KUALA LUMPUR, June 23 – The Ministry of Health (MOH) only has 156 speech-language therapists currently employed in the public sector, according to Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa.
This represents a ratio of one therapist for every 209,615 individuals in the country versus the United States, which has a ratio of 57.7 therapists per 100,000 people in 2021. The number of therapists in the private sector is unknown.
Dr Zaliha, in a written parliamentary reply to Puchong MP Yeo Bee Yin last June 6, said that the recruitment of speech therapists in the government sector has been challenging due to more attractive incentives offered in the private sector.
The Puchong MP asked the health minister to state the ratio of speech therapists to the population in Malaysia and the measures taken by the ministry to address the shortage of speech therapists in the public and private sectors.
“The number of new Medical Rehabilitation Officers (Speech Therapy) recruited annually in the government sector has not been encouraging. This is due to the attractive incentives offered in the private sector, such as significantly higher emoluments, more flexible working hours, and a more conducive working environment,” Dr Zaliha said.
Speech-language therapists are professionals who specialise in diagnosing and treating various speech, language, communication, and swallowing disorders.
Speech, language, communication, and swallowing difficulties can affect individuals of all ages. Children with conditions such as Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, learning difficulties, hearing impairments, cleft lip/ palate, and Autism Spectrum Disorder commonly experience challenges in these areas. Similarly, adults may develop speech, language, communication, and swallowing problems as a result of stroke, brain injury, or the natural ageing process.
Dr Zaliha said due to the availability of vacant permanent positions, the MOH is currently not engaging in contractual hiring of speech-language therapists.
The health minister said a proposal for a “Compulsory Service for Medical Rehabilitation Officers (Speech Therapy) for 24 months” is being prepared in the MOH for all graduates who wish to serve in Malaysia, following the difficulties in recruiting new officers and the increasing attrition rate each year.