Materia Medica Malaysiana

June 29, 2004

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Filed under: Uncategorized — malaysianmedicine @ 1:16 pm

Few of 128 scorers accept offers to medical schools

PETALING JAYA: Only a few of the 99 top scorers given places in private medical schools have taken up the offers despite the government’s favourable loan terms.

As of Sunday, the deadline for registration, the schools saw tepid response from the students, some of whom have opted to accept the initial offers of places to study non-medical courses at public universities.

However, all 29 of those offered places at public universities have registered for their courses.

Deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Fu Ah Kiow was clearly upset that the students had rejected the offers because they were unhappy with the terms of the loan.

“Nowhere else can they expect a loan with the very low interest rate of 3% and a 15-year repayment period. We have also made it very clear that the loans may be converted into scholarships if their performance is equivalent to a first-class degree.

“The only thing we have yet to disclose is the classification of ‘excellent’ for medical degrees. However, this should not be a factor in their decision to accept or reject the places,” he said, adding that the ministry was in the midst of finalising the number of students who had accepted the offers.

Fu was speaking to reporters yesterday after witnessing the presentation of ISO 9001:2000 certification to the International University College of Technology Twintech.

Only four of the 50 students provided places in the Allianze College of Medical Sciences in Penang have accepted the offers.

The college’s president and chief executive officer Datuk Dr Ishak Thamby Chik said 23 had rejected the offers while the other 23 had not even responded.

“It is very disappointing because everyone, from the Government to the colleges, has bent over backwards for these students. We turned away many other applicants because the ministry had asked us to accommodate these 50.

“We even sent out our offer letters by express post,” he said.

Most of those who rejected the offers, Dr Ishak added, wanted a guarantee that their loans would be converted to scholarships.

“How can they have a guarantee when they have not even started the course? If they want to study medicine so much, they should accept the offer and work hard for it to be made a scholarship,” he said.

International Medical University marketing and communications manager Ooi Lay Tin said students had delayed registering at the university because of uncertainty over the loans.

“A total of 17 students responded to our offer and passed our entrance interview. However, none have confirmed their acceptance as they are waiting for details on the financing,” she said.

At the Asian Institute of Medicine, Science and Technology, only two of five students have taken up the places offered.

“Another two rejected us and we have not heard from the fifth. I think the two who rejected our offers have decided to take up the initial offers to study Dentistry and Pharmacy at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia,” said an admissions officer from the college.

On another issue, Fu said the ministry had set up a committee headed by secretary-general Datuk Adham Baba to look at its role within the National Integrity Plan. He, however, declined to disclose further details as discussion was still at an early stage.

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Filed under: Uncategorized — malaysianmedicine @ 1:14 pm

UMMC service a boon to organ transplants

KUALA LUMPUR: The University Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) has developed and made available a service that will help improve Malaysia’s transplant programme involving major organs like kidney, heart and liver by identifying potential recipients according to risk.

The service involves measuring a potential recipient’s reaction to a type of protein, known as anti-human leucocyte antigents (anti-HLA), which is unique and different for each individual, much like a person’s fingerprint.

A computer can read the reaction between the potential recipient’s antibodies and the proteins.

Prof Dr S.Y. Tan, consultant nephrologist and transplant physician of UMMC’s Renal Unit said the measurement of these anti-HLA antibodies, also known as Panel Reactive Antibodies (PRA), is important as it helped to identify patients who have greater risk of rejection before and following a transplant.

“The most important and well-proven use of the PRA test is its ability to identify high risk patients who would then be given a higher ranking on the waiting list as the chances of finding a suitable matching donor is reduced compared to low risk patients,” he said.

Prof Tan
“There is also evidence that monitoring a patient’s PRA after transplantation could help identify patients who may subsequently develop rejection even when they have been classified as low risk prior to transplantation.

“It, therefore, is able to predict to some extent whether the patient will do well or not after a transplant because the main complication is organ rejection,” says Tan, who heads UMMC’s Renal Unit.

He said a major challenge for transplant physicians is the choice of drugs to be used to reduce rejection.

“Drugs which provide maximum protection against rejection, are, generally more powerful, more expensive, and may have more side effects. The use of such drugs, however, may be necessary and justifiable.

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Filed under: Uncategorized — malaysianmedicine @ 6:25 am

Medical insurers drop plan for policy-holders to bear part cost

MEDICAL insurers has dropped a proposal requiring medical policy-holders to bear part of the cost incurred in a medical treatment due to the improving claims ratio.

