Materia Medica Malaysiana

May 31, 2004

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Filed under: Uncategorized — malaysianmedicine @ 6:39 am

Ministry to raise next year’s varsity intake for medicine :

The Star, Malaysia – 22 hours ago
Higher Education Department director Prof Datuk Dr Hassan Said said he would hold discussions with the deans of medical faculties to find ways of increasing the number of places as well as conduct a stock check of what the country needs with the help of the Malaysian Medical Council and the Health Ministry.

“The Government has the money and the infrastructure but the problem is filling the universities with qualified lecturers. There are no takers because many prefer to join the private sector as it pays better. So maybe they have to be put on a different salary scheme to overcome the problem,” he said yesterday.

He was speaking at a briefing for editors of the media on university admission called by the National Economic Action Council (NEAC) and chaired by NEAC special adviser Datuk Rahmah Kassim.

The session was to give the press a clearer picture of the selection process and admission statistics.

Rahmah urged the public to stop looking at the public university admission figures in racial terms as entry was now based on merit.

The Star highlighted on Friday that 128 STPM and matriculation students who obtained the maximum Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) of 4.0 failed to get a place in medicine, their first choice. Only 779 out of 907 top students who applied were successful.

On a long-term plan to train teaching staff for the medical faculties, Prof Hassan said: “We have schemes like the four-year specialist courses to train these people but no one wants to join them, so we cannot solve the problem.”

He said the shortage of places for medicine had been a problem for some years, adding that although land for institutions, infrastructure and teaching hospitals were easily available, hiring good lecturers remained the stumbling block.

To a question, the professor said hiring foreign lecturers would be an option to be considered.

On the salary of lecturers and medical specialists, he said it came under the Public Services Department. However, the matter was discussed at a meeting with medical deans recently but had not been brought to the policymakers.

“By next year, we expect the number of top scorers to increase. So we have to take stock of the situation, see how many doctors we need, look at our strengths and weaknesses.

“We have to look at the complete picture and then bring the recommendations to the Higher Education Minister who will take it to a higher level,” he said.

Prof Hassan said he sympathised with the plight of top students who had the grade but could not get into medicine. The 5% increase in the number of places this year was already the maximum the faculties could absorb without compromising the quality of the course.

“The universities are particular about this. There must be a ratio of one lecturer to six students. You can’t have more students without more lecturers.” he said.

He added that the Government was already subsidising 95% of the fees or RM55,000 per year per student.

He urged top scorers not to give up on their ambition to become doctors but to appeal through the universities as well as explore other means.

Those with a high CGPA who failed to get a course of their choice should apply for scholarships offered by the Public Services Department (PSD) and study loans by the National Higher Education Fund Corporation, he added.

The PSD will advertise its scholarships next month.

When asked to comment on public feedback that it was unfair to equate matriculation with STPM, he said the two were equated based on learning outcomes.

He added that although the matriculation programme was a year-long programme and Form Six a year-and-a-half, they were comparable based on what the students had learned during the course of their study, in terms of teaching hours and assignments.

“Matriculation enrols only the best students, those with a string of As. STPM is open to all,” Prof Hassan said, explaining why there were a high number of top scorers from the matriculation programme.

Of the 1,774 Science students who achieved the 4.0 CGPA, 1,247 were from matriculation.

Among those from matriculation, 789 were bumiputras, 419 Chinese and 39 Indians. Non-bumiputras comprised 10% of the total number of students in matriculation.

[Google News Search: malaysia medical]

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Filed under: Uncategorized — malaysianmedicine @ 6:35 am

Medical faculties lack lecturers

New Straits Times:
There are simply not enough lecturers at local medical faculties to cope with the demand for more places. And this situation is likely to persist for the foreseeable future. What this means is that straight-A students are still going to face rejection in the future.

Education Ministry Higher Education Department director Datuk Prof Dr Hassan Said said this trend would most probably continue in future, as demand outstripped the availability of medical seats in such institutions every year.

Responding to disappointment this year among top students unable to secure medical seats in local public universities, he said the bar was being raised for entry into specific faculties every year.

A total of 128 of 907 students with 4.0 cumulative grade point averages were unsuccessful in their bid for medical seats, and allocated seats in other faculties.

Of the 779 successful candidates, 439 (56.4 per cent) were Malays, 297 (38.1 per cent) Chinese and 43 (5.5 per cent) Indians.

