Rights group blames bad policy for rise in TB

North-South Initiative says the contributions of foreign workers are more than enough to cover their healthcare. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: A human rights group has called for improvements in health services for both legal and illegal immigrants to counter the rise in tuberculosis (TB) cases, said to be caused by the influx of foreign workers.

Adrian Pereira, executive director of the North-South Initiative, said the increase in TB cases in recent years was a result of bad government policy with regard to health services for foreign workers.

Pereira’s organisation dedicates itself to protecting the rights of immigrants and other minority groups.

He said it had become difficult for immigrants to get medical treatment since 2016, when the government removed subsidies for foreigners seeking healthcare at public hospitals.

“Surely migrants who are ill will be discouraged from getting treatment,” he said.

He proposed the immediate regularisation of undocumented workers, but without the use of privatised services, which he said had led to profiteering and proven to be a “massive failure” in recent years.

He suggested that the government collaborate closely with civic groups.

He also proposed that hospitals be made to provide quality treatment to foreigners regardless of their immigration status and without alerting enforcement authorities when they encounter patients who entered the country illegally.

Pereira called for appreciation of foreign workers’ contributions to the Malaysian economy.

“Migrants have been paying billions in levies over the years,” he said. “They have also been paying GST and SST, and they have contributed to economic development and the gross national product.

“Their contributions are more than enough to cover their healthcare.”

Therefore, he added, healthcare subsidies for foreign workers should be reinstated and undocumented workers should be allowed to get treatment at hospitals without the threat of being deported.

Alex Ong, Migrant Care’s country representative for Malaysia, said accommodation facilities for foreign workers were often unsanitary, contributing to the spread of diseases.

“The construction industry’s makeshift barracks have bad public health control management,” he said. “There is also a lack of awareness about public health concerns among site managers.”

Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye said recently that the government was looking into measures to reduce the number of TB cases. He described the current situation as “not ideal”.

Malaysian Medical Association president Namazie Ibrahim attributed the problem to illegal immigrants because they, unlike foreign workers brought in legally, do not go through screening for diseases.

He said the problem was compounded by their reluctance to seek treatment at government health facilities for fear of being arrested.

He also spoke of a problem of keeping proper medical records caused by the tendency of foreign workers to visit different clinics at different times.

He said the tendency was also seen in some Malaysians.

The difficulty in maintaining medical records could cause delays in treatment, he added.