“We have decided not to purse with the proposal and it is now up to each company to pursue the plan on their own ,” said Sonny Tan, chairman of a joint committee on medical insurance.

The joint committee was represented by members of the National Insurance Association of Malaysia, General Insurance Association of Malaysia and Life Insurance Association of Malaysia .

Tan, who is also the deputy chief executive officer of Pacific Insurance (M) Bhd, said claims ratio had been brought down to about 70% in the first quarter of this year. Pacific Insurance is one of the leading medical insurers in the country.

The claim situation was better for individual medical policy but remain high under group policy, he said.

The improving claims ratio had enabled most insurers to break even or even make some profits, a big improvement from the previous year, he said.

Another factor which contributed to the marked improvement in claims ratio for medical insurance was the higher premium charges by insurers, following the approval by Bank Negara in April last year, he said.

Given the improving scenario, the joint committee had taken steps to make medical insurance more viable and accessible in the future, said Tan.

“We have met with the central bank last week to coordinate and standardise the term used in medical policy to ensure that policy-holders do not get confused about their insurance coverage,” he said.

The changes would take effect immediately and would ensure that policy-holders understand the protection they would receive for the amount of premium paid.

June 28, 2004

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Filed under: Uncategorized — malaysianmedicine @ 7:34 am

Jakim teams up with ministry to promote organ donation

MALACCA: The Department of Islamic Advancement (Jakim) has agreed to a request by a Health Ministry committee to get imam to talk on organ donation during Friday sermons.

Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye, who chairs the ministry’s public education committee on organ donation, said Jakim had agreed in principle to this request after the panel sent a letter on the issue to the department in January.

He said the move would help increase the awareness of organ donation among Muslims.

Currently, Muslims make up just 8.9% of some 78,150 people who have pledged to donate their organs. Among the others, 66.3% were Chinese, 21.8% Indians and 2.9% others.

Jakim was drawing up the text of the planned sermon, which would be released to imam nationwide, Lee told reporters after launching an organ donation seminar at the Malacca-Manipal College here yesterday.

The committee would hold similar campaigns in rural areas, starting in Sepang, Selangor, in September.

A Jakim official from Putrajaya, Ustaz Asmawi Umar, said it was all right for non-Muslims to donate their organs to Muslims, and vice versa.

“There is no restriction on this,” he said.

A medical transplant co-ordinator, Dr Sahimi Sulaiman, cited the experience of Saudi Arabia in the field of organ transplants.

He said the Saudis started their programme in 1986 and over the next two years recorded 950 kidney donors, 165 heart donors and 163 liver donors.

Malaysia, which started organ transplants in 1976, only had 43 kidney donors and four heart donors up to 1988, he said.

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Filed under: Uncategorized — malaysianmedicine @ 6:47 am

Bio-piracy and law of jungle

HAVE you heard the story about the pharmaceutical giant and the delicate flowering plant? It is an oft-quoted tale but one worth repeating.

In the early 1950s, following clues from indigenous medicine men in Madagascar, researchers at Eli Lilly pharmaceuticals extracted two powerful cancer-fighting alkaloids from the rosy periwinkle: vinblastine and vincristine. Global sales of the two substances, patented by Eli Lilly, earned it hundreds of millions of dollars, but not a sen went to Madagascar or the medicine men.

A notorious example in a long history of such incidences, the rosy periwinkle case would today be termed bio-piracy. It put tropical countries, home to much of the world’s biodiversity, on high alert and cleanly divided them from the developed countries, which had the capital and capability to turn resources like plants, into life-saving, money-making medicines. The divide has also marked India’s long war to rescue extracts of neem and tumeric from being patented by biotechnology powerhouses who know it as a medicinal plant, not a part of life. Years after the end of Eli Lilly’s patent, the rosy periwinkle story and others like it serve as cautionary tales for resource-rich countries competing for biotech dollars — countries like Malaysia. Earlier this month, Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Dr Jamaludin Jarjis met industry players at Bio 2004, the biotech industry’s annual conference and exhibition.

He was part of the Malaysian delegation to San Francisco, looking to attract possible partnerships in the field and investments in Malaysia.

The companies that did show an interest were the world’s biggest biotech group, Amgen, another pharmaceutical giant, Chiron, and Novartis, which ranked seventh on the US Top 10 Sellers of Prescription Drugs in 2003.

Among resources on offer to investors were excellent facilities at competitive rates, support agencies, a strong information-technology base and our tropical rainforest.

