KUALA LUMPUR, July 13 — Datuk Seri Dzulkefly Ahmad has defended the Health Ministry’s decision to prescribe contraceptives for pregnant Orang Asli women, saying the move is necessary to prevent the spread of anaemia through repeat pregnancies.
Rebutting criticism about the policy, the health minister said family planning is equally, if not more important than treating anaemia with haematinics — the provision of nutrients like iron, vitamin B12 and folate necessary to form blood cells.
Dzulkefly said experts have long emphasised the link between frequent childbirths and anaemia.
“What I meant in my statement regarding anaemia among Orang Asli women was in reference to anaemia contributed by repeated pregnancies.
“During which the woman needs extra nutrients for herself and the baby she carries,” he told Malay Mail.
Dzulkefly was responding to criticism from a former president of the Malaysian Medical Association Dr Milton Lum who yesterday panned the government’s explanation to dispense contraceptives as “pathetic”.
Dr Lum said anaemic patients require haematinic treatment where iron and folate intake are increased to raise haemoglobin levels.
Anaemia is a medical condition in which there is a deficiency of red cells or of haemoglobin in the blood, resulting in pallor and weariness.
However, Dzulkefly said the majority of Orang Asli women with the condition were found to have a diet with inadequate nutrients that result in the two properties.
“In addition, during childbirth invariably there is blood loss,” the minister added.
“Therefore, if a woman has repeated pregnancies and childbirth as can happen in the absence of effective family planning and child spacing, the risk for anaemia becomes considerably higher.”
The Health Ministry’s family planning approach drew public scrutiny after a report by news portal Malaysiakini quoting an Orang Asli woman who accused the government of forced birth control.
The news portal quoted Orang Asli rights activist Colin Nicholas as claiming that the practice of forced birth control probably stemmed from the belief that having many children played a role in keeping the Orang Asli community mired in poverty.
Dzulkefly in response asked if his critics were suggesting the government was practising eugenics, a controversial practice of genetic selection with the aim of producing a so-called superior population by weeding out diseases, disabilities and other “undesirable” traits.
The minister said the allegation was uncalled for, and insisted that access to ante-natal care in government clinics are provided for free and that haematinic treatment was a routine intervention.
“Eugenics? No no,” he told Malay Mail.
“By giving family planning we are tackling a major cause of anaemia,” the Hulu Selangor MP said.
“But if this fails and anaemia happens, we give iron and folate as Dr Milton Lum advises, and other clinical interventions if needed.”
The Health Ministry also maintains that birth control pills uptake is done on a voluntary basis, and not forced upon as reported.
*Editor’s note: An earlier version wrongly attributed eugenics to Dr Milton Lum as reported in Malaysiakini and has been corrected. Malay Mail apologises for any misunderstanding and confusion the error may have caused.