The Malaysian Cabinet has decided that migrant workers are to be subjected to health screening annually, said Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr. S. Subramaniam.

The mandatory health screening comprise health examination for tuberculosis, Hepatitis B, syphilis, HIV/AIDS, malaria and epilepsy upon arrival in Malaysia.

However, despite 1.9 million registered foreign workers having to undergo annual health screening, there remains concern about those with communicable diseases who escape screening.

Dr. Subramaniam said that the most worrying would be those who entered the country illegally and were not documented.

A multi-ministry responsibility requires a multi-agency approach

“Only 3% to 4% of the legal migrant workers escaped the screening. Up to 97% go through the procedure,” he said on 6 December.

"The challenge is with the illegal immigrants, which is a major problem in Sabah, and many of them have tuberculosis,” he added.

Dr. Subramaniam also emphasised that the problem was not solely the responsibility of the Ministry of Health, but one that needed a multi-agency approach.

"This is a challenge that is a multi-ministry responsibility," he said.

Last year, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said that there were an estimated two million illegal foreign workers in the country.

Legitimate workers found to have TB might disappear

This year, in October, Deputy Minister of Health, Dr. Hilmi Yahaya pointed out that even though screening does happen, foreigners often disappear as they are afraid of being sent home once the ministry lodges a report about their disease with the Immigration Department.

"A total of 12.3% of TB cases last year involved foreign nationals," said Dr. Hilmi, "When they disappear, they will infect others around them too. This is the problem we are facing."

Foreigners who are diagnosed with TB are often monitored and treated for six months to ensure they were free of the disease, he added.

Migrants succumbed to annual check-ups now

Previously, legitimate foreign workers seeking work in Malaysia must undergo health screening in their own country before undergoing another one here and were not allowed to work if they were found to suffer from any disease. They are also screened three times in the first three years.

Dr. Subramaniam said that the Cabinet has approved the new policy on health screening of foreign workers to ensure their health status.

"We have already decided on this to be done yearly and the Cabinet has given its approval. From now on, when they come here, it will be an annual check-up," he added. MIMS

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