Hassan said the medical faculty’s lowest CGPA last year was 3.88, adding that it was 3.94 this year compared to 3.83 last year for pharmacy, and 3.50 this year for law year compared to 3.38 last year.

He said the Government was not willing to compromise on the quality of medical students by increasing seats in medical faculties without a corresponding increase in lecturers.

The ministry also wanted to maintain the current 1:6 medical student-lecturer ratio, which was the most equitable for the country, he added.

Hassan said this at a briefing for editors organised by the National Economic Action Council at the Ministry of Higher Education, following complaints today from top non-Malay students over their failure to obtain seats in medical faculties in local public universities.

The general unhappiness with the meritocracy system was a repeat of last year, where a number of non-Malay science students who performed well did not get medical seats.

He said the ministry was taking stock of the nation’s long-term need for doctors, and working with the Health Ministry and the Malaysian Medical Council on incentives for more medical lecturers.

Hassan said unsuccessful candidates, including those who had applied for medical seats, could lodge appeals with the department “as the door is not closed yet, as a few may not accept offers”.

Appeals will have to be submitted by June 7.

Another option was to apply for Public Service Department scholarships, to be advertised in local newspapers next month, which also allow study at private medical institutions.

Hassan advised students to be realistic when applying for university courses by providing alternative choices of courses.

On overall entry into universities this year, he said 72,199 of the 85,966 who applied managed to obtain places.

Of this, 73.3 per cent (52,914) were Bumiputeras, 20.7 per cent (14,923) were Chinese and six per cent (4,362) were Indians.

Bumiputera performance improved by 1.2 per cent, Chinese fell by 1.9 per cent and Indians improved by 0.7 per cent, he added.

Successful applicants will have to register at designated universities on June 13 [Google News Search: malaysia medical]

May 30, 2004

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Filed under: Uncategorized — malaysianmedicine @ 3:56 pm

POISON CONTROL: The tobacco lobby and its tall, tall tales

TOBACCO companies have always insisted that their products contribute to the economic well-being of tobacco-growing countries.

This is not the case. In fact, the opposite is true, for tobacco increases poverty. This will be among the facts and figures that will be released tomorrow, World No-Tobacco Day.

Aptly, the theme this year is “Tobacco and Poverty: A vicious circle.”

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), tobacco is the fourth most common risk factor in diseases worldwide.

It is a leading cause of death in Malaysia, incurring high public health costs in treating tobacco-related diseases.

It deprives families of breadwinners and nations of a healthy workforce.

Moreover, on average, the expenditure of households, especially the poor, on tobacco products (estimated between four and five per cent of all their disposable income) diverts scarce resources away from many basic needs of the families.

These include food and other essential needs such as nutrition and even schooling.

In cases where family members are deprived of schooling, tobacco-induced poverty is perpetuated. It has been observed that individuals with no schooling are more likely (seven times in the case of China, five times in Brazil) to smoke than those with tertiary education.

Thus the vicious cycle of poverty continues.

So too, when family members are deprived of food, leaving them open to malnutrition which causes further “unnecessary” health expenditure.

Malnutrition can be easily averted if money is spent only on food and not wasted on cigarettes.

In Bangladesh, for example, more than 10 million people need not suffer malnutrition if 60 per cent of the money spent on tobacco is spent on food instead.

The situation worsens when tobacco users and families become prone to some form of illnesses, reducing their productivity.

In a 1994 report, WHO estimated that the use of tobacco resulted in an annual global net loss of at least US$200 billion (RM760 billion).

A third of this loss is attributed to developing countries, like Malaysia, one of the countries said to suffer a negative balance of trade in tobacco products of over US$100 million.

Generally, 75 per cent of tobacco users worldwide are in developing countries, spurred by the neglect of tobacco control, and readily exploited by the tobacco industry.

In stark contrast to the decline in tobacco use in many developed countries in recent years, the reverse is the case in developing and under-developed countries.

Of the 5.7 billion cigarettes smoked each year, 60 per cent are lit up in developing countries.

But more and more governments, development agencies and donors are beginning to realise the wide-ranging implications of tobacco use, that they go far beyond health to include poverty.

In addition, as far back as 1999, in a report entitled “Curbing the Epidemic, Governments and the Economics of Tobacco Control”, the World Bank “systematically and scientifically demolished doomsday scenarios of economic loss that have deterred policy-makers from taking action”.

