by Mark Cheong
Our public health service is underfunded.
This statement describes both the current state of the service as well as the source of many of its problems today.
There is currently a lot of discussion about how Malaysia needs solutions to its healthcare problems. Some of the solutions suggested include: a new healthcare financing scheme, the introduction of voluntary or involuntary health insurance plans, mandatory health care savings accounts, greater privatization of health services, or more extensive public-private partnerships.
Now, all of these solutions have their own respective merits and problems (some more than others, depending on who you ask) and they may each offer innovative ways for us to deliver healthcare in a sustainable manner in the future. What none of these solutions do, however, is to solve the problem faced by our public health service today: that it is sorely underfunded.
Consider the immediate problems attributable to the underfunding of our public health service:
- Shortages of medicines, laboratory reagents, and medical supplies
- Lack of positions for medical and other health professional graduates
- Bottleneck in training and specialization of doctors and shortage of specialists
- Difficulties in retaining senior medical specialists
- Inability to access newer more effective therapies
- Incomplete or delayed delivery of hospitals
- Poor access to health services in rural and remote areas
- Insufficient beds in major public hospitals
….and the list goes on.
Our public health service cannot wait for more complex solutions and schemes to be designed, tested, and implemented to solve its immediate problems. As such, it is welcome news to hear that the Malaysian government pledges to increase the healthcare budget. Undoubtedly, there is also a lot of work that needs to be done to ensure that these monies are spent effectively and the returns on investments made, be it on training or on infrastructure, must be closely monitored, with leaders at every level held accountable for spending and any wastage incurred. Nevertheless, the increased funding will be a lifeline for the public health service.
There is a need to defend and protect our public health service by ensuring that it is adequately funded. It is the literal lifeline for many Malaysians every day; a final safety net when all else fails. It is the manifestation of our collective desire as a people that one should never be denied medical care because of lack of financial means. The public health service does not succeed at this all the time, but it and the good men and women working in it succeed often enough, against all odds. And to the critics who claim that the public health service has failed and should be abandoned, I would contend that by chronically underfunding it, it is we that have failed the public health service.
And so, I look forward to the rejuvenation of our public health service, and hope that the Malaysian government will live up to its pledge.