Tourists, returning Malaysians could also be bringing in certain diseases

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We shouldn’t just point fingers at migrant workers for the spread of diseases without finding out the real source of the problem, says Charles Hector.

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For migrant workers to enter Malaysia for work, one of the preconditions is that they must have undergone medical screening in their country of origin, and only healthy migrants are granted permission to enter Malaysia to work. The responsibility to ensure this must necessarily be with the employer of the migrant workers.

If healthy migrants after their entry into Malaysia are found to be with contagious diseases, then the reason for this must be (within) Malaysia. It could have been because the employer of migrant workers failed to provide healthy living and working conditions.

In fact, employers must be penalised for causing their workers to get TB, malaria and other serious contagious disease, which in the case of migrant workers must be classified as occupational diseases, for which migrant workers must be entitled to claim necessary compensation, treatment and… If you are ‘forced’ to stay in crowded quarters in Malaysia with someone with TB, then there is a chance that you too may get TB.

Malaysia needs laws stipulating the standard of housing of migrant workers; it is the employer (or some agent of the employer) that provides this accommodation. There must be limits as to how many migrant worker/worker can be made to stay in a room, or a two-bedroom apartment/house/flat.

Now, if the failure is on the part of ‘medical screening’ that happens in the country of origin, then the Malaysian government must take action against such ‘medical screening facilities’ and/or doctors/personnel; they must be penalised or even ‘blacklisted’. A positive step would be for Malaysian government to issue an approved list of medical screening facilities in the country of origin.

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Tourists coming to Malaysia and Malaysians who travel overseas as tourists, students and for work before returning to the country may also bring such diseases to Malaysia. Maybe, medical certificates should be a requirement for those coming to Malaysia as tourists or Malaysians returning to the country after spending maybe more than 30-60 days overseas. For Malaysians, this may be a problem, because it may be wrong to restrict Malaysians with TB, malaria or some other contagious diseases from traveling from or back to Malaysia – but we have to think how we can reduce the possibility of such diseases being brought back back to Malaysia?

Undocumented migrants are also another possibility – and here Malaysia’s policy is currently to make it impossible for such migrants to even have access to health care. Going to a hospital or clinic requires a valid passport and a valid permit/visa. Malaysia needs to change such stringent policies and laws for the good of all those in the country, making it easier for everyone to have access to hospitals/clinics, etc. To be able to detect and cure as fast as possible would be best for the general well-being and health of all in Malaysia.

Malaysian public hospitals/clinics now charge foreigners RM60 registration (which is more that two days minimum wage) and first class rates if they want to access/use health care facilities. Well, these kinds of rates would even deter ordinary Malaysians – what more foreigners. The sick or the suspected sick would just not go to medical facilities, hence again increasing the risk of the spread of transmittable or contagious disease to the entire Malaysian community. This policy also needs to be reviewed and changed.

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The Malaysian government really must not just come out and make ‘baseless’ statements. There is a need for serious investigation to determine the source of the disease, say TB, that a migrant worker who came to Malaysia on a clean bill of health is now suffering after, say one or two years of employment. Where did he get it from? Likewise, such investigation must also be done with Malaysians to find out the source of the illness. From such investigations, we would be able to come to some conclusions or ‘most probabile’ assertions.

As I mentioned earlier, the blame lies with Malaysia – the Malaysian government. It is wrong to just point fingers at migrant workers when the sources of these diseases can be so many other things. Take dengue for instance – once a victim has been identified, you find the health ministry coming and fogging and trying to kill/destroy the breeding places of mosquitoes. The government needs to be pro-active not reactive. What happened in the recent ‘flash flood’ arising from the release of water in a dam – which resulted in loss of life and property – is but another example of a ‘reactive’ mentality.

With regard to undocumented migrants, which Malaysia calls ‘illegal immigrants’, the biggest source is really Indonesia, Thailand, Burma and the Philippines, all Asean nations – and as such Malaysia must be active in campaigning for and ensuring the elimination of such diseases in Asean.

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