Health commission needs to be established, says Health experts

A health commission needs to be established to enable access to funds, to reduce bureaucracy and address health practitioners maldistribution and remuneration issues effectively, say health experts.

Health Ministry former deputy director-general (Medical), Datuk Dr Azman Abu Bakar said the discussion on the creation of a health commission was nothing new and such commission should be responsible and accountable to Parliament.

“We can move faster as there is no red tape. My hope is that the health commission will not be totally detached from the Public Service Department (JPA) but given autonomy to make some decisions as advisor in terms of government’s directions and policies.”

Dr Azman said this as a panel speaker on the second day of the Health Policy Summit 2022: The Future of Our Healthcare – Health White Paper Development on Tuesday (Aug 16).

On his hope of the Health White Paper on the allocation of human resources, he said medical practitioners needed to be bold and brave enough to come out and think out of the box to have them heard on human resource issues in the health services.

Meanwhile, Universiti Malaya’s Prof Datuk Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman echoed Dr Azman on the establishment of the commission saying that in health human resources, training of personnel was important in order to fill in the gap.

“We need to increase the number (of workforce) and the quality, and a system put in place as the current state of training is fragmented and can be improved in substantial ways, especially funding,” she said.

On the health commission, Dr Adeeba also said that it should have a high-level committee chaired by a minister or even the prime minister, as Indonesia has its president as the chair.

“We definitely need to be out of the JPA as the system doesn’t allocate appropriate pay remuneration. It’s not just doctors but also nurses who are in worse conditions.

“We need to alleviate this situation as health is a service industry which requires the best people because they’re dealing with lives,” she said.

On the prevailing issues in public healthcare other than workforce shortage, Dr Adeeba noted the maldistribution in terms of public and private providers as 70 to 80% of the healthcare burden in Malaysia was borne by public healthcare facilities, both in the primary and secondary/tertiary care settings. – Bernama


Khairy: 4,053 contract staff to be absorbed into permanent positions this year

The Health Ministry (MoH) has approved 4,053 out of 8,672 initial applications for permanent positions involving contract medical and dental officers and pharmacists for this year, its minister Khairy Jamaluddin said.

He said it covers 3,215 medical officers, dental officers (438) and pharmacists (400), while there are 225 candidates on the standby list.

“This is the highest addition of permanent positions since 2016 since the contract policy started and after this we have (requested) at least 1,500 permanent positions every year which we will offer to contract officers,“ he said.

Khairy said this at a press conference here today after appearing as a panel member at a dialogue session ‘The Future of Our Healthcare’ in conjunction with the 2022 Health Policy Summit here today.

He said MoH will hold talks with the Public Services Commission (SPA) to determine the policy on whether those who are unsuccessful in applying for a permanent position can reapply or not.

“I do understand that some will be disappointed, and that is why MoH will look into the matter after our discussions with MMA (Malaysian Medical Association) on career options for those who could not be absorbed as permanent staff, to at least ensure that they are given good incentives and opportunities for specialised and sub-specialised training.

Meanwhile, Khairy said the MoH will is also looking at a suitable model to determine whether a health service commission should be established by law or administratively.

He said although the matter was not the main focus of the ministry at the moment, it would nevertheless be discussed in the Health White Paper which is expected to be tabled in Parliament at the end of the year.

“If you are to ask us (MoH), of course we would want our own Commission so that we will not be subjected to regular SPA policies. An example would be that (currently) if we are to fight for certain allowances in the MoH, we are subjected to policies under JPA (Public Service Department), which means this policy must be in tandem with other (public) services.

“We go one step at a time… We want our own Commission but the question of when to push for this (and) to approve can be discussed during the drafting process of the Health White Paper,” he added. – Bernama


Step up dengue prevention programmes, International SOS urges

Leading security and health services company, International SOS, is encouraging organisations to be more proactive about dengue awareness and prevention as cases continue to rise and affect tens of millions of people globally.

International SOS has reported of an overall increase of 92% in dengue-related cases in 2022 –Malaysia reported over 27,900 cases in the first half of 2022 (an increase of 83.3% compared to 2021), coupled with an alarming number of deaths due to dengue fever complications in the same period.

