Battling TB by advocating better healthcare services for foreign workers


A human rights group is championing for better health services for both legal and illegal immigrants to counter the increase in tuberculosis (TB) cases. The rise is thought to be caused by the influx of foreign workers.

Adrian Pereira, executive director of the North-South Initiative, said the increase in TB cases in recent years was a result of bad government policy with regard to health services for foreign workers.

Pereira’s organisation dedicates itself to protecting the rights of immigrants and other minority groups.

He said it had become difficult for immigrants to get medical treatment since 2016, when the government removed subsidies for foreigners seeking healthcare at public hospitals.

“Surely migrants who are ill will be discouraged from getting treatment,” he said.

He proposed the immediate regularisation of undocumented workers, but without the use of privatised services, which he said had led to profiteering and proven to be a failure in recent years.

Pereira called for appreciation of foreign workers’ contributions to the Malaysian economy.

“Migrants have been paying billions in levies over the years,” he said.

“They have also been paying GST and SST, and they have contributed to economic development and the gross national product. Their contributions are more than enough to cover their healthcare.”

He also proposed that the government reinstates healthcare subsidies for foreign and undocumented workers that allows for treatment at hospitals without the threat of being deported.

Alex Ong, Migrant Care’s country representative for Malaysia, said accommodation facilities for foreign workers were often unsanitary, contributing to the spread of diseases.

“The construction industry’s makeshift barracks have bad public health control management,” he said.

“There is also a lack of awareness about public health concerns among site managers.”

Deputy Health Minister Dr. Lee Boon Chye said recently that the government was looking into measures to reduce the number of TB cases.

Malaysian Medical Association president Namazie Ibrahim attributed the problem to illegal immigrants because they, unlike foreign workers brought in legally, do not go through screening for diseases, coupled by their reluctance to seek treatment at government health facilities for fear of being arrested.


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