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Kudos to KJ, but please look into public health - Zaid

6 Oct 2021

Khairy Jamaluddin

This week I hope I can have dinner with an old friend Mat Sabu. He likes western food, so I am going to treat him to a nice Suisse restaurant. As a good Muslim, he will not have any wine with the meal. I like Mat Sabu; he has a rare quality other Malays leaders do not have. He is genuine and exhibits no pretences. I can't stand hypocrites.

But in this week's column, my focus is on another Prime Minister material Malay leader, Khairy Jamaluddin. Ismail Sabri has repeatedly said that he would diligently check which Cabinet Ministers will pass the 100-day test. For me, Khairy has passed with flying colours. Although Kit Siang was adamant that Khairy was responsible for the many Covid-19 deaths, I believe legacy issues were attributable to the earlier set of leaders. The mismanagement of the Covid outbreaks by the entire government was responsible for the many deaths in the country.

I am satisfied that Khairy is on top of things now, and the Health Ministry is ready for the new challenges ahead. However, the real test of how good he is as a Health Minister (and prospective PM) does not depend on his handling of Covid-19 alone. The long term success for him is how he deals with the myriad of issues called public health.

In Malaysia, everything that has the word "public" is not in good shape. You look at education. Public colleges and universities suffer from a lack of finance, good lecturers and other facilities. Why? Because big money comes from privatising education, private colleges and universities sprouted all over the place in the last fifteen years. Many of these colleges were owned by politicians and ex-civil servants. That's why PTPTN are now Ringgit seven billion poorer.

In the good days, PTPTN (managed by civil servants) would pay these colleges (owned by civil servants) directly for the number of students they purportedly had, without anyone checking if they were genuinely interested in the courses. Or if the "students' were qualified to justify their borrowings.

On public health, Khairy has to address the many years of neglect. The country was enamoured by this policy of selling health facilities to the rich, with the euphemism called health tourism. That's okay if we have set aside enough money for our hospital beds, emergency facilities and enough money to retain and keep the best doctors.

But we don't. The Covid experience has shown us the true situation. Government companies owned all the best private hospitals, making huge profits to show their political bosses they make good money to justify their bonuses. That's why in some private hospitals, the price of Panadol differs from the lower floors to the luxurious top floors. Private hospitals bills in this country are insanely expensive. It is profiteering on a mega scale. Yet they suck out the best doctors from the government hospitals and not much was done to stop the exodus.

Don't blame the doctors for this phenomenon, as doctors and medical consultants usually take no more than ten per cent of your bills. Their fees are regulated. Their fees have not improved by much in the last five years, but the private hospital owners were given carte blanche to increase their charges.

These charges have skyrocketed five hundred per cent in the last five years. Does KJ know this? Is he going to regulate the fees charged by these medical conglomerates? Let's give him six months to do something about this excessive profiteering by the private hospitals. Their fees must be regulated just like the doctors.

Equally pressing is for Minister KJ to develop a plan to get the best doctors coming out from the universities to serve the public. This plan to get the best is urgent. We must be able to produce good doctors who are then adequately rewarded for serving the public. No compromise on this issue if KJ cares about public health.

Our hospitals may look grand from outside, but KJ has to make frequent unannounced visits to see if the facilities are adequate. Please find out how long the ordinary people have to endure the waiting list to get their dialysis or cancer tests. More urgently is a visit to the rural areas in Kelantan, Pahang, Sabah and Sarawak. Orang Asal medical conditions need a thorough evaluation by the Minister.

Finally, please make a visit to countries like South Korea, Austria, Taiwan and Denmark. These countries have developed a solid public health care system that has enabled them to withstand Covid-19 attacks. We can try the various approaches towards universal health care, but I think our government-led approach is capable of working well if we can regulate the players without fear of corporate reprisals. We need a strong and determined Health Minister to do this, which we now have.

Datuk Zaid Ibrahim

Former Federal Minister

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