“Dengue is an increasing problem, with more cases, outbreaks becoming larger and more common, and the disease appearing in new areas,” said Dr. Chan Yanjun, Medical Director, Singapore & Malaysia, International SOS.

“We all have a part to play to help reduce the number of cases and organisations need to be involved in mosquito control and infection prevention measures, as well as promoting and spreading dengue awareness among the community. Community empowerment is a key aspect of the strategy, as it allows the local population to drive the eradication of the disease in their environment.”

Dr. Chan recommends organisations to be involved in mosquito control and infection prevention measures to reduce community transmission of dengue. These measures include promoting awareness of the signs and symptoms of the disease among employees, encouraging good practices for dengue prevention and establishing coordination with local communities to support mosquito control programmes.

Here are some helpful practices to consider to prevent mosquito bites and reduce the risk of mosquitoes breeding:

Cover up bare skin

Wear clothing that covers as much skin as practical – don’t forget your feet and ankles.

Use an effective insect repellent

Use “knock-down” insect spray to kill mosquitoes in your room.

Avoid areas where mosquitoes breed

This includes places with stagnant water such as drains and ponds.

Keep mosquitoes out of your accommodation

Keep windows and doors closed. If you need to have windows and doors open ensure that you at least have mosquito screens closed.

Keep your accommodation free of mosquito breeding areas

Containers and dishes that hold even a small amount of water can breed mosquitoes – dishes under potted plants are a notorious culprit.

“Dengue, like most illnesses, causes a spectrum of diseases – it can be very mild, while some people will experience strong headaches, high fever, and rash. In the most severe cases, it can progress to bleeding and organ failure which can be fatal,” Dr. Chan said.

“Not only is there an impact on infected individuals, outbreaks of dengue can impact healthcare systems when there is a surge in people requiring medical attention and hospitalisation. This is on top of the significant challenges our healthcare systems continue to face due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Everyone needs to be aware of, and [keep] practising, measures to prevent dengue infections and transmission, including organisations that are operating in dengue-affected areas, and those sending travellers to them,” she concluded.

Dengue is now consistently present in over 100 countries across the globe and is “the leading cause of serious illness and death in some Asian and Latin American countries.”

Asia is reported to represent around 70% of the global burden of the disease.


More Malaysian youths engaging in sex, Durex finds

A recent survey conducted by Durex Malaysia (Durex), joined by over 1,000 adults between 18 and 30 years old, found a statistical rise in sexual activity despite dismal understanding of sexual health. According to the Durex Survey (Durex Malaysia’s Sexual Health and Intimate Wellness Survey), some 35% of Malaysian youth have had sexual intercourse in 2022, compared to 18.8% in 2016, while 62% have reportedly had their first sexual experience before the age of 22 years old.

The Durex Survey also found that misconceptions pertaining to Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and pregnancy were still prevalent: a substantial number of them were unsure if a woman could get pregnant or not the first time she engages in sex – 31% believed a woman could not.

The survey findings were revealed at the launch of Durex’s “COMETOGETHER” campaign, which aims to encourage more open conversations around sex.

The launch of the campaign saw an open panel discussion held between Jerome Goh, Marketing Manager, Durex Malaysia; Siti Aishah, Founder, SPOT Malaysia; Tengku Aira Tengku Razif, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Programme Analyst, Malaysia Country Office; Chan Fun Shin, Registered Counsellor and Sex Therapist; and Arwind Kumar, Content Creator and Social Activist.

The panelists suggest that more effort be put into giving Malaysian youths a more accessible and accurate portrayal of sex, intimacy, and safety in today’s vast media. The panel also shared creative ideas on how society can contribute to sexual health education in providing Malaysian youths with the knowledge they need to make healthy decisions.

“We believe that non-profit organisations, civil society organisations, government bodies, and brands alike need to work together in sustaining movements like these to highlight the importance of sexual and reproductive health education. Sexuality education in a culturally and developmentally appropriate manner is key to equipping young people with the knowledge to prevent STIs, sexual related issues, and unplanned pregnancies,” said Siti Aishah.

