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Private healthcare in Malaysia: Millstone or milestone?

We have an acute shortage of medical, nursing and medical technology specialists in a country with a fast-ageing population

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There are two documents that one should read for an objective appraisal of how and why Malaysia’s privatisation of healthcare services is increasingly being viewed as a misadventure.

One is to revisit Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s working paper titled “Malaysia: The Way Forward” delivered on 28 February 1991 at the Malaysian Business Council.

The other is to read Anas Alam Faizli’s well-summarised article “A barometer on Malaysia’s healthcare system – are we doomed to fail?” in 2016.

Has the privatisation of healthcare in the country turned out to be a millstone for our health and wellbeing or will it be a milestone of success for the 32 million residents?

Was the road taken by the government to privatise healthcare the correct move?

Or did the private healthcare businesses relegate social responsibility in their quest for profits and returns on investment?

A shrewd business investor would have felt an adrenalin rush upon listening to Mahathir’s 91 paragraphs of “The Way Forward” at the Malaysian Business Council.

Likewise, the public hopes would have soared sky high upon hearing the promises of salvation from a privatisation agenda encapsulated in Mahathir’s Vision 2020.

It set the ball rolling along the high road to privatisation, including healthcare.

And 25 years later, as we pore through Anas Alam Faizli’s critical dissection of the anatomy of the healthcare privatisation agenda, we can only weep.

Relying on my experience of over five years in the private healthcare sector, including a stint in Houston, and having trained thousands of nurses in Malaysia and Brunei and medical specialists in Khartoum, I cannot dismiss the fact that private healthcare, which was crafted to be a milestone, is turning into a millstone. This is happening not only in Malaysia but even in the developed world, especially the US.

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Perhaps this Covid pandemic is an opportune time for serious examination of our healthcare sector. The statistics presented by Anas Alam Faizli give an accurate picture of a looming crisis that could affect the wellbeing of all Malaysians soon.

With a deeply imbalanced private verses public healthcare and all its related ancillary and support services, including the pharmaceutical sector, indeed our political masters have more than just battling among themselves to worry about.

We have an acute shortage of medical, nursing and medical technology specialists in a country with a fast-ageing population. The public sector is often targeted by recruiters with a barrage of attractive terms for employment in the private healthcare sector. How will this affect the lower-income group?

With so many private hospitals, where will even the middle class turn to? Medical insurance will increasingly not provide the cover needed or the premiums may be beyond the reach of the people.

The millstones may only get heavier, overshadowing the quality and speed and efficiency that the private healthcare sector touts in its brochures.

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