This effectively rebuts claims by the tobacco industry and its lobbyists that policies directed at reducing the demand for tobacco (such as to increase tobacco taxes) would cause long-term job losses.

All along, the industry has fooled policy makers into believing that implementing policies unfavourable to the industry will harm the economy.

But the fact is that tobacco actually drives the vicious poverty circle as articulated in this year WTND theme. Not to mention other forms of “poverty”.

For example, planting tobacco results in nutrients being leached from the soil, and it also poisons the soil because of the high level of pesticides and fertilisers used.

Tobacco growing generally harms the environment as indicated in a recent study that assessed the amount of forest and woodland consumed annually for curing tobacco.

It was concluded that nearly five per cent of overall deforestation in tobacco growing countries was due to tobacco cultivation.

It is evident thus that tobacco not only impoverishes the users and their families, but also damages the environment.

It puts undue strains on national financial and human resources, resulting in increased health-care costs, lost productivity due to illness, misery and early death.

It is therefore clear that the Malaysian Government has no choice but to act immediately to change its tobacco policies. The country has been bleeding economically with millions of its citizens senselessly caught up in the addiction.

The industry must be treated with suspicion when it lobbies for favours. Indeed, the World Bank has argued that the claims and data used by the industry thus far “greatly misrepresent the effects of tobacco control policies”.

More compelling still, the Government needs to send a very positive signal that it is serious in its efforts to further eradicate poverty.

It would be a most embarrassing contradiction if the “poverty-causing” and “poverty-sustaining” tobacco industry, as WHO has described it, is given “licence” to perpetuate poverty.

To help eliminate poverty is to break the vicious poverty circle which tobacco use helps to perpetuate. This is best done by eliminating tobacco use.

* The writer is the Vice-Chancellor of Universiti Sains Malaysia. He can be reached at vc@usm.my

Recommended site: http://www.wpro.who.int/tfi/wntd2004.cfm

May 29, 2004

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Filed under: Uncategorized — malaysianmedicine @ 6:08 pm

Doc: Our blood supply is safe

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has a safe blood supply but risky donors continue to test the system, said National Blood Centre director Dr Yasmin Ayob.

“Malaysia is one of the countries that puts safe blood supply as a priority and it has attained international standards as far as making our donated blood safe,” she said yesterday.

Donated blood is currently screened for four diseases – HIV, Hepatitis B and C, and syphilis.

Safe blood is defined as that which is not contaminated by viruses, parasites, drugs, alcohol or other material that could endanger a recipient.

“Only safe donors should donate blood,” she added.

Contaminated blood, which constituted about 2.5% of donated blood, came from risky blood donors such as injecting drug users or those with multiple sex partners, said Dr Yasmin.

She appealed to such people not to donate blood and not to use the donation process to get a free blood test.

“A few of them who come to donate are actually coming to see if they are infected with hepatitis or HIV. Maybe it’s easier than going to a doctor and having to answer uncomfortable questions.

“If a positive reading is found, we send them letters asking them to report to the bank so that we can run another test. But they don’t respond. Then they turn up at another place as donors and we send them another letter. This is irritating and uses up a lot of our time. It’s a problem throughout the country,” she said.

Speaking at a press conference to announce the World Blood Donor Day set for June 14, Dr Yasmin said that the National Blood Centre’s ongoing programmes among the youth appear to have borne fruit as the bulk of donors are aged between 20 and 25. One third of all blood donors are students, she said.

Last year, 98,936 people donated blood at the centre and mobile units, up from 96,673 in 2002.

Dr Yasmin said that the inaugural worldwide celebration was introduced to thank individuals who voluntarily donated blood without reward.

“The focus is on youth because we need a continuous supply of blood. We need healthy people to donate blood,” she said.

The inaugural World Blood Donor Day celebration at the centre will be attended by Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek.

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Intake of medical students into IPTAs need to be studied

PENANG May 28 – Every year, about 300 doctors who have completed their housemanship resign from public service because they find themselves not cut out for a medical career, Deputy Health Minister Datuk Dr Abdul Latiff Ahmad said Friday.

He said students’ interest, comprehension and exposure to the duties of a doctor should be considered before they are allowed to pursue medical courses at public institutions of higher learning to prevent them from making wrong career choices.

“This profession differs from others because it is based on skill and the ability to combine both the arts and sciences,” he told reporters after opening the sixth Malaysian Islamic Medical Association’s (PPIM) scientific meeting here.

