Health minister touts Pakatan’s health screening for poorest 40pc as ‘game changer’

Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad urges private clinics to join the Peka B40 scheme to provide health screenings, citing the importance of a public-private collaboration in health care. — Picture by Mukhriz Hazim
Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad urges private clinics to join the Peka B40 scheme to provide health screenings, citing the importance of a public-private collaboration in health care. — Picture by Mukhriz Hazim

KUALA LUMPUR, May 2 ― Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad said the best achievement in his first 10 months of office was the Peka B40 health screening programme for the poor.

He said the programme was aimed at tackling the rise of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), with almost half of Malaysians having high cholesterol, almost a third with high blood pressure, and 17.5 per cent with diabetes, based on 2015 statistics.

Peka B40 is not just a manifesto promise, but truly a game changer in handling NCDs,” Dzulkefly told a press conference Tuesday in conjunction with the anniversary of Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) first year in office.

Besides providing health screening for the bottom 40 per cent (B40) aged 50 and above, Peka B40 also provides medical devices, RM1,000 incentive to complete cancer treatment, and up to RM1,000 transport aid to get treated at public hospitals run by the Ministry of Health (MOH).

Dzulkefly said 2,443 people have undergone health screenings under Peka B40 for their first visit as of April 29, but did not elaborate on the uptake for those who were required to do a follow-up visit in cases of abnormal results.

He urged private clinics to join the Peka B40 scheme to provide health screenings, citing the importance of a public-private collaboration in health care.

“You also know that private GP clinics last year, 300 over shut down. They are also struggling. I hope they will come on board with us to be with us in Peka B40,” said Dzulkefly, using the abbreviation for general practitioners.

The Federation of Private Medical Practitioners Association of Malaysia has previously criticised Peka B40 for not offering GPs sufficiently high fees. Peka B40 pays GPs RM40 for a patient’s first visit and RM20 for a follow-up visit, whereas FPMPAM wanted a single payment of RM65 to cover both visits.

Dzulkefly noted that the average life expectancy of Malayisans has plateaued for almost two decades since 1990 at an average of 75 years.

He said Malaysia’s avoidable mortality ― or premature deaths ― was 220 per 100,000 population, higher than OECD countries at 95 avoidable deaths per 100,000 population and even Sri Lanka’s 116 avoidable deaths per 100,000 population rate.

“Premature deaths is because of complications from undiagnosed diabetes and hypertension,” said Dzulkefly, noting that diabetes patients could end up with kidney failure while those with high blood pressure may get a heart attack or stroke.

The Parti Amanah Negara lawmaker said his second biggest achievement so far was tackling expensive medicine prices, as Cabinet has approved his proposal to regulate drug prices.

He said ceiling prices in Malaysia would be set at the manufacturer and retail level based on a reference of cheaper drug prices in certain countries. Regulation under the Price Control and Anti-Profiteering Act 2011, however, will only be gazetted after the ministry consults the pharmaceutical industry.

“I know the private sector may not be very comfortable with this but we are forced to take a solution that fits all. We cannot be selective,” he said.

Dzulkefly said his third biggest accomplishment was strengthening public-private collaboration in health care through the formation of the Health Advisory Council (HAC).

The HAC, which was set up last March to advise the Health Ministry on how to reform the healthcare system, is chaired by IMU Group president Tan Sri Dr Abu Bakar Suleiman and comprises health economists and doctors like Universiti Malaya Medical Faculty dean Datuk Dr Adeeba Kamaruzzaman.

“I’m confident they can give me guidance, supervision, and ideas that can increase public and private collaboration in all the dimensions,” said Dzulkefly.

He expressed hope that by the end of PH’s first term, Malaysia’s health care spending would increase from the current 4.5 per cent of the GDP to 5 per cent or 5.5 per cent of the GDP.

“I would want to see it touching almost 6 per cent by the end of four years, not just by the public sector, but moving forward, the next few years, we will also be expanding and particularly, the private sector will drive the increment of health care spending.”