The offer of such a precious and depleting resource seemed the sort of thing that should make us dizzy with paranoia but apparently not, says Forest Research Institute Malaysia director-general Datuk Dr Abdul Razak Mohd Ali.

Taking a practical view to things he says, we are already losing such resources to thieves masquerading as tourists, who pick up a leaf or shoot and take it home for testing. “That’s all they need. They don’t need a kilo.” Furthermore, FRIM has long been receiving requests for samples, from institutions with offers of payment, but FRIM has refused. “If they (the institutions) discover something and patent it, we would stand to lose a lot.

“It is better to bring them here in an organised manner, sign good agreements and have our researchers participate in the project.” Technology Park Malaysia’s chief executive officer Datuk Salleh Ismail thinks along the same lines. He believes setting up a biodiversity centre in Raub to bio prospect and conduct research, is just about being systematic and organised.

Located within minutes of a tropical forest reserve, the centre will have a resource centre, herbarium, offices for research and development activities and on-site laboratories for analysing and processing samples.

Research here will be focused on rare medicinal plants, particularly those reputed for their anti-cancer properties. About 12 have been identified and research will soon begin, says TPM.

In the near future, the centre could be opened to expeditionary scientists, both local and foreign, to utilise it as a base out in the fields, while they conduct key research. Are we declaring open season on our genetic resources? Salleh was asked, and he said “no”.

“Drug discovery no longer means going down the jungle track. For big research institutions, it is all about work in laboratories.

“Malaysia though, must also not miss the opportunity to explore the treasures for ourselves.” Salleh concedes that things could go wrong but says that not all scientists are thieves.

TPM will require institutions carrying out research at Raub to sign agreements and register each sample they take out of the forest. He adds that TPM, already big on biotech research, will carry on with its programmes whether foreign researchers come or not, he says.

At the Raub centre, TPM researchers will have help from indigenous people. A storehouse of information on the healing power of herbs, the history of drug discovery is replete with stories of their knowledge being sought but rarely compensated.

This traditional knowledge system is not recognised by existing laws, says University of Malaya law lecturer Gurdial Singh Nijar. Co-editor of Indigenous People’s Knowledge Systems and Protecting Biodiversity, Gurdial says allowing corporations to use this knowledge and own it with intellectual property rights means marginalising alternative knowledge systems.

The knowledge, he points out, is as essential as the plants and herbs are. One is useless without the other. Recognising it in law, ensures it is preserved.

Another concern raised following Malaysia’s offer to foreign biotech firms, was that Malaysia is without a national biotechnology policy.

In an exclusive interview with New Straits Times last week, Jamaludin assured that one such policy was in the works. However, pulling in investors before setting down goals and strategies, raises the question of whether we know where we are headed and how we want to handle problematic issues.

“We need this policy,” says Third World Network’s Chee Yoke Ling, “and the public should have a chance to comment on it.” Have we considered how we want to deal with issues of bio prospecting, safeguarding of traditional knowledge and possible mishaps from the use of biotechnology? Chee asks.

She also expresses concern about a lack of key legislation like a Biosafety Act and an Access and Benefit Sharing Act that would address environmental and health problems as well as economic loss that could arise from venturing into biotechnology.

Even the Convention on Biological Diversity stresses the importance of domestic legislation. Enacting laws to govern resources is one way host countries can control foreign access to their genetic resources.

This is especially so when it comes to working with US-based firms, because the country is not a signatory to the convention.

But the greatest doubts raised thus far is whether we are operating on the wrong assumption — that everything we touch in the forest will instantly turn to gold.

On making money out of biotech, an Associated Press report on Bio 2004 quoted economist Joseph Cortright as saying that luring biotech in the hope of saving a community’s economy, is a laughable notion.

He explained that San Francisco, host to the conference and the centre for biotech in the US, finds industries concentrated there because of the built-in venture capital community, vibrant academic institutions and highly educated workforce. They cluster around universities and each other, so they could easily swap technology and scientists, making it difficult for other regions to launch such industries from scratch.

But for all its promise, said the report, the biotech industry has lost a combined US$40 billion (RM152 billion) since its inception in 1976. Last year, it lost US$5.4 billion, said an Ernst and Young study.

Combined annual revenues of the biotech companies were about US$30 billion. That’s the same amount a single pharmaceutical giant — Pfizer Inc — took in last year.