Therefore, Dr Abdul Latiff said, public universities should re-examine the method of student selection into medical courses because not all students with excellent academic results would make dedicated doctors.

He said another factor encouraging doctors to leave the public service was the salary, which was much lower than that paid by the private sector.

However, he said, the trend was getting less popular because the quality of the public service had improved and private practices no longer promised the high returns it once did a decade ago.

“There are also those (doctors) who resign from the public sector because of the difficulty in getting promotion. Consequently, the government has suggested setting up a Medical Services Commission so that the promotion process for doctors in the public service differs from other civil servants’,” he said.

He said the government needed to prepare a long term plan to encourage doctors and specialists to continue serving in the public sector by providing them various facilities.

For the long run, he said, the government must set up many more medical faculties, including in public institutions for higher learning which previously did not offer medical courses, to cater for a ratio of one doctor to every 800 patients (1:800) by the year 2020. The current ratio is 1:1,400.

Dr Abdul Latiff said the number of Malay doctors had also increased and according to the year 2002 statistics, there were now 5,346 Malay doctors or 40 percent compared to 4,151 Chinese doctors or 31 percent and 3,546 Indian doctors or 29 percent.

May 28, 2004

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Filed under: Uncategorized — malaysianmedicine @ 1:58 pm

128 top scorers fail to get into medical school

KUALA LUMPUR: As many as 128 students with top grades for their STPM and matriculation examinations failed to get into medicine in public universities because of the stiff competition and the limited number of places available.

Among the sciences, competition for the 779 places for medicine was the toughest – 14% of applicants with the maximum Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) of 4.0 who put medicine as their first choice did not get a place.

Many students with excellent results also failed to get into other competitive science courses like dentistry and pharmacy because of the higher cut-off points this year, partly due to a spillover of students who missed the cut for medicine.

This year, an amazing number of students – 1,774 – obtained the maximum CGPA, and more than half of them applied to do medicine

Higher Education Department director Prof Datuk Dr Hassan Said attributed the keen competition to the high number of top scorers in last year’s STPM (Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia) examination and matriculation programme.

“The cut-off point for medicine is 4.0 this year compared to 3.88 last year. This shows how well students have to do to secure a place,” he told reporters when announcing university admission figures yesterday.

This is despite the fact that the number of places for medicine has increased from 744 last year to 779 this year, or up by almost 5%. Of those offered places to do medicine, 439 are bumiputras, 297 Chinese and 43 Indians.

The cut-off point for pharmacy has also gone up from a CGPA of 3.83 last year to 3.94 this year; dentistry from 3.78 to 3.94; and law from 3.38 to 3.50.

Under the merit system for admission into public universities introduced two years ago, STPM and matriculation students are put on the same master list and students with the best results will gain admission into the respective courses. They have to indicate eight choices in order of preference in their application forms.

Of the 85,966 students who applied for admission into 14 public universities, 84% qualified for entry based on the minimum requirement of 2.0 CGPA but only 45% were offered places. Out of the 38,892 students offered places, 63.8% are bumiputras, 30.3% Chinese and 5.9% Indians.

There were marginal increases in the number of places offered to bumiputras and Indians but a slight decline in the number of places offered to Chinese students.

“We have also achieved our target of obtaining a 60:40 science to arts ratio in public universities,” Prof Hassan said, adding that 60.8% of the enrolment was for courses in the sciences and 39.2% in the arts.

A very high percentage of Chinese students – 84% – who applied for places in the sciences were successful, compared to 58.7% for bumiputras and 60.2% for Indians.

Elaborating on the merit system, Prof Hassan said in cases where students’ CGPAs were tied, their individual component papers would be taken into consideration

“If there is still a tie, we will consider their participation in extra-curricular activities.

“In a scenario where even their extra-curricular activities are equal, then we will look at their SPM grades.”

Commenting on the common complaints from students that they were not offered courses of their choice, he said there were many applicants who applied for courses that required a higher CGPA than what they had.

“If you list medicine as five of your eight choices then you may be offered other courses if your CGPA or papers do not meet the cut-off point,” Prof Hassan said.

He advised students to be wise when selecting a course of study as the cut-off points applied to courses, regardless of universities.

This meant that if a student did not meet the grade for a particular course and had it listed as five of his options, then only the three remaining options would be considered.

Often, he added, students with good results were given a course that they did not apply for if they failed to meet the cut-off point for their choices. Their course would be based on what any of the universities wished to offer them.

