Materia Medica Malaysiana

July 26, 2004

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Govt may ban cigarettes in small packs

KOTA KINABALU – The government is considering banning the sale of cigarettes in small packs to discourage smoking, especially among youths, said Health Minister Chua Soi Lek.

Dr Chua said the move was appropriate as it would make it harder for youths to buy cigarettes.
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‘We are also considering banning the sale of loose cigarettes in public places,’ he said after opening the 32nd Malaysia Youth Movement annual meeting at the Sabah Trade Centre in Likas near here yesterday.

Dr Chua also slammed cigarette agents who used youngsters, especially primary schoolgirls, to sell cigarettes.

This practice is currently prevalent in certain states in Malaysia.

However, he said that in a recent dialogue with cigarette companies, the corporations had promised to look into the matter and stop their agents from continuing the practice.

The minister said the amendment to the Tobacco Act would also include more public areas as no-smoking zones.

‘As soon as it is passed, we will ensure each pack of cigarette includes a note on the dangers of smoking. When smokers open the pack, they can read all about the harmful things related to the habit,’ he said. — Bernama

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July 25, 2004

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10,000 teenage pregnancies a year

ABOUT 10,000 adolescent girls in Malaysia get pregnant and give birth every year.

This is a cause for concern and there is a need to empower girls with both education and access to methods that help prevent unwanted pregnancies, said Dr Ravindran Jegasothy (right) of the Malaysian Medical Council’s ethics committee.

These girls are also at risk of maternal mortality which is two to four times higher in adolescent mothers than in those in their 20s, he said. Infant mortality is also estimated to be about 30 per cent where adolescent mothers are concerned.

Dr Ravindran, an obstetrician and gynaecologist, was presenting a paper at a four-day regional roundtable conference on population, sexual and reproductive health and poverty, held at Istana Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, from last Tuesday.

“What we need to do is to get away from the moralistic attitude that sex doesn’t happen in this group,” he said.

Dr Ravindran said religious education was important to send the message that sex was not something to be freely indulged in but at the same time, its existence among youngsters should not be ignored.

A 2000 study on adolescent pregnancies in a semi-rural clinic in Malaysia also showed that 65 per cent of adolescent mothers were unmarried, not well educated and had a low usage of contraceptives.

A pilot anonymous HIV-screening programme in Johor also indicated that adolescents, or those aged between 13 and 19 years, were involved in activities that put them at risk of contracting the virus.

“Despite religious education and despite our social values, there are girls and boys in the country who are having sex and we know from the experience of other countries, that this figure is going to increase,” Dr Ravindran said.

The good news is that the school health programme today is providing basic information on reproductive health, he said.

“Girls are being told how they can become pregnant, nobody is hiding the fact anymore and that is good.”

Boys, too, are being told how to avoid getting their partners pregnant and how they can avoid contracting sexually transmitted diseases.

It must also be emphasised that hospitals in Malaysia do not discriminate against unmarried mothers as some people might assume, said Dr Ravindran.

While not denying that unmarried mothers faced social stigma when they sought treatment, Dr Ravindran said the girls were generally treated with empathy.

“They are usually referred to social workers and NGOs, who will continue to provide the emotional and sometimes financial support that these young girls need,” he added.

July 24, 2004

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Anti-smoking drive yet to reach its mark, says Chua

KUALA LUMPUR: The RM100mil “Tak Nak” anti-smoking campaign is not achieving much success but has instead raised cries of dissatisfaction from healthcare-related NGOs.

Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek said the private company running this five-year campaign had not contacted any of the NGOs ever since its launch.

“It was agreed earlier that activities between the NGOs and the company would be co-ordinated but there has been no initiative shown.

“The ministry agrees that this campaign has not reached a level of success that we can be proud of,” he told a press conference after the Health Dialogue Council 2004 attended by 20 NGOs yesterday.

The NGOs, Dr Chua said, had raised this matter during the dialogue.

The participants also raised concern over sensitivity to female victims of abuse and rape among the ministry’s officials, including health experts and support staff.

“We will have programmes to increase sensitivity of our staff to needs of female victims.

“There will be an official launch and awareness campaign to promote the One-Stop Crisis Centre (OSCC) in September or October,” he said.

The centre, which provides medical and follow-up care such as counselling and shelter to survivors of violence against women and children in state hospitals, will also be set up in district hospitals in the next two years.

“Victims will have a simple form to fill in to prevent any missing information needed for legal action later,” said Dr Chua.

