KUALA LUMPUR, May 6 — The Galen Centre has graded Pakatan Harapan (PH) a “C+” for its “encouraging” work on health in its first year in office.
The health think tank said the implementation of reforms was not limited to Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad as the intersectionality of health meant the involvement of other ministries too.
“There has been progress and a few setbacks, but overall an encouraging year so far. Health care has been challenging as the government must balance demands, expectations and aspirations amidst a challenging financial climate and competing priorities,” Galen CEO Azrul Mohd Khalib said in a statement.
“It has had to deal with fire-fighting on diverse issues including sexual harassment, rising vaccine hesitancy numbers and an ongoing rabies epidemic. The overall grade given of C+ reflects a work in progress.”
Galen’s report card ahead of PH’s May 9 anniversary of its first year in office measured nine areas of health: Disease-specific interventions (A-); children (B+); human resources (B+); health care financing (B); strengthening health infrastructure and improving service delivery (B-); insurance/ health schemes (B-); vulnerable populations (C); East Malaysia (D); mental health (F).
The think tank highlighted the smoking ban at restaurants nationwide, which was imposed from January 1, as a “watershed moment” for PH.
“If the government stays firm in the face of criticism, this move will pay dividends in reduction in airborne nicotine, better respiratory symptoms, better air quality, increased wellbeing, and massive drops in societal health care costs,” said Galen.
Galen also praised reductions in housemen’s working hours and the Peka B40 health screening programme for the bottom 40 per cent (B40).
“Combining medical and non-medical interventions intended to improve health-seeking behaviour and early prevention and control of NCDs (non-communicable diseases), the plan has the potential to succeed where other similar initiatives have failed.
“However, it needs to be better funded, include people below the age of 50, and have clear mechanisms linking people with treatment,” said Galen.
The state of health care in Sarawak and Sabah, however, was marked “failing” due to poor access to health care facilities and poor maternal health.
“There needs to be a separate action plan to upgrade the healthcare infrastructure in these two states which is fully funded and has political support,” said Galen.
Mental health also received a “failing” grade, as Galen highlighted a RM7.93 million reduction in the Health Ministry’s budget for its psychiatric and mental health department this year compared to 2018.
“By 2020, mental illness is expected to be the second biggest health problem affecting Malaysians.”
Galen also pointed out high price mark-ups for treatment in private hospitals, many of which are owned by government-linked corporations, that contributed to double digit medical inflation.
“Public perception has been that the cost of private health care has gone up in the past year,” said the think tank.
Galen said it was too soon to evaluate the Finance Ministry’s insurance-like mySalam scheme that seeks to provide RM8,000 cash for the B40 who are diagnosed with critical illnesses from January 1 this year.
“The exclusions and lack of customisation to reflect the actual needs of this population, potentially compromises its value and impact.”
Deputy Finance Minister Amiruddin Hamzah told Dewan Rakyat last month that only two out of over 1,000 mySalam applicants had received the RM8,000 lump sum benefit to date, marking an approval rate of less than 0.2 per cent.