KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 22 – The government is looking to establish a framework for elderly care and children’s mental health in response to challenges posed by an ageing population and the rising prevalence of child mental health cases in Malaysia.
Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa recently announced Cabinet’s approval for the Ageing Nation Agenda (ANM) framework. The Ministry of Health (MOH) will lead the health cluster in developing a comprehensive plan for people’s wellbeing, from conception to old age.
In her winding-up speech for the Supply Bill 2024 in the Dewan Rakyat last Monday, Dr Zaliha said that the ANM framework is just one of several plans in progress for the elderly community.
Other initiatives include the Elderly Health Services Action Plan 2023-2030 and an upcoming Senior Citizens Bill, both spearheaded by the Women, Family, and Community Development Ministry.
Dr Zaliha said that the MOH currently lacks a specific allocation for geriatric care. Funding for geriatric care services is typically taken from a hospital’s internal medicine fund, based on the needs and increasing number of patients each year.
“At present, geriatric services receive allocations based on the needs and increasing number of patients each year, and these allocations are part of the funds allocated to internal medicine services in respective MOH hospitals.”
Dr Zaliha said that geriatric patients are not only treated in hospitals with geriatric specialists but also receive specialised care from various related fields, depending on their specific health conditions. This includes expertise from internal medicine, endocrinology, cardiology, and orthopaedics that are tailored to individual patient’s needs.
“Meanwhile, for those treated in hospitals without specialists or in health clinics, allocations are provided to these facilities according to the treatments given.
“At the primary care level, health care services for the elderly are provided free of charge in all health clinics. We have a total of 1,086 clinics covering health promotion and literacy, risk screening, health assessment, medical examinations, counselling, and referrals,” she added.
The MOH also conducts home visits and provides home care, offering activities such as social and spiritual recreation through senior citizen clubs.
Dr Zaliha also noted that some of the older hospitals have been transformed into facilities specifically for geriatrics, such as the Tanjong Karang Hospital in Selangor.
The health minister further announced plans to boost child sub-psychiatry training in addition to developing a national strategic plan for child mental health.
“At present, the MOH has 30 specialists in child and adolescent psychiatry providing mental health treatment in 16 hospitals. Every child and adolescent reported to have a tendency to attempt suicide will be monitored through the Mentari system and provided with appropriate treatment,” Dr Zaliha said.
In the past year since the establishment of the HEAL 15555 mental health helpline, it has received a total of 29,766 calls.
“Of this total, 64 per cent, or 19,032 clients, have received support and emotional assistance. Meanwhile, 36 per cent, or 10,734 clients, have undergone specific interventions by psychologists.
“Out of the clients receiving special interventions, 235 cases are related to suicidal behavior, including suicidal thoughts and attempts,” Dr Zaliha highlighted.
“We have successfully referred serious cases requiring support to hospitals to ensure they receive proper treatment. All referred and discharged cases are continually monitored to ensure compliance with medication schedules and attendance at follow-up appointments,” she added.