He also said the 9th Malaysia Plan would place emphasis on education, treatment and aftercare of mental health patients, quoting a research conducted by the ministry that 13% of children aged five to 15 have mild mental health problems.

“The director-general has been appointed to look into these and to see if there is a need to build half-way house for borderline cases,” he said.

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Half-way homes for mentally ill patients

KUALA LUMPUR July 23 – The Health Ministry will introduce half-way homes for mentally ill patients who are not suitable to be placed in mental hospitals.

Its minister, Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek, said the project would be implemented in 2006 under the Ninth Malaysia Plan (9MP) and was necessary to cope with mental patients having mental stress.

It was also hoped that the half-way homes would help those with mental stress to prevent them from having a tendency to commit suicide, he told a media conference after chairing the Health Dialogue 2004, here Friday.

Dr Chua also revealed a study by the ministry that found 13 percent of children aged between five and 13 were experiencing mental health problems.

He said the problems were detected when the affected children had difficulties in sleeping, refused to go to school, felt uncomfortable and experienced phobia.

“The percentage, even though small, is worrying enough,” he said, adding that mental health problems, if left untreated could result in mental illness.

Besides that, Dr Chua said his ministry planned to set up a One-Stop Crisis Centre in all government hospitals to help rape and violence victims.

Dr Chua said the one-stop crisis centres were expected to be completed in two years but for a start, a centre were already operational in the Kuala Lumpur Hospital since the end of last year and had received a total of 75 cases to date.

He said all medical officers and supporting staff in government hospitals had been directed to give special attention to woman and girl patients, especially for rape and violence cases.

For easier treatment for Down Syndrome patients, Dr Chua said the patients would be issued a special card known as the Disabled Self Identification Card, which was hoped to help the patients to obtain early treatment and repeat treatments in any hospitals nationwide.

July 23, 2004

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Saudi, Malaysian Firms Sign Joint Venture Deal in Health Care

JEDDAH, 22 July 2004 — A major joint venture agreement in the field of health care was signed yesterday between Saudi Arabia’s Al-Sharif Group and Malaysia’s Pantai Medivest.

“Both parties believe that the Saudi health care market is large and stable. The market is looking for quality services, which we intend to provide,” said Abdulaziz Al-Naser, CEO of Al-Sharif Group, after signing the agreement with Azman Ibrahim, managing director of Pantai Medivest.

“We wish to benefit from the strong experience and expertise of Pantai and emulate their success in the Saudi market,” he added.

Naim Abdul Rahman, Malaysian vice consul and assistant trade commissioner, and Zalizam Zakaria, director (overseas) Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board, based in Jeddah witnessed the signing.

Al-Sharif Fayez said that with the increasing need for better health care facilities and services in the Kingdom, Al-Sharif Group has decided to take a major leap in the sector with Pantai.

His group searched for about three years for the right partner. Pantai have seven hospitals in Malaysia — in Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Melaka, Perak and Penang — with a total capacity of some20 , 000beds.

Al-Sharif Group plans to build two hospitals — one in Makkah and another in Madinah, each with200 -bed capacity.

“We are a comprehensive private health care provider, the largest in Malaysia, and hope that with this joint venture we will be able to explore, together with Al-Sharif Group, all aspects of the health care market, particularly hospitals and management in the Kingdom,” explained Ibrahim.

Established 29 years ago, Pantai has grown to include hospitals and clinical support services such as laboratory and blood bank services, clinical waste disposal, hospital maintenance, cleaning and laundry services, nursing school, and health tourism.

Al-Sharif Fayez said the group also planned to build a medical institute to train Saudis in all areas of hospital requirements including x-rays, laboratory work and blood banks.

“We want to contribute to the Saudi economy, provide jobs for locals, and with the best of health care available locally, encourage people to stay in the Kingdom for medical treatment.”

He said Al-Sharif Group, established nearly two decades ago, has diversified from trading and construction into such areas as electrical power generation plants, and distribution systems, property, commercial centers and health care

July 22, 2004

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Private wing fees would be lower

Source: New Straits Times Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Kuala Lumpur, Tues. –
Malaysians are assured that treatment at the proposed private wings of public hospitals will be cheaper than at private hospitals.

Health Minister Datuk Dr. Chua Soi Lek assured Malaysians today that the new fee schedule for private wings would ensure this.

“We will examine fees charged by the private sector. We cannot charge the same fees as the private sector. Government service must always have an element of subsidy,” he said in an interview.

He cited the example of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) which costs an average of RM1,200 in private hospitals but only RM150 at government hospitals.

