KUALA LUMPUR, July 25 — Klang MP Charles Santiago urged the government to increase the Health Ministry’s allocation in Budget 2020, saying Malaysia’s health care is in a “crisis moment”.
The DAP lawmaker highlighted the shortage of specialists in government hospitals and the increasing unaffordability of care for Malaysians with chronic illnesses like cancer and heart diseases.
“We need to move money away from defence to health care. I don’t mean that lightly; I take it very seriously,” Charles said in a dialogue with Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii at the Malaysian Medics International’s (MMI) “The Good Doctor: A Health Care Festival” at Publika last Saturday.
The government MP said health care must be on the top of Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) priorities.
“This is where government has to bell the cat. I call upon the government that in this coming Budget, the allocation for health care must certainly increase,” said Charles.
“It cannot just be left to the individual person who becomes a victim of the system to take care [of themselves] because they too don’t have the money.”
Charles said he previously asked during the Budget debate in December 2017 for RM1 billion to be moved from the Defence Ministry to the Health Ministry under the then-Barisan Nasional (BN) administration.
“Is there an enemy that we’re fighting in this time, or we’re planning to fight in the next five years? Are we planning to go to war against Singapore and Thailand? Yes we have problems with our pirates, yes we have to keep an eye on the Straits of Melaka. But you don’t need so much money for that.”
When asked if he would repeat that call to shift RM1 billion from the Defence to Health Ministry for Budget 2020, Charles told CodeBlue: “Will have to find another approach. The strategy is to get to 6 per cent of GDP (gross domestic product), consistent with WHO (World Health Organization) best practices.”
PH previously increased the Health Ministry’s allocation by 7.8 per cent to RM29 billion for the 2019 Budget from RM27 billion. The Defence Ministry received RM15.37 billion for this year, RM120 million less than its RM15.49 billion allocation in 2018.
Malaysia only spends 4.5 per cent of its GDP on health – comprising 2.3 per cent and 2.2 per cent from the government and private sectors respectively – below the recommended spending of between 6 and 7 per cent for upper middle income economies.
Charles told the MMI conference that poor people cannot afford to fall sick, while the middle class who fall severely ill will become poor. Diseases like cancer, Hepatitis C, high blood pressure, or mental health disorders, he noted, incur high costs, even as severe illness causes inability to work and subsequently leads to loss of income.
The lawmaker for one of the biggest constituencies in Malaysia warned the public that one in four Malaysians will have cancer by the time they turn 75.
“Recently, I had a phone call with an upset young woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer. The doctor prescribed this tablet; there were only five tablets in that particular box, and each of the boxes costs RM500. And she has to have 80 of that. She cannot afford it anymore,” Charles said.
“Even if you’re rich, even if you’re middle class, because of the sickness that you have, you can drop into the B40 (bottom 40 per cent) category.”
He also related how in 2016 or 2017, three women with cancer visited his office in three consecutive weeks, complaining about expensive medicines and not being able to work and pay rent because of their illness.
The Klang MP also said some of his constituents can’t even afford to go to the nearest largest public hospital in their constituency, Hospital Tengku Ampuan Rahimah Klang (HTAR). The situation is worsened by the Health Ministry limiting patients’ medical supply from three months to one.
“So you have to make a trip up and down. People say — ‘I can’t afford it – Grab or taxi is 40 or 50 ringgit’. Some have to go to IJN (National Heart Institute), it becomes very expensive. If you have cancer, you can’t go to Klang, but you have to come to KL,” said Charles.
Dr Yii proposed at the MMI conference a constitutional floor for public health care allocations, but did not specify a minimum figure in the government budget because he is currently engaging with stakeholders.
“That will give a certain assurance and security so health care is not underfunded,” said Dr Yii.