life support after having sustained irreversible brain injuries in a boating accident on June 30.
Another donor was a Malay police officer from Kota Baru who had been certified brain dead earlier due to an infection which damaged his brain.
"By 5.30am, two kidneys were retrieved from him and by daylight, the kidneys were making their way to KLGH for transplant. The team of surgeons, nephrologists (and) transplant coordinators were literally parked (at the) hospital.
Giving the thumbs-up to the entire team and all those who coordinated the transplants, Ghazali said: "These officers gave their best at odd and challenging hours, doing things beyond their normal call of duty like an ER (emergency) team handling a crisis situation during public disasters."
"The only difference is the fact that patients were coming to the hospital with high hopes and anticipation of getting the organs. They were hopeful of permanent relief from the lifelong dialysis procedure.
He concluded that such courageous acts are needed as there are still plenty of patients in need of organs.
"While the country is still reeling in shock in the aftermath of the MH17 incident, when hopes are dashed and despair fills the air, the selfless sacrifice by the grieving family of five individuals … (the donors) were magnanimous in their intention and acts, for they gave rise to new hopes for a better life to the six patients who benefitted from the donated kidneys," said Ghazali.

3,142 dengue cases reported last week

PUTRAJAYA: A total of 3,142 dengue fever cases were reported last week (Week 29), the highest number reported for this year.
Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah(pix) said it was an increase of 978 cases or 45 per cent compared to 2,164 cases the previous week.
"This brings the total number of cases this year to 51,987 compared to 14,755 in the corresponding period last year, an increase of almost 100 percent.
"A total of 94 deaths were reported compared to only 29 deaths last year, an increase of 65 deaths or 224 per cent," he said at a meeting with media practitioners, here today.
The public have been urged to maintain a clean environment, dispose waste properly and destroy mosquito breeding ground to check the rise of dengue cases.
States active in Communication Behaviour (Combi) projects such as Negeri Sembilan, Johor and Melaka had been effective in reducing dengue cases.
"Fogging only kills adult mosquitoes. Breeding grounds for mosquitoes must be destroyed to ensure mosquitoes do not breed in the home environment."
The Ministry of Health had issued compound totalling RM4.5 million nationwide this year on premises owners for breeding mosquitoes.
Dr Noor Hisham said inspections were carried out on a total of 2.5 million premises in which first offenders were compounded RM500.
"Second offenders can be charged in court and fined RM10,000 while repeat offenders can be fined RM50,000 or two years' jail."
He said 80 to 90 per cent of 800 construction sites in Selangor and Federal Territory were found to be Aedes positive.
The offenders were compounded, taken to court and had their operation closed until the areas were cleaned. – Bernama

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Government to carry out feasibility study on dengue vaccine

PETALING JAYA: The Government will carry out a feasibility study on a proposed dengue vaccine that is expected to hit the shelves next year, said Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam. 
He said the ministry was eagerly waiting for the vaccine, which was announced by a private company on Friday and would first be made available to endemic countries.
“This is indeed an exciting news for the ministry and steps have been planned ahead in looking into the feasibility of the dengue vaccine in Malaysia.
“Data analysis and a review on the dengue vaccine will be done by a team of health experts based on the finding of the clinical evidences and the current scientific literature,” he said in a statement Saturday.
Dr Subra said depending on the findings of the study, the ministry would consider the dengue vaccine as a method to prevent the spread of the disease in the country. 
On Friday, it was reported that the vaccine had registered increasing effectiveness during trials in Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Philippines.
Produced by French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccine is touted as the world’s first and is said to be able to boost a person’s pre-existing immunity rather than protective immunity.
However, experts maintain that the results of the trials are promising, but not yet perfect.