Meanwhile, Tengku Aira Tengku Razif said, “UNFPA believes that on every level, sexual health education is a shared effort. From government agencies, NGOs, corporates, down to individuals – we need a holistic approach in educating our young people. We want our youths to have a positive view of their bodies and sexuality, and to break the taboo factor when it comes to sexual health.”

Tiffany Tang, Marketing Director at Reckitt Benckiser commented, “Sexual health conversations are crucial to ensure that Malaysian youths are empowered to make informed decisions about their sexuality. The fear tactics implemented in the past no longer work. Through the COMETOGETHER campaign, Durex is providing honest, age-appropriate information and skills necessary to help them take personal responsibility for their health and overall well-being.

“We are hopeful that through the findings of this survey, more opportunities for open conversations on sex and sexuality can be done to create a safe space for Malaysian youths to share experiences, educate themselves, and ask questions. The more informed they are, the more prepared they are to make better choices.”

[The April 2022 Durex Survey brought to light the levels of understanding in the areas of contraception, STIs, sexual stigma and perceptions. It also covered segments on sexual activities such as sexting and provided an understanding of Malaysian youths’ expectations of sex.]


Covid-19: 32.8 pct of positive cases in Sarawak due to BA.5 subvariant

The BA.5 subvariant accounted for 32.8 per cent or one-third of the COVID-19 cases in Sarawak from June onwards, according to the Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS) Institute of Health and Community Medicine (IHCM).

The matter was disclosed in a report submitted to State Disaster Management Committee (SDMC) chairman Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas here.

UNIMAS IHCM director Prof Dr David Perera said from April 3 to July 13 this year a total of 165 samples obtained statewide had been successfully sequenced, all of which were detected as the B.1.1.529, Omicron Variant of Concern(VOC).

He said from these samples, 121 were detected as multiple minor sub-lineages of BA.2, a single case and first reported of BA.4 case and 43 samples with BA.5.

“While the BA.2 VOC continues to be the predominant detected subvariant over this period of surveillance, a rapid increase in infections of the BA.5 VOC was observed.

“From early June onwards, approximately one third (32.8 per cent) of all detections were of this subvariant (BA.5),” he said.

Dr Perera added this observation in Sarawak was consistent with the global distribution of this highly infectious Omicron VOC which has seen a rapid increase in detection rate in many countries.

“In view of this, the public is strongly advised to be aware of the heightened risk of increase in infection rate in the state.

“Please consider getting a booster dose if you have not done so particularly for individuals with comorbidities and those above 50 years old,” he added. – Bernama


MoH to take actions against illegal dental practitioners

The Ministry of Health (MoH) will take enforcement actions against illegal dental practitioners under the Dental Act 2018 (Act 804), said Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah.

He said MoH viewed each complaint received by the ministry’s Dental Health Programme seriously, adding that the complaints will be investigated before enforcement measures including raids are taken through the provisions under Part VI of the Dental Act 2018 (Act 804).

He said MoH was aware of these activities which also involved those who provided illegal dental training that could result in various adverse effects and threaten the public’s health.

“Curbing these rampant illegal dental activities, involving those providing treatment or those receiving treatment, as well as the people providing unauthorised (dental) training, is a shared responsibility,“ he said in a statement today.

The statement was issued following several articles focusing on these fake dentists published in local English-language newspapers on July 4 and 5.

The Dental Act 2018 (Act 804) which came into force on January 1 this year states only qualified, authorised and professional practitioners will be registered and eligible to provide dental services, while Section 62(1) of Act 804 prohibits persons who are not registered under Act 804 from practising dentistry.

Under Section 62(3) of the same Act, individuals who violate the provisions of subsection 62(1) of the Act can be fined up to RM300,000 or jailed for up to six years or both if convicted.

Dr Noor Hisham said the public can file an official complaint regarding the illegal activity to the Dental Health Programme, MoH at Level 5, Block E10, Complex E, Presint 1 Federal Government Administration Centre, 62590 Putrajaya, adding that complaints can also be made via telephone at 03-88834215 or email ohd@moh.gov.my. –  Bernama


Khairy: Focus is on severity of Covid-19 cases, not numbers

Focus must now shift from the number of Covid-19 cases reported to the severity of cases, says health minister Khairy Jamaluddin.

