In recent months, Malaysia has been focusing more on obesity, heart diseases, and many other non-communicable diseases (NCDs). During the previous MOH-AMM’s 12th Scientific Meeting, it was stated that about 70% of the global deaths are caused by NCDs. Furthermore, according to Dr Feisul Idzwan Mustapha, Head of the NCD Sector in the Ministry of Health (MOH), “37% of the overall world population are overweight or obese.”

In order to tackle the problem, the government has increased the healthcare budget in Budget 2018, as well as promises of new hospitals and wards in some of the states to improve the healthcare system. Concerns on the change of smoking age limit was also talked about, while other new health policies were also being discussed later in 2017.

It can be seen that the awareness to combat these issues are already out there. However, enforcing health policies are not as easy as a mere simple order.

Recent health policies that are unable to be enforced

On 25 December last year, the New Straits Times talked about a new set of policies, which zooms into creating a healthier community, was being put in place. However, on 11 January, the Health Ministry has refuted the claim of implementing tax on sugary drinks to curb NCDs.

“We have not discussed and (there is) no plan for implementation,” Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah told the Malay Mail.

The MOH will be making an announcement regarding the issue on postponement of the new liquor ruling later, according to Health Minister Datuk Dr S Subramaniam. Photo credit: Yusof Mat Isa/Malay Mail Online
The MOH will be making an announcement regarding the issue on postponement of the new liquor ruling later, according to Health Minister Datuk Dr S Subramaniam. Photo credit: Yusof Mat Isa/Malay Mail Online

Last week, the Health Departments in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor have held back the enforcement of a new law on the sale and display of compounded hard liquor (CHL), in order to give manufacturers and retailers more time to adapt.

The law was gazetted on 27 May 2016, but regulation only took effect on 1 December 2017. Nonetheless, just two days before the new regulations commence, Health Ministry’s Food and Safety and Quality Division has sent an internal note to The Star, claiming that the enforcement has been postponed.

A statement on the postponement “will be issued by the ministry soon after one or two technical issues are resolved”, as said by Health Minister Datuk Dr S. Subramaniam.

Need for enforcement to secure better results

Generally, everyone in the community knows the negative effect on alcohol, smoking, and unhealthy food consumption. However, to really improve the healthcare system, enforcement of health policies is of paramount importance.

Taking the alcohol enforcement postponement as example, the Malaysian Anti-Cheap Liquor Movement’s president, Mr P. David Marshel, has reported that “retailers and manufacturers will not abide by the new rule so long as there’s no enforcement”.

“There must be political will to stop this problem and not a half-hearted attempt by the government,” said a non-government organisation, Malaysian Tamil Kural’s Kuala Lumpur and Selangor chairman, Mr Annadurai Subramaniam. The chairman also noted that the delay of the enforcement will only result in persisting social menace, particularly to the lower-income ethnic Indians.

Doctors are urged to step in, too

While the government is doing their jobs on the health policies, the community should also be involved in any other way possible. And, this also includes doctors.

Quoting Dr Molly Cheah, President of the Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control, “Tobacco is the biggest culprit in the NCDs.” There are cases of vaping in schools and ‘kiddie pack’ for cigarettes being circulated last year. Yet, there is a lack of urgency from doctors or science officers to be involved with these.

Taking the Tobacco Act as an example, Vice President at College of Public Health Medicine, Professor Dr Lekhraj Rampal said that, “The Tobacco Act has been lying in the MOH for years. It should be up to the doctors here to write in the papers, to urge the passing of the Act.” Other than tobacco, he also emphasised the need for the community to voice out against advertising of alcohol.

To further improve the healthcare system in the country, there is a need for “promoting health consumption, restricting advertising or marketing of unhealthy products”, as Dr Lekhraj Rampal has said. MIMS

Read more:
2017 recap and review: Stories, headlines and highlights
MOH-AMM’s 12th Scientific Meeting discusses new strategies to battle NCDs
Why trade matters: How are trade policies impacting the surge of NCDs in Malaysia