He said the ministry wanted to introduce a more equitable rate for such specialised procedures.

“We have not worked out the details of the new rates yet. There is a lot of red tape to look into,” he said.

He said a team headed by ministry secretary-general Datuk Ismail Adam and Deputy Health Minister Datuk Dr Abdul Latiff Ahmad has been appointed to look into the matter.

Dr. Chua, who acknowledged that private hospitals were not happy with the decision to set up private wings in public hospitals, said they should not worry about the financial bottomline.

“Market forces will determine, especially in a service industry like health, where people will go. Health is a very personal and important matter and will affect every family.”

He said there should be sufficient business for both public and private hospitals as the economy expanded and the public became more affluent.

He said the new schedule would not have to go through Parliament as it was not an amendment to the existing fee structure under the Fee Act (medical) 1994.

On the variables in determining the new fee structure, he said payments to doctors and nurses would top the list.

“We have to look at how much to pay doctors and nurses. We also have to look at the insurance aspect and who should pay for it.

“We also have to look at how many hours doctors and nurses are allowed to work,” he said.

Dr. Chua said there was also the issue of where private wings should be located.

“This is a huge issue to be tackled. There are many variables involved and I need a few months to put everything in place.”

Dr. Chua yesterday announced that private wings would be set up at public hospitals next year, adding that a pilot project would begin once administrative matters are settled.

Under the Act, government hospitals can charge maximum surgical fees of RM200 for third class, RM1,200 for second class, and RM3,000 for first class patients. This does not include ward, food, medicine and other charges.

Meanwhile, the Association of Private Hospitals of Malaysia (APHM), which is against the move, said the private wings would create a “two-tier” system, where patients’ access to treatment would depend on their ability to pay.

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CAP: Poor patients will be shortchanged

The Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) today decried the government’s move to set up ‘commercial private wings’ in public-funded hospitals, warning that the move would end up shortchanging other patients who use subsidised services.

Its president SM Mohamed Idris pointed out that privatising hospital wings would not solve the manpower shortage in public hospitals – there are currently about 3,000 vacancies for doctors.

“As a result of this shortage, medical officers are very much overworked. How is this to be addressed with the commencement of the commercial private wings?” he said in a statement,

“How are hospitals going to deploy staff to the commercial private wings and still cope with the ever increasing number of patients?”

Mohamed also asked how general hospitals – which have a shortage of first class wards – would accommodate additional patients.

He said the move raised concerns that poor patients could be deprived of treatment, if beds are converted for more profitable use in the private wings.

“CAP regrets that the Health Ministry is going ahead with its plan…in spite of various concerns raised by CAP and other parties. So far, these concerns have not been addressed,” he added.

Higher fees?

Mohamed pointed out that corruption may also become an issue once a two-tier system is implemented in public-funded hospitals.

“Corrupt doctors could see patients in the commercial private wings but admit them to the public side for procedures. He could then pocket fees illegally by offering a concession to the patient. This practice is rampant in places like India and Egypt where there is a public-private mix,” he said.

He also noted that once public hospitals adopt private wings, it would likely adopt private sector practices of charging high, marked up prices for services.

“If the aim is to increase remuneration for medical staff, then there are a number of means whereby additional income for the government could be generated,” he said.

“CAP calls on the ministry not to go ahead with the plan to start private wings in public hospitals. All the concerns that have been raised should be addressed.”

July 21, 2004

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KL to send medical team to Iraq

KL to send medical team to Iraq
By Roger Mitton

WASHINGTON – Malaysia is ready to send a medical team to Iraq and mobilise an international Muslim force to rehabilitate the war-torn country, said Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi on Monday, after talks with US President George W. Bush.

Datuk Seri Abdullah, who is chairman of the 57-member Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), said the world will risk another failure in nation-building if Iraq is left in the cold at this stage.

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‘We are prepared to rally support among Muslim countries for OIC participation in rebuilding Iraq and strengthening its institutions of governance and its economic system,’ he said.

The meeting between the two leaders came after a long period of strained ties between the US and Malaysia – and went well apparently.

Datuk Seri Abdullah said: ‘Bilateral relations between the United States and Malaysia are certainly very strong.’

On many levels, that is unquestionably true. Economic ties have never been better. Malaysia is now the 10th largest trading partner of the US.

Cooperation in defence and security matters has improved tremendously. And compared to his predecessor, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Datuk Seri Abdullah is much appreciated in Washington.