He said it is now common anywhere in the world for the number of cases reported to be less than the actual number of infections due to more relaxed testing protocols.

“In this situation, we look at proxy indicators. We don’t look at the number of cases but their severity,” he said at a press conference today.

Khairy said that when the country is transitioning to the endemic phase, the focus must be on the severity of the cases, which can be seen through the number of deaths and hospital admissions.

He said Malaysia will see increases and drops in the number of new cases due to waves of infections from time to time.

He pointed out that the country’s baseline number of cases has increased due to the Omicron BA.5 variant but the situation is under control as long as the number of deaths and hospital admissions remain low.

Khairy also said that compared to countries like Singapore that face a large Omicron BA.5 wave, Malaysia is facing a small but prolonged wave.

He urged the public to follow the SOPs and report their Covid-19 test results via the MySejahtera application.

“When results are reported, this makes it easier for the health ministry to monitor the actual situation in the community, aside from also looking at the number of deaths and hospitalisations,” he said.

Yesterday, FMT reported that the number of new Covid-19 cases increased from 28,339 to 28,554, or 0.8%, last week from the week before.

Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, in his update for the week ending Aug 6, said the number of patients admitted to public hospitals and quarantine centres remained unchanged.

The number of hospital admissions per population of 100,000 compared with the preceding week also remained unchanged.

Overall bed occupancy for non-critical beds rose by 2% while intensive care unit (ICU) beds remained unchanged at 14%. FMT


NHG and Tanoto Foundation partner for diabetes reversal in Singapore

The National Healthcare Group (NHG) is working together with Tanoto Foundation (Tanoto) to combat diabetes amongst the populace through a “Diabetes Reversal Programme.” This programme aims to control blood sugar levels in diabetes patients through behavioural changes, without the need for medication or surgery.

Contributions from both the NHG and Tanoto Funds, at S$1 million (approx. U$D0.73 million) and S$2.6 million (approx. U$D1.88 million), respectively, are also expected to boost diabetes research in primary care and in the community.

In Singapore, obese individuals with early diabetes are commonly prescribed glucose-lowering medications, or recommended to undergo bariatric surgery, to regain control over their increasing blood sugar levels.

However, diabetes control and reversal can be achieved and maintained more thoroughly through positive health behaviours instead of medication and surgery, as suggested by the researchers from NHG – they seek to study the barriers and facilitators related to such behaviour.

The researchers will also conduct a clinical trial for an intensive weight management regime in reversing early diabetes in obese patients. The trial will entail a close partnership between diabetic patients, doctors, and dietitians, to create custom, low-calorie meal plans.

Senior Minister of State for Health, Dr. Janil Puthucheary graced the official launch of the much-anticipated Diabetes Reversal Programme at Kallang Polyclinic recently, in addition to a host of senior representatives from NHG and Tanato and primary care physicians.

Associate Professor Chong Phui-Nah, CEO of National Healthcare Group Polyclinics (NHGP) and Primary Care, said health education, patient engagement, and empowerment of diabetes patients are of “paramount importance” to successful modification of self-care behaviours and lifestyle, and to manage diet and level of physical activity.

“Our aim is to better understand the challenges that patients face in their social environment and how we can better support them to take greater ownership of their health outcomes through research. The Diabetes Reversal Programme is one such study that proposes a new model of care to help patients reverse diabetes and manage their condition well,” said Assoc. Prof. Chong.

Professor Benjamin Seet, Deputy Group CEO (Education and Research) of NHG, added, “At NHG, we do things differently by putting the patient first, and focusing on real world research that directly leads to better health outcomes and quality of life. A good example would be the programme we are launching today – this partnership, where a philanthropic organisation like the Tanoto works closely with primary care doctors, dieticians, and patients, right within the community, can only bring about impactful change.”

