As Covid-19 rages on, group urges Putrajaya for extra RM6b allocation for health in Budget 2021

Health workers look at x-rays of a patient at Emergency Department in the Kuala Lumpur Hospital May 23, 2020. — Reuters pic
Health workers look at x-rays of a patient at Emergency Department in the Kuala Lumpur Hospital May 23, 2020. — Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 5 — Budget 2021 should include at least an additional RM4 billion to the Health Ministry’s current RM30.6 billion funding, a think tank has proposed.

In its Budget 2021 wishlist, Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy said allocation for health in the federal budget should also not be tied to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) since this will inevitably fall this year.

Galen chief executive Azrul Mohd Khalib further expressed hope that the government would go as far as giving the Health Ministry as much as RM36 billion for 2021, or an approximately 20 per cent increase from this year.

“The amount would be inclusive of the need to purchase Covid-19 vaccines in 2021 when they become available.

“However, we are fully aware of the limitations and economic challenges faced by Budget 2021 due to the Covid-19 crisis, which might affect the allocation that is able to be provided.

“However, this is definitely not the time to under-invest in health,” he told Malay Mail when contacted.

Galen Centre’s proposal was the latest to call for the federal government to increase health spending next year to build up Malaysia’s public healthcare system amid a global Covid-19 pandemic.

On Monday, the Malaysian Health Coalition (MHC) expressed hope for the government to commit at least four per cent of the country's GDP to the public healthcare system, saying it is needed to make up for years of under-spending.

The MHC — a coalition of 49 organisations and 19 individuals representing health professionals in Malaysia — noted that the current allocation for public healthcare is only between two and 2.5 per cent of the GDP.

According to government data, Putrajaya’s allocation for the MoH has been on a general upward trend both in amount and in proportion to the entire government budget.

Last year, the Pakatan Harapan administration had allocated RM30.6 billion for MoH from the RM297 billion Budget 2020or 10.3 per cent of the total.

Aside from more funding, Galen also urged the government to further strengthen its response to the Covid-19 pandemic and ensure all necessary resources were available to medical frontliners.

CEO of Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy Azrul Mohd Khalib proposed for the government to seed an RM50 million fund for cancer treatment financing. — Picture by Ham Abu Bakar
CEO of Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy Azrul Mohd Khalib proposed for the government to seed an RM50 million fund for cancer treatment financing. — Picture by Ham Abu Bakar

Azrul said, however, that other health issues such as non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which he said is "another ongoing crisis" in Malaysia, should not be neglected despite the focus on Covid-19.

He listed NCDs such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and the consequences of malnutrition.

“Due to Covid-19 and the restrictive interventions and movement control lockdowns, the incidences of various NCDs have and are expected to worsen and increase.

“We need to invest in preventive measures and curative interventions now to address this, particularly in improving health literacy,” he said, adding that people needed to be responsible for their own health and invest in their own wellbeing to prevent the onset of non-communicable diseases.

Azrul also proposed that the government invest in Sabah and Sarawak’s health infrastructure, noting that the Covid-19 outbreak in Sabah has highlighted the urgent need for improvement in both states.

“Many long standing essential issues such as maternal health service coverage and even primary care remain woefully inadequate. This has revealed itself drastically this past month.

“In this Budget, the government should identify a clear and separate funded plan for healthcare in these states. People are clearly being left behind,” he said.

Azrul also recommended several non-Covid-19 related measures such as revising the existing Health Ministry regulations under the Fees (Medical) (Amendment) Order 2017, where patients referred from the private sector and university hospitals to government hospitals are charged first class fees for wards and medical treatment.

He also proposed for the government to seed an RM50 million fund for cancer treatment financing, as part of an innovative model to encourage the private sector to match the contribution ringgit-to-ringgit.

“This could be a form of public-private-patient partnership where the government, private sector and patient co-pays for cancer treatment to increase the availability and quality of existing cancer treatment, particularly those with advanced cancers,” he said.

He also proposed to the government to earmark an initial five per cent from the collected government revenue from alcohol and tobacco taxes — which he said is estimated to be RM5.9 billion annually — to be used for health promotion and treatment with an initial focus on diabetes and cancer as part of a pilot programme, adding: "This could support upscaling of innovative programmes or fund crucial lifesaving treatment."

Lastly, Azrul also called on the Education Ministry and the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry to increase emphasis and funding for sexual reproductive health education programmes to help tackle teenage pregnancies and the increase in cases of sexually transmitted diseases.

A pharmacist arranges bottles of medicine at a pharmacy in Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur November 5, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
A pharmacist arranges bottles of medicine at a pharmacy in Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur November 5, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

Separately, Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society (MPS) president Amrahi Buang urged the government to provide for the same incentives — regardless of whether it is financial and non-financial — to pharmacists as accorded to other frontliners in the fight against Covid-19.

“Anything that is given to frontliners must be given to pharmacists who are part of them,” he said when asked for MPS' Budget 2021 wishlist.

Amrahi added that the MPS represents 17,400 active registered pharmacists in Malaysia with two-thirds of them employed in the public sector while the remaining were in the private sector.

He also wants the government to implement tax reduction or reliefs as well on the RM50 Annual Retention Certificates (ARC) renewal fee and the RM300 fee for the Type A Poisons Licence paid by pharmacists in the private sector to the government.

A pharmacist needs to apply annually for an ARC to retain one’s name in the list of Registered Pharmacists with the Pharmacy Board of Malaysia (PBM), while the licence is issued to a pharmacist to conduct the activity of wholesale and retail of Type A Poison.

In the same wishlist, Amrahi proposed the government to initiate a professional development fund for young pharmacists and to provide subsidies for professional development programmes, besides tax relief for continuous professional development points for pharmacists, and tax relief for donations made to professional bodies such as MPS.

Other proposals include providing free personal protective equipment and Covid-19 vaccines to pharmacists whom he said were frontliners and the last line of defence.

He also called for more permanent posts for pharmacists in the public sector as requested by the Pharmaceutical Services Programme under the Health Ministry.

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