THE Ministry of Health has been the focus of media attention with its no-smoking campaign in all eateries.
It has earned the wrath of smokers and the gratitude of non-smokers. The minister and his staff have spent time, energy and money to promote this anti-smoking campaign by going on rounds distributing no-smoking leaflets and marshalling enforcement officers.
The most difficult part of this campaign is enforcement. The ministry is short of enforcement officers and will need to employ thousands of people to ensure smokers comply with restrictions.
The financial requirements could be enormous. Perhaps, the monies and energy spent on this campaign, whose outcome is uncertain, could have been better used to upgrade facilities and increase personnel at government hospitals.
A case in point is the dearth of specialists in government hospitals, which is critical in the orthopaedic department, especially at Penang General Hospital to handle knee surgeries.
Many B40 patients needing knee surgery now cannot be treated at the hospital as the two specialist orthopaedic surgeons have left for lucrative positions in private hospitals.
The doctors in the orthopaedic department will give the patients the option of waiting for one and half to two years to get the surgery done if the specialists become available. Alternatively, they recommend surgery in the private hospitals.
These lower middle and B40 government servants and other poor patients are unable to pay for surgery costing RM30,000 to RM40,000 at the private hospitals let alone afford the RM8,000 needed for the artificial replacement.
The ethical principles and moral code as enshrined in the Hippocratic Oath are no longer applicable in corporatised health care where hospitals are more of a business concern than a place of compassion and healing. Compassion and healing are pared according to the patient’s ability to pay.
The health minister would be well advised to devise and implement healthcare strategies that include specialists and equipment to benefit those Malaysians who cannot afford the exorbitant charges at private hospitals.
There should be regulations to curb the high migration of specialists from the public to the private sector. Otherwise, the common man and woman would be left in the lurch.
Perhaps we need to inculcate in medical students the actual meaning of the noble profession, one that is selfless and not self-serving.
Mohamed Ghouse Nasuruddin is with the Centre for Policy Research and International Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org