OPINION: KUALA LUMPUR- Need to spend more on prevention

The virtual doctor is catching on in many countries as more patients access medical care and advice through their laptops and smartphones. — Reuters


THE day will certainly come when Malaysia’s healthcare industry spending will become unsustainable.

Going by a recent announcement by Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, that D-Day is fast approaching.

He said our healthcare spending is expected to balloon to RM80 billion by 2020, hardly two years away, a whopping 54% increase from RM52 billion last year.

He attributed this astronomical hike to the demand for healthcare services and the emergence of new healthcare models that are expected to revolutionise traditional hospital settings.

For example, wireless sensors are being used to capture and transmit the patients’ vitals more frequently so that staff can make bedside visits, enabling care givers to respond more promptly to unexpected changes. Sounds very exciting but cost-wise very scary, too.

“The present economic and financial climate poses severe challenges to the healthcare system and it is fortunate that there continues to be strong support from the government to meet health needs,” said the minister.

Yes, when our economy is well and good this shall be status quo but by the same token, in an economic downturn or slowdown, sustainability will become a multi-billion dollar question.

Malaysia’s public healthcare system is, rightfully so, touted as arguably the world’s best, particularly since it’s being dispensed virtually free.


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The health minister told Parliament that the highly subsidised healthcare system means that you and I shall continue to pay only RM1 for outpatient treatment and only RM5 for specialist doctor consultation at all of the hundreds of government clinics and hospitals spread across every nook and corner of the country.

For just RM1, it’s common to see people leaving these outpatient centres with lots of medicines to take home and I would certainly say that this is one aspect where Malaysians should be most grateful about being citizens of the nation.

All health ministers of the past or Dzulkefly’s predecessors, normally, would regale themselves every time they announced that the ministry would be building yet another hospital or more clinics in another district or town in order to project the government’s caring image, which is all too real.

But because sustainability might very well become an issue with the RM80 billion figure being bandied about, I would, for one, like very much to see our incumbent health minister make a positive difference.

In the past, hardly any announcements were made about how much funds were used on the preventive side of healthcare and we are all familiar with the curative side by looking at the ministry’s annual budget presented by the finance minister in Parliament. The ministry has always been among the top spenders.

It’s time now – in fact, long overdue – for more effort and money, from the same budget allocation, to be spent on prevention by way of creating greater and more profound awareness of maintaining a healthier lifestyle.

By and large, the fact that we have so many government hospitals and clinics, not to mention the equally ubiquitous private ones, just goes to show only one thing – that Malaysians are an unhealthy lot.

All too often we read reports that Malaysians are among the top “performers” when it comes to matters like obesity and diabetes, the two major contributors related to ill-health that in turn results in over-congested hospitals and highly-overworked doctors and support staff. Do you know that we now have 148 government hospitals with the latest addition being built at Cyberjaya? Wow!

We should no longer pay lip service in promoting a healthier society because prevention is always better than cure.

If, for instance, a RM10 million budget for public education on a healthy lifestyle can be effective, it could very well result in the ministry having to spend RM100 million less on the curative side and this is just a conservative estimate.

Of course, we cannot expect the powerful pharmaceutical firms to chip in for a corporate social responsibility campaign on public health because it’s very much in their business interest to see that Malaysians remain unhealthy so that their products are in demand.

Here, one ministry that could also make a huge difference in bringing down healthcare costs eventually is the Education Ministry.

We have, at any one time, three to four million students in schools, colleges and universities, and the dire need for a healthier lifestyle should begin here because at school canteens, for instance, too much junk food is being sold with impunity.

Just check what kind of drinks schoolchildren consume day in and day out, the sugar content is too high.

The other and even more damaging culprit is Malaysia’s favourite drink, the teh tarik.

It’s no wonder that the age group of people being afflicted with some chronic ailments in the country is getting younger and younger.

By and large, too, the 1.6 million civil servants are not spared this phenomenon.

It was revealed that it costs the government over RM2 billion annually just to provide medicines for our civil servants, which also means that it has a negative impact on their productivity as they will be taking their MCs as well.

Everyone must play their part in avoiding this nightmarish RM80 billion healthcare bill becoming a reality just under two years down the road especially in a nation without a compulsory health insurance system like ours.

The overall costs of an unhealthy nation will be many times more.

Comments: letters@thesundaily.com


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