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Asia food-safety conference addresses avian flu

Seremban, Malaysia-AP — Countries in Asia are pledging to produce and handle food more carefully to curb diseases such as avian flu.
But delegates at a U-N-backed food safety conference in Malaysia failed to determine how governments can better disclose information about outbreaks.

The renewed spread of bird flu in northern Thailand is underscoring concerns about not only the health consequences of such diseases — but also their financial impacts and other consequences.

Bird flu is among Asia’s biggest recent public health emergencies. The disease originates in chickens. Officials say it’s not spread by eating chicken, but by people who handle the birds in production.

May 26, 2004

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Filed under: Uncategorized — malaysianmedicine @ 2:33 pm

Compulsory service plan

UTRAJAYA: Allied Health Science graduates like optometrists, dieticians, pharmacists, speech therapists and physiotherapists may have to sign up for compulsory service with the Government to reduce the shortage of professionals in their respective fields.

Higher Education Minister Datuk Dr Shafie Mohd Salleh said serious measures had to be taken as Health Ministry statistics showed that by next year, there would be a shortage of 49,000 health service professionals in 13 fields.

“As research in this area of health and allied sciences continues to intensify, so does the demand for human resource.

However, it is estimated that by 2005, the country will see a deficit of 49,000 health science professionals that are integral for our health services sector,” he told reporters after opening the fifth Symposium on Health Sciences, organised by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, yesterday.

“Local university dons have come up with a list of proposals which my ministry is scrutinising. Among the main propositions are that graduates in these areas do a compulsory service stint and be offered a better pay scheme and incentives. There is a suggestion for the creation of a professional body for health service professionals,” said Dr Shafie at the Marriott Hotel here yesterday.

Courses in allied health sciences include Biomedicine, Optometry, Food Science, Dietetics, Pharmacy, Audiology, Speech Therapy, Diagnostic Imaging and Radiotherapy, Physiotherapy, Environmental Health, Occupational Therapy and Psychology.

Dr Shafie said that although allied health sciences were relatively new in Malaysia, it was becoming increasingly popular and relevant not just locally but internationally.

“Health delivery now is not dependent on the doctor alone but is very much a team effort. We do not want Malaysia to be left behind in this area; we have to intensify our research in allied health sciences. Public universities must also offer courses that are relevant and build partnerships with private companies and agencies,” he said.

The minister also urged universities to use traditional plants and herbs in their research in the health and allied health sciences.

“Researchers should make use of our traditional herbs and plants which have a lot of natural healing properties. We should use them and patent them before they either become extinct or are used by foreign researchers,” he said.

May 25, 2004

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Private Hospital Wings Won’t Ease Health Woes – Critics

PENANG, Malaysia, May 24 (IPS) – The Malaysian government’s plan to set up private commercial wings in government-run hospitals to stem the brain drain of doctors to the private sector has come under fire.

Health Minister Dr Chua Soi Lek said a committee, tasked to look into the idea, would come up with a working model within two months. Patients would pay ”reasonable charges” for better facilities at the private wings, such as private rooms with attached bathrooms and television.

The reaction to the plan was swift. ”It is clear that our under-financed government health care will become even less available to the poor,” said Dr Chan Chee Khoon, coordinator of the Citizens’ Health Initiative.

He warned that private wings in state hospitals would lead to human and material resources being reallocated to serve the dictates of the health care market – including ”health tourism” – rather than the needs of the poor

At present, a nominal fee is imposed for treatment in crowded open wards while a higher, though still subsidised, charge is billed for more spacious rooms in general hospitals. Some 80 to 85 percent of Malaysian in-patients obtain treatment in general hospitals.

The proposal for private wings in general hospitals first came in 1997 from the Section Concerning House Officers, Medical Officers and Specialists of the Malaysian Medical Association (SCHOMOS MMA), the body representing government medical doctors.

The aim was to allow government doctors to do private practice to supplement their relatively low salaries. The health ministry however deemed the plan not practical.

The MMA kept the issue alive, believing that limited private practice would help to retain senior and trained staff in the public sector. It felt that doctors, the government and patients would all benefit from this scheme.

In 1999, the MMA brought the matter up with then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and senior health officials were said to be keen on having the proposal implemented by June 2004.

Chua pointed out that 40 percent of the 1,200 positions for specialists and 25 percent of the 10,000 medical-specialist posts had not been filled – a critical shortage. The public-private mix has already been introduced in a few hospitals such as the University Hospital (UH) and the National Heart Institute (IJN) to plug the brain drain to the private sector.

