Ministry must invest on promoting healthy lifestyles, says ex-DG

KUALA LUMPUR: The Ministry of Health must invest substantially on easy-to-understand information to the public to promote healthy lifestyles because Malaysians generally are an unhealthy lot, former Director-General of Health Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican said today.

He said it was vital for the public to be kept well informed on current health issues at all times through the print, electronic and social media in order for them to be taught about the promotion of healthy lifestyles, avoidance of high risk behaviours, prevention of chronic diseases and the importance of personal hygiene and self-care.

"No point rushing to clinics or hospitals for every medical problem when some could be addressed within the confines of their homes.

"But for self-care to be successful, proper education and simple messages are required and the Ministry of Health must invest substantially to bring such information to the public wherever they may be, whether they are internet-savvy or otherwise" he told Bernama.

Dr Ismail said that in this connection, the younger generation would be a challenging group to handle as they had their own thoughts and inclinations but this did not mean that the authorities should give up on them.

"Many of them prefer the social media or iconic personalities to talk or communicate with them and thereby influence them, the right strategy to the right target group is important to be effective," he said.

Dr Ismail agreed with the view that Malaysians could be considered an unhealthy lot, saying among other things that Malaysia is the most obese country in South East Asia.

He said 15% of Malaysian toddlers and pre-school children and 30% of primary school children are overweight or obese.

"Children are our great concern as many consume food away from home. There are fewer family meals, greater portion sizes, lots of indoor video games rather than physical outdoor activities and not enough conducive or safe places for outdoor activities especially in the rural areas".

Asked what ailed Malaysians, Dr Ismail said people were getting sick these days because many believed that healthcare screening was unnecessary and a waste of time only to discover that they were suffering from cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic liver diseases and others.

Some would end up having fatal heart attacks and massive strokes because looking after themselves is not a priority, especially those in the younger age group.

Coupled with this, there is little investment for health in many households and they depend heavily on the government to help them when they get sick.

Dr Ismail said apathy among Malaysians had resulted in a situation where many felt that they would only see doctors or go for check-ups when they got ill.

Not many Malaysians had also heard about self-help in health care or practice a healthy lifestyle, consume a balanced diet or perform regular exercises.

He also gave other grim statistics of the general health of Malaysians – the National Health and Morbidity Survey of 2006 reported that an estimated 2.8 million Malaysians aged between 18 years and above smoked, 5.5 million were physically inactive, 3.6 million were overweight and 1.7 million were obese, while 4.8 million and 1.5 milliion beween the age of 18 years and above were suffering from hypertension and diabetes respectively.

"Much more is needed to address our public health issues. With the superior technological tools that we now have and the growing awareness of the inequities present in our healthcare system, we must find new and innovative strategies to effectively tackle these concerns," he added.

He also said because of the increase in costs of healthcare in the private sector, most people were flocking to public hospitals now resulting in overcrowding and this would mean the quality of care would suffer.

He said with more spendings on the preventive aspects of healthcare, the ministry could expect its huge budget for the curative side to be more manageable.

"But for this, we need close cooperation with the people which is very difficult," he said. — Bernama