The performance of our own Bio Valley has also been less than spectacular. Reports in April showed that only three companies had signed up to establish plants there thus far. “There is a lot of disquiet about the biotechnology industry among consumers and business,” says Gurdial.

He wonders if we are not going down the same road as we did with rubber and tin: inviting big corporations, which will use up the resource and leave or like many other industries, fall because a cheaper production centre has opened elsewhere.

“Are we using the tried and failed formula of competing with every other Third World country for the limited amount of foreign direct investments available? We must be cautious not to be seduced by promises,” he cautions.

It is obvious that Malaysia is pinning its hopes on biotechnology. The sector was identified as the new wealth-generating technology under the Eighth Malaysia Plan.

Chee asks if anyone has done an economic viability study on the biotech industry and this is a valid question, considering that on a global scale, all is not well for biotech.

The landmark 1991 bio prospecting between pharmaceutical giant Merk and Costa Rica’s National Institute of Biodiversity ended in 1999 after the failure to produce a single commercially viable drug, The Scientist reported last year.

Painful proof that not every herb and tree turns into a money-spinner.

The term “stiff competition” is an understatement in this industry. It has to be when authorities offer to change adjust parking requirements to suit the needs of biotech investors.

Governors and mayors from across the US were offering this in addition to tax breaks, government grants and help in securing permits at the same convention in which Malaysia was wooing investors.

In a battle like this, says Chee, it may come down to a race of who can give away more, namely give up rights over valuable resources.

Already, Razak warns against Malaysia being too strict with regulations. Investors can go elsewhere. Intellectual property lawyer Teoh Bong Kwang also feels legislating access and benefit-sharing may inhibit the growth of the industry. It should be in the form of agreements.

So, will we be left doing the ground work and simply facilitating things for the big firms? Will the greatest draw end up with these firms having being access to our genetic resources? Salleh says, this will not happen. He is confident that if we can create a more efficient system, consolidate research facilities and invest in bright minds, we have every chance of making inroads into the admittedly tough arena.

But both Salleh and Razak say that Malaysia does need to look into the nuts and bolts of the system, look beyond building facilities. We need a centralised mechanism for permits, a one-stop application processing centre, patent lawyers who understand both science and the law in order to ensure we get a fair deal in research agreements.

More importantly, we need to boost funding, manpower and equipment of agencies that are already doing good work; agencies like FRIM, Mardi, the Institute for Medical Research and scientists in all our universities, says Razak.The Government has also got to start dealing with the difficult issues and public concerns regarding biotechnology, says Chee.

As society advances, they will be confronting administrators and legislators with ethical questions about biotechnology, questions about genetically modified foods, privacy issues with regards to personal genetic data, clinical trials and cloning.

They have to be able to discuss these issues with a citizenry that is growing more informed by the day and yet remains deeply religious and traditional in many ways.

By all means, let’s get onto the biotechnology bandwagon, but let’s us do so with a well-thought-out plan and our eyes wide open.Considering all we know, it would be tragic if Malaysia ends up as the next unfortunate example everybody cites.

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Filed under: Uncategorized — malaysianmedicine @ 6:43 am

Tongkat Ali and pegaga go international with patent awards

Tongkat Ali, a herb known to almost every adult in this country, may be the choice of treatment for male infertility and sexual dysfunction by the French, Mexicans or the Finns in a few years.
Research on Tongkat Ali and another common herb, pegaga, has resulted in three international patents for Malaysia, including one that could eventually see extracts of these herbs in pharmaceutical preparations abroad. The three inventions by the Malaysia-Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) team have been patented in the United States, Europe, Japan and Malaysia since research on the herbs began in 1999, said Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (Frim) director-general Datuk Dr Abdul Razak Mohd Ali.

The patents are jointly held by the Malaysian Government and MIT. All benefits arising from the royalties will be shared by the Government and the MIT-Malaysia team.

Frim hopes to complete all its basic research and development work by 2006, after which efforts to commercialise discoveries will begin.

The Malaysia-MIT Biotechnology Partnership Programme is an effort between MIT and researchers from the Malaysian Agriculture Research and Development Institute (Mardi), Universiti Sains Malaysia, University Malaya, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Universiti Putra Malaysia, Institute for Medical Research, Standards and Industrial Research Institute of Malaysia (Sirim) and Tropbio Sdn Bhd, a private research company.

Frim is the implementing agency and the National Biotechnology Directorate, the designated authority of the project.