Mr Peter Singer, director of the US-Islamic World relations programme at the Brookings Institution, said: ‘He’s far less controversial and so therefore it makes the relationship a lot less bumpy.’

Mr Bush also thanked Datuk Seri Abdullah ‘for the cooperation on counter-terrorism efforts’.

Ms Angel Rabasa, a senior policy analyst at the Rand Corporation, said: ‘The perception in Washington is that Malaysia’s cooperation has been quite good in countering terrorism. So they each have a vested interest in putting their best foot forward.’

That said, some felt the Malaysian leader deserved a higher profile reception. He was squeezed in for barely half an hour between Mr Bush’s lunch with the Chilean President and his photo-shoot for an American automobile race.

As a result, the US media gave his visit little, if any, coverage. That reinforced a common perception that the US has failed to fully utilise the example of Malaysia and other moderate, pro-development Muslim nations.

However, Datuk Seri Abdullah did not shirk from reiterating his country’s opposition to recent actions by the Bush administration.

Malaysia opposed the invasion of Iraq from the start. It was an action that has ‘inflicted a terrible blow to international relations’, he said.

He said Muslims still doubted the good faith of the US in tackling the root causes of terrorism, but he also welcomed recent developments, notably the setting up of an Iraqi interim government.

July 20, 2004

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Private wards in govt hospitals next year

Kuala Lumpur: The Government has agreed in principle to set up private wards in selected government hospitals by next year, Health Minister Datuk Chua Soi Lek said Monday.

“We had some meetings and probably we need to re-look at some of the government general orders that may have to be amended before government hospitals can charge the full rate that the private hospitals are charging,” he said.

He said the proposal was made because currently, patients referred to government hospitals by private hospitals were charged government rates.

“For example, in Penang and Sarawak, the cardiology unit is doing a lot of operations (in cases) which are actually referred by private hospitals but we cannot charge them the full rate because our fees are controlled by the Government,” he told a news conference in Seri Kembangan, near here.

Earlier, he witnessed the signing of an agreement to promote a health-based tourism programme between Hotel Palace of the Golden Horses (POGH) and Ken-Air Leisure Sdn Bhd (Ken-Air).

The trial project would involve government hospitals in several locations nationwide, Chua said, adding, “…maybe one in the north…two in the central and one in the south and even in East Malaysia, maybe one in Sarawak and one in Sabah.”

He said his Ministry and the Tourism Ministry were collaborating to promote medical tourism.

“We have started in Indonesia and we are going to promote to the Middle East. We have calendar events for promotions overseas which we will distribute to 35 private hospitals recognised by the Government as hospitals which can accept tourists for medical services.

These hospitals had to provide either ministry with information like the patient’s bills, place of origin and type of medical service so that the ministries could plan promotions and marketing more effectively, he said.

However, the response was not encouraging because each month, only half of the 35 hospitals involved provided the information, he added.

He said they had been given another six months to provide the information, failing which they would be dropped from the list of 35 recognised hospitals and would not be included when the Health Ministry, with the help of the Tourism Ministry, conducted promotions overseas. – Bernama

July 19, 2004

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Medical City to solve shortage of doctors, says UiTM V-C

PUTRAJAYA July 18 – Despite being a beginner in the teaching of medicine, Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) has come up with a vision to create a Medical City, from which it can train and offer a pool of medical experts and officers to the country.

“I am talking about our aspiration, vision. We want to offer (through the Medical City concept) the best medical service to the country.

“We are offering an idea for UiTM to build the so-called Medical City,” said UiTM Vice-Chancellor Datuk Seri Dr Ibrahim Abu Shah.

If the concept were to materialise, then the Medical City would be the first (such development) in the country, he told newsmen here at the closing ceremony of the three-day 7th Annual Conference on Advances in Cardiology and Cardiovascular Therapeutics.

The UiTM’s vision, he said, was to create the Medical City by 2020, or at the soonest, 2010.

“As far as I know, only some Western countries have this Medical City concept. Elsewhere, Dubai (United Arab Emirates) has come up with the same idea,” he said.

Dr Ibrahim’s intial plan was to have the Medical City to be set up in the university’s second faculty complex in Puncak Alam, which was still under construction.

“It (the Medical City) would be a very advanced concept. We will amalgamate, merge with all the areas that are related to medicine, not only medicine per se, but also in pharmacy, business, engineering, hotel and tourism,” he said.

On its medical faculty now based at its main campus in Shah Alam, he said it was progressing smoothly with the latest enrolment of 63 students as against 20 taken in last year.

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