Meanwhile, Bey Soo Khiang, Executive Advisor at Tanoto, disclosed that the collaborative programme between NHG and Tanoto will be conducted in the local primary care setting, to better study and address how the Singaporean diet, environment, and culture can affect health and disease patterns.


Health DG: No Covid-19 tests required to enter Malaysia

Travellers are no longer required to undergo Covid-19 tests to enter Malaysia, the health ministry announced.

Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said pre-departure and on-arrival tests were no longer required from Aug 1.

This comes after all travellers were no longer required to fill up the traveller’s card in the MySejahtera app before entering the country, regardless of vaccination status.

However, vaccination requirements remain subject to airline regulations.

Travellers found to have symptoms upon arrival will be referred to the health ministry for examination, said Noor Hisham.

“All travellers arriving from abroad are urged to monitor their health and comply with SOPs,” he said in a statement.

“Those with symptoms are urged to visit the nearest health facility.” – FMT


Are migraines eating away at your life?

Migraine attacks are accompanied by a throbbing pain either on one or both sides of the head. Unlike a regular headache, the consequences of a migraine is likely to seep into and impact all areas of our lives. Sunway Medical Centre (SMC) Consultant Neurologist Dr. Raymond Tan, based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, has said that migraines are as incapacitating neurological disorder, and comes with a wide range of symptoms including blurred vision, nausea, and vomiting.

People who suffer from migraines may be sensitive to lights, noises, and scents, and — for some, experience aura or focal neurologic symptoms; episodes as such can last between 4 to 72 hours in duration.

According to the Office on Women’s Health, migraine is three times more common in women than in men, and is the fourth leading cause of disability in women.

Dr. Sharmina Kamal, SMC Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, revealed that this is largely due to specific changes in the hormone oestrogen: “Oestrogen helps regulate the female reproductive system and controls chemicals in the brain that impact the sensation of pain. Therefore, a drop in oestrogen levels can contribute to the development of chronic headaches or migraines.”

Still, migraines can affect both men and women, from all walks of life.

In childhood, migraines are more prevalent in males but cedes once the influence of oestrogen begins – that is when the prevalence starts to rise in females, contributing to more common, longer-lasting migraines in women between the ages of 20 and 45. Besides hormonal changes, factors such as stress, lack of or too much sleep, skipped meals, weather changes, alcohol, and caffeine can also trigger migraines.

Fortunately, migraines are a modifiable disorder and there is hope for relief through very simple methods.

“The best thing to do at the start of a migraine is to stop your activity and get some rest, preferably in a quiet and dim lit room or area. Taking a simple analgesic like paracetamol at the start of the migraine often helps to limit the severity. Application of topical menthol may also lessen the intensity of acute migraines, although this is best avoided in women who are pregnant or breastfeeding,” suggested Dr. Raymond.

Combining therapy or medication with behavioural measures and a lifestyle that promotes overall good health is also a proven way to handle migraine attacks. For example, maintaining a healthy lifestyle includes consuming nutritious foods, as well as ensuring adequate hydration, frequent exercise, and proper sleep.

You can also speak to your physician about daily vitamins or supplements, such as vitamin B or magnesium.

Migraines are a real source of pain, but most of the time, they are not signs that one has a serious medical problem. However, it is worth speaking to your doctor when you have symptoms that are more severe than normal, including:

  • Uncontrollable vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures or convulsions
  • Blurred vision or other vision changes
  • Loss of balance or coordination

“Occasionally, the migraine attacks persist for more than 72 hours and become debilitating and resistant to conventional treatment. And in cases associated with persistent vomiting, this could lead to potential dehydration and its associated problems, which could require hospitalisation with intravenous fluids and medications,” Dr Raymond said.

Young women, in particular, who experience migraines with aura, especially those who smoke or use oral contraceptives, have an increased incidence of strokes and seizures. It is advisable for women at risk to avoid smoking and choose other forms of contraception, if possible.

As a close, you should know and avoid your triggers, treat symptoms early, and find medications or therapies that work best to relieve your migraine pain. When it comes to treating migraines, timing is everything – waiting too long to address your migraine symptoms or take preventive steps can increase how often and severely a migraine strikes.