Funded by the Government, the programme on natural product discovery focuses on two common local medicinal plants — Centella asiatica (pegaga) and Eurycoma longifolia (Tongkat Ali). Tongkat Ali is traditionally used as a general tonic to treat high blood pressure, tuberculosis, fever, diarrhoea, jaundice and dysentery. It is widely believed to have aphrodisiac properties. Pegaga is traditionally used to treat high blood pressure, fever, toothaches and to improve memory. In Kelantan, it is used to treat malaria.

Patents procured under the programme cover:
* The process of isolating asiatic acid from pegaga (Malaysian patent #: PI 20003987). Initial studies have shown the acid to be effective in inhibiting cell proliferation, in particular, cancer cells.
* The bioactive fraction of Eurycoma longifolia (Malaysian patent PI 20003988). Trials have shown the bioactive fraction to be suitable for the treatment of male infertility and sexual dysfunction.
* The genetic markers for Eurycoma species (Malaysian patent PI 20031565). This invention features methods of identifying which Tongkat Ali plants have the desired characteristics. It can also be used to differentiate the various Tongkat Alis in a country.
The second phase of the programme beginning this year, will see advanced research and development of Tongkat Ali, leading towards product discovery, said Razak.

Scientists will also begin studying its anti-malarial and aphrodisiac properties during this phase.

To address the critical issue of irregular supply of Tongkat Ali plant in the wild, Frim has embarked on a cultivation project.

June 27, 2004

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Filed under: Uncategorized — malaysianmedicine @ 5:24 pm

More nursing schools coming up

MUAR: More training centres for nurses will be built to overcome a shortage of some 6,000 nurses in government hospitals nationwide.

Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek said the plan was being looked into following the additional allocation announced by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

The ministry would also use its allocation to improve health facilities in rural areas, he told reporters after opening the Muar MCA division general assembly here.

Dr Chua said: “In the Eighth Malaysia Plan, the ministry received about RM9.5bil in allocation but there were projects not carried out. We hope that with the additional allocation, we will be able to do so.”

He said the ministry would also focus on building more health clinics in Sabah and Sarawak and on improving health related facilities in rural areas.

“We will not use the additional allocation to build new and bigger hospitals as our aim is to improve health facilities and outpatient departments throughout the country,” added Dr Chua.

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Filed under: Uncategorized — malaysianmedicine @ 4:01 pm

More bite needed to ensure clinical trials meet high ethical standards

SCIENCE and Technology Minister Datuk Jamaludin Jarjis announced last week that pharmaceutical companies in the US are interested in conducting their clinical trials in Malaysia.
And Malaysia, in return, has offered these companies excellent facilities at competitive rates. Clinical trials have always been plagued with issues relating to unethical and illegal trials, especially in countries without ethical approval or where legislation may either be inadequate or not implemented.

In India, for example, an independent pharmaceutical journal, Monthly index of Medical Specialities in India, reported that last year local generic drug firm, Sun Pharmaceuticals, had tested an anti-cancer drug on 400 women without their knowledge, to see if it induced ovulation. The drug, a copy of Novartis’ patented drug Letrozole, was prescribed to women who were trying in vain to have children.

The Letrozole trial is one of the many shocking examples of the extent drug companies would go to. A survey by the US National Bio Ethics Advisory Commission of more than 200 health researchers found that about 25 per cent of clinical trials conducted in developing countries do not undergo ethical review. The findings of the survey were published in the February edition of the Journal of Medical Ethics.

In Malaysia, though there is no legislation governing clinical trials in Malaysia, there is, however, the Guidelines For The Application to Conduct Drug-Related Clinical Trials in Malaysia.

Under the guidelines, principal researchers must have Good Clinical Practice Certificate approved by the National Committee for Clinical Research, says deputy director-general of Health Datuk Dr Ismail Merican. Dr Ismail, who also heads the Ministry of Health’s Medical Research Ethic Committees, says the ministry is also trying to establish National Ethics Board to especially look into clinical trials on human subjects.

“Clinical trials are getting more complicated and there is an urgent need to not only safeguard the rights of human subjects, but also to ensure that trial data is credible and valid.” The ethical committee of the ministry monitors clinical trials in government hospitals. Private hospitals, on the other hand, need to have their own committees for clinical trials in their hospitals. “The private hospitals, however, must disclose the composition of their ethical committees to ensure that there is some one to safeguard the interest of the human subjects.” Nevertheless, Dr Ismail says, the guidelines alone aren’t sufficient without the means to enforce them. “If researchers were to breach the guidelines, the most we can do is to blacklist them.” He calls for legislation to regulate clinical trials conducted by foreign companies in Malaysia. “The current regulations do not have the bite,” says Dr Ismail

June 26, 2004

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Filed under: Uncategorized — malaysianmedicine @ 6:30 am

Smoke from Indonesian fires stirs fear of health and economic crisis

Government officials are warning of a potential new health and economic crisis as a blanket of smoke haze from uncontrolled forest fires in Indonesia spreads across neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore.

