KUALA LUMPUR, July 12 — Dzulkefly Ahmad insisted today that the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) family planning programme was conducted by medical experts based on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guidelines.
The health minister also said the ministry’s family planning services were provided to all women in Malaysia, not just to the Orang Asli, amid allegations that MOH officials coerced indigenous women from Perak and Kelantan into taking birth control shots.
“Narrow birth spacing and frequent childbirth increase the risk of mothers suffering from a lack of hemoglobin (anaemia) that will affect the mother and potential newborn,” Dzulkefly said in a statement.
The Amanah leader pointed out that anaemia prevalence among Orang Asli women who were 36 weeks pregnant in Hulu Perak was 24.2 per cent last year, four times higher than the national prevalence of 6.4 per cent.
“Effective family planning is encouraged for two years. After that, a woman is free to stop to continue her plans to get pregnant, or to continue practicing family planning.
“An explanation is given to these women because this is necessary to protect their health and welfare and their family.”
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department P. Waytha Moorthy told Free Malaysia Today that he would discuss further with Dzulkefly about the issue of contraceptives given to the Orang Asli.
“We can appreciate the health ministry’s concern, but I think this episode highlights the gap that exists between the Orang Asli and health officials, and the onus is on the health officials to really ensure that there is no gap.
“I think greater care and communication is needed to explain to the Orang Asli their condition and the risks they have having children while suffering from anaemia,” Waytha Moorthy was quoted saying.
Orang Asli women from the Temiar tribe in Perak have reportedly accused health authorities of forcing them to take birth control injections. A Temiar villager from Gua Musang, Kelantan, also reportedly alleged that MOH officials from mobile clinics threatened women in her village to take birth control shots or pills, or have their medical cards confiscated.
Former Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) Dr Milton Lum, who is a gynaecologist, warned MOH that coercing Orang Asli women into taking birth control may lead to medical negligence claims, or even civil or criminal complaints for assault.