”It has been a disaster so far,” said Dr T Jayabalan, advisor on health care issues to the Consumers Association of Penang.

Drug, procedure, and laboratory charges at the UH has soared, he said. What’s more, ”the IJN is probably the costliest place for heart surgery”, he noted. ”The waiting time for heart patients who are unable to afford surgery could be two years or more.”

Some government doctors who once supported the private wings proposal are having reservations. ”We know among ourselves that there are guys who will abuse it,” said a senior doctor at a government hospital who declined to be named, citing the fear of repercussions.

He said the proposal appears to be targeted at patients who would otherwise go to private hospitals. But in practice, he pointed out that the private wings could end up siphoning patients from the public section of the general hospitals by baiting them with shorter waiting times and superior care.

The key issue is underfunding of public health care, a subject rarely discussed openly in Malaysia.

Expenditure on public health care as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product has traditionally hovered at around 3 percent – well short of the five to six percent proposed by the World Health Organisation. Underfunding is responsible for inadequate facilities, long waiting lists and low salaries.

In the Penang General Hospital, for example, the waiting time for patients needing a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) brain scan can be up to five months.

Underfunding also means that government doctors remain underpaid — despite their heavy workload. Medical officers routinely see some 150 outpatients a day, when the ideal should be not more than 50.

Such conditions have led to an exodus of staff, prompting the government to hire expatriate Asian and Middle Eastern doctors – and this in turn creates resentment among local government physicians.

The declining standard of nursing care also plagues the health system. ”It is quite common to enter a ward and see patients with soiled clothes and (intravenous) drips running dry,” said Cecilia, an experienced health care worker. ”It is also common to see groups of nurses chit-chatting merrily away while the sick yearn for help.”

At the Penang Hospital for instance, nurses expect visiting family members to change the soiled clothes of bedridden patients and feed them during mealtimes. Services like cleaning, facilities maintenance and the catering of meals for patients have been privatised – leading in some cases to lack of accountability and conflicting responsibilities.

At mealtimes at the hospital, attendants from the private catering firm merely leaves the meal trays at patients’ bedside. An hour later, they come around to collect the trays – whether the patient has touched the food or not.

In one incident, Xavier, an elderly bedridden patient, was unable to sit up and reach for his tray. When the attendant returned and collected the untouched food, it was pointed out to him that the patient had not yet eaten.

The worker merely shrugged his shoulders and said: ”It’s the nurse’s job to see that he is fed. Mine is just to serve the food and collect the utensils after mealtimes. I have to account for each and every item of cutlery – anything missing gets deducted from my wages.”

But one of the more diligent nurses flitting around from patient to patient is Siti. Asked about the indifferent attitude of some of her colleagues, she sighed: ”You have to be like a Florence Nightingale. You have to think about how you would like to be treated if you were in their (the patients’) position.”

Said Siti: ”Many of my colleagues – they are here because they can’t find jobs elsewhere. Their hearts are not in it – it’s just a means of earning a living for them.” (END/2004)

May 24, 2004

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Cleric refuses to bar AIDS victims from marrying

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) – An Islamic religious leader has refused to bar some 3,000 Muslims suffering from HIV/AIDS from marrying despite fears that the disease could spread to their offspring, a report said Sunday.

The Malay-language Berita Minggu said a health department officer in central Perak state had approached chief cleric Harussani Zakaria to block the state’s AIDS victims from tying the knot by the end of this year.

But Zakaria told the newspaper that the Islamic department would not reject their marriages because this could encourage the couples to have illicit sex.

“We don’t have the power to stop anyone from marrying even though they could endanger the health of another person,” he said, adding that only the father of a woman who is still a virgin could block the wedding.

State health department officials declined to comment, saying they had to verify reports that 3,000 AIDS sufferers were getting married.

In southern Johor state, the Islamic religious department had in November 2001 introduced pre-nuptial HIV testing for Muslim men before marriage to check the spread of infection, the newspaper said.

Malaysian AIDS Council President Marina Mahathir was quoted by the Sunday Star as saying the AIDS problem was getting more serious, and that Malaysia had 51,256 reported HIV/AIDS victims, including 6,978 new cases.

Activists have cited deep-rooted reticence about discussing sex and a reluctance to admit the existence of a problem as obstacles to Malaysia’s fight against HIV/AIDS.

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