Birth control medication for Orang Asli meant to treat anaemia, says minister

Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad says the medication is stopped after two years.

PETALING JAYA: Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad today clarified that birth control medication given to Orang Asli women is meant to reduce pregnancy complications linked to anaemia.

He said it is part of an intervention programme as it is important for women with anaemia to avoid pregnancy.

“It was done out of a sense of responsibility to save women so they don’t suffer complications (during pregnancy).

“They were suffering from anaemia,” he said.

Speaking to reporters at a function in Sungkai, Perak, Dzulkefly said the intervention was not permanent.

“After two years, they would no longer be given the medication. It was not done out of mala fide; this is important to save Orang Asli women,” he said.

Dzulkefly was responding to questions on alleged claims of birth control intervention on Orang Asli women.

Anaemia is a condition in which a person does not have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body’s tissues. Having anaemia may make an individual feel tired and weak.

Separately, speaking to reporters at the parliament lobby, Dzulkefly said Orang Asli activists will need to come up with evidence that government health officers had forced the women into taking birth control medication before action can be taken.

“If the allegations are based on evidence, we will attend to them. The ones who made the allegations will need to come up with evidence.

“As far as I know, the steps were taken for the importance of the health and welfare of pregnant (Orang Asli) women.”

Dzulkefly said health officers were trained to brief the Orang Asli on the positive and negative effects of any prescribed medication.

“These are SOPs which the health officers have been trained to follow.

“If it’s true there were some officers who threatened them, it is beyond what I can imagine,” he said.

On Tuesday, five representatives from Orang Asli villages submitted a memorandum to the government claiming that, among others, Orang Asli women had been given birth control pills without proper information.

They demanded that the government stop this practice.

A group of Orang Asli alleged that government health officers forced the mothers and women in their community to take injections and birth control medication.

The group’s spokesperson, Anjang Aluej, said the Orang Asli women did not know the nature of the medication, its uses and effects.

Malaysiakini had quoted an Orang Asli activist, Nora Kantin, as claiming that health ministry personnel threatened to confiscate the women’s medical cards if they refused to take the medication.

She said that newlyweds among the community were especially targeted and forced to take the injections after having just one child, and the injections harmed their health.

Nora was reported as saying that women became bloated, going from skinny to overweight quickly after the injections.