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.