The haze this week shrouded Kuala Lumpur and its Petronus twin towers, and large areas of peninsular Malaysia, delaying flights and forcing authorities to consider shutting schools.

In Singapore, an acrid pall enveloped the entire island, and ships in the Straits of Malacca, one of the world’s busiest sea lanes, were instructed to use their navigational lights.

Satellite images identified 293 fire hotspots across Sumatra on Thursday, compared with 33 on Tuesday. Malaysia’s Environment Ministry warned that haze levels could surge this weekend, depending on prevailing winds.

Environmentalists fear a reprise of the 1997-98 crisis when illegal land clearing in Indonesian Sumatra and Kalimantan burnt out more than 10 million hectares and caused about $A14 billion in economic losses.
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The severe haze triggered a wave of respiratory illnesses across the region, and the United Nations Environment Program estimated that 20million people were exposed to harmful levels of pollution.

Malaysia is demanding a meeting of regional officials to combat a problem it blames on the failure of Indonesian authorities to control village farmers slashing and burning forest areas to plant oil palm and other cash crops.

The Government-controlled Straits Times newspaper in Singapore yesterday criticised the failure of Indonesia to control the fires despite tough new forest protection laws.

“Weak enforcement and its corollary, corruption to circumvent the law, have to be suspected. It is reasonable to ask if the real problem is a vicious conjoint of liberal forest cutting and non-existent policing,” the paper said.

But Indonesia’s Vice-President Hamzah Haz said Malaysia and Singapore shared the blame for supporting unlicensed logging that was destroying forests across Indonesia.

“There are lots of illegal logs that get smuggled out of here to Malaysia and Singapore. They have to acknowledge their responsibility in this. So they have to help us, so that we won’t create the smoke and haze.”

Malaysian authorities will not publish air quality statistics because of concerns about the economic impact if tourists are turned away.

The Deputy Prime Minister, Najib Razak, defended the secrecy this week and said undue publicity could worsen the economic impact of the haze.

June 25, 2004

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Filed under: Uncategorized — malaysianmedicine @ 12:17 pm

Promote health tourism, private hospitals urged

Kuala Lumpur: Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek called on private healthcare institutions to assist the Government to promote the country’s health tourism sector.

He said these institutions could, among else, set an international benchmark to gain confidence of foreigners to obtain medical and other healthcare services in Malaysia.

“If possible, private hospitals should co-operate with the insurance sector to enable foreigners treated here to obtain insurance cover.”

He told reporters this after opening the 12th International Healthcare Conference, organised by the Association of Private Hospitals Malaysia (APHM), here, Thursday.

Dr Chua said apart from a special unit set up by the Health Ministry to promote the country’s health tourism sector, the Tourism Ministry had agreed to organise roadshows in several West Asian nations and China.

“The co-operation framework has been agreed and I have requested the Tourism Minister to hold a meeting to facilitate implementation and avoid overlapping of work,” he said.

Dr Chua said over 100,000 foreigners sought treatment at private hospitals last year, earning the country some RM67 million in foreign exchange.

He also said the Health Ministry had initiated several measures to improve healthcare services in public hospitals.

This included reducing the waiting time for patient registration, consultation and dispensing of medication by half and improving counter registration through the use of information and communication technology.

Dr Chua said the other initiatives were to set up special clinics for patients with cardiovascular diseases like diabetes and hypertension, special counters for senior citizens, pregnant women and the disabled.

He said government doctors were encouraged to serve at accident and emergency units in public hospitals after their working hours for which they would earn RM30 an hour.

“The Ministry is negotiating with private doctors for them to voluntarily serve at public hospitals as part of their social obligations,” he said.

Dr Chua said the outpatient charges for foreigners at public hospitals had been increased from RM2 to RM15 except for workers in the plantation sector and the specialist fees raised from RM5 to RM60.

“This is to encourage them to seek treatment at private hospitals and reduce the burden at government hospitals,” he said.

He said public hospitals treated 48 million outpatient cases last year. – Bernama

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