KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 6 — Opposition MPs have protested Budget 2021 cuts to the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) public health programmes and treatment for chronic illnesses like cancer and kidney disease, amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii described the 2021 Budget — which was tabled by Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz in Parliament today — as a “short-sighted health budget”.
“To be honest, I expected a lot from this budget for health care because we are currently in a public health crisis, so one of my wishes for the budget was a big investment to address some of the gaps in our health care system,” Dr Yii mentioned in a video posted on Facebook.
The DAP lawmaker also mentioned that the government did not highlight other non-communicable health issues like diabetes, obesity and missed appointments by cancer patients due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“During MCO (Movement Control Order), a lot of patients have missed appointments. So the government should have planned on how to deal with the shortcomings. But they cut allocation for radiotherapy and oncology. This is ridiculous.”
Budget 2021 saw reductions of more than 58 per cent in next year’s allocations for MOH in the nephrology, cardiothoracic, and radiotherapy and oncology clinical departments. Nephrology suffered a massive 78 per cent cut that resulted in an RM56.5 million budget for 2021, while next year’s allocation for cancer treatment was slashed by 10 times to about RM21 million from RM216.9 million in 2020.
MOH reduced its medical budget from RM14.2 billion in 2020 to RM11.3 billion in 2021, making wide-ranging cuts across almost all health care services, including pharmacy and supplies.
Despite Malaysia facing a relentless surge of Covid-19 cases, as a record high 1,755 infections were reported today, MOH’s public health budget was cut from RM5.7 billion in 2020 to about RM5 billion in 2021. Disease control under public health — which includes infectious diseases like Covid-19 and dengue — suffered a 0.95 per cent cut from RM843.7 million in 2020 to RM835.7 million in 2021.
“We are in a public health crisis. This is the time where we have to spend to educate people to prevent not just Covid-19, but there are so many other things like dengue issues to educate the public. Yet, we seem to cut off the budget.”Dr Kelvin Yii, Bandar Kuching MP
The government also announced a one-off RM500 sum next year to 100,000 staff from MOH labouring at the frontlines of combating Covid-19.
“Who are these qualified people for this one-off payment?,” Dr Yii raised a question.
He mentioned that limiting the one-off payment to 100,000 staff is “unfair” as there were other health care workers who were also part of the whole ecosystem dealing with Covid-19 cases.
“The budget did not address systemic issues that will strengthen or give a more resilient healthcare system for us to prepare not just the current pandemic, but future pandemics and also to deal with non-Covid-19 cases,” Dr Yii said.
At the same time, former Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad also highlighted what he deemed as a “reduction” in MOH’s RM31.9 billion allocation in Budget 2021, which he said actually amounted to about RM30 billion if the RM1.9 billion emoluments for contract staff were excluded.
Dzulkefly, who is also Kuala Selangor MP, pointed out that the then-Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration had allocated MOH RM30.6 billion in Budget 2020.
It is to be noted that the government’s RM31.9 billion allocation for MOH under Budget 2021 marked a marginal 4.3 per cent increase from this year’s RM30.6 billion budget. Next year’s allocation was the smallest raise for MOH, compared to 6.6 per cent and 7.8 per cent increases in its allocations in Budget 2020 and Budget 2019 respectively.
Dzulkefly pointed out in a tweet that Budget 2021 should focus on restoring the well-being of people, saving lives, maintaining health, and strengthening the health sector.
“The government should spend. Don’t worry too much about the fiscal deficit, especially in health,” Dzulkefly tweeted today.
On the other hand, PKR health spokesperson and former Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye mentioned that Budget 2021 looked satisfying upon presentation.
“Budget 2021 is essentially a Covid budget. There are three aspects in the Covid-19 budget. Number one is special allocation to control the Covid pandemic. Next is to mitigate the economic hardship of those who are vulnerable, especially the low income group and also those who are unemployed, as a result of the Covid pandemic.
“Thirdly it is about how to sustain growth or assist corporations or companies to recover from the economic impact of the Covid pandemic,” Dr Lee told CodeBlue.
He also pointed out that the implementation of the plans that have been announced under the Health Ministry mattered the most.
Dr Lee also commended the government’s announcement on the allocation of RM3 billion next year to purchase Covid-19 vaccines, including sourcing them from global coronavirus vaccine access plan COVAX
“Assuming that there is a vaccine in the market which is effective and safe. We do hope that when the vaccine is available and it’s good that we have prepared and set aside specific allocation for administering the vaccine,” said Dr Lee.