KUALA LUMPUR, April 3 — A cancer group said it received feedback that police checkpoints turned around four cancer patients, despite having letters for treatment, amid a 10km travel limit under a nationwide lockdown.
National Cancer Society of Malaysia (NCSM) medical director Dr M. Murallitharan said two cancer patients from Kuala Lumpur were prohibited yesterday from seeking treatment in Ampang, Selangor, and Cheras, Kuala Lumpur; one was turned back in Melaka on April 1; and a cancer patient was prevented from travelling from Temerloh, Pahang, to get medical services in Kuala Terengganu, Terengganu, also on April 1.
“What is worrying is that currently even though there are some clarifications coming out that legitimate medical requests will be allowed (in terms of travel), that is not what is happening on the ground,” Dr Murallitharan told CodeBlue yesterday.
“We are getting feedback of patients being turned back despite having legitimate paperwork. So better instructions need to flow to the ground enforcement level.”
Health Minister Dr Adham Baba gazetted a regulation under the Prevention and Control of Diseases Act 1988 on March 31 that prohibited people from seeking medical treatment or purchasing medicines at facilities located more than 10km from their homes, or at facilities that are not nearest to their residence, until April 14. The same restriction applies to buying food and daily necessities.
April 14 is the targeted end date of the nationwide Movement Control Order (MCO) amid the Covid-19 outbreak that has infected over 3,000 people and killed 50 in Malaysia.
“It’s going to be a huge problem for cancer patients,” said Dr Murallitharan.
He pointed out that most cancer treatment centres were large tertiary facilities, not small district hospitals.
Dr Murallitharan highlighted the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) planning that divided most services into a “centre-of-excellence” arrangement, with all haematological cancers, for example, treated in Ampang Hospital in Selangor. The National Cancer Institute (IKN), meanwhile, is in Putrajaya.
“So unless for the really lucky few who live nearby their treatment centres, everyone else is not going to be able to travel.”Dr M. Murallitharan, National Cancer Society of Malaysia medical director
When asked if cancer treatments could be postponed for two weeks, Dr Murallitharan did not recommend this for active chemotherapy or radiotherapy. As for surgery, a fortnight’s delay could be tolerated if there was no choice.
“However will this issue resolve in two weeks? That is unclear, and we are seeing more and more restrictions,” he said. “My concern is that the delays may become longer than two weeks.”
Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said yesterday that the government would decide on April 10 if it would continue the MCO beyond April 14, saying that it was still too early now to conclude if the coronavirus epidemic could be contained.
Dr Murallitharan said NCSM understood MOH’s reasoning that risks far outweighed the benefits of travel during the Covid-19 outbreak, but stressed that this did not hold true for people with cancer and certain other severe illnesses who need treatment.
“So definitely, some exemptions are required.”
He, however, also highlighted some people who may possibly abuse the system by using old appointment cards or falsely claiming that they need to buy urgent medicine.
“So please, also take this as a plea to those who really can opt to not travel for health reasons, don’t. You are abusing the system and will cause bad repercussions to those who genuinely need to travel for treatment.”
Both Sarawak and Sabah, the two biggest states in the country, have decided to waive the 10km movement restriction for health care purposes, as the main specialist hospitals are located in the state capitals, while even clinics may be out of reach for the majority of rural residents.
Update at 10.50am:
CodeBlue erroneously reported that one of the cancer patients from KL who was turned away at a roadblock wanted to go to Bangi; the patient had sought to go to a